Photography News | Issue 36 | absolutephoto.com
value like +0.3 or +0.7. If the background is very dark you might find the opposite, so in that case you’d dial in a negative value like -0.3 or -0.7. “I tend to shoot wide open,” says Neil, referring to using the maximum aperture his lens allows, “as subject isolation is the other big factor in most of my work. For that reason I will almost always shoot in aperture-priority mode. I tend not to trust the exposure meter entirely though, but, as I shoot with Olympus OM-D E-M1 and PEN F cameras, the electronic viewfinder allows me to gauge the exposure really well with my eye. All I need to do to adapt to the scene is use a little exposure compensation, and I do it on almost every shot.” Refining your focus These are the kinds of simple techniques that can make a lot of difference when shooting location portraits, and another is being careful with your focus. When working with the very wide apertures that portrait lenses allow, depth-of-field gets very shallow, so you might only have a few millimetres of sharpness to play with. That means any movement from you or the subject after focusing is likely to throw the sharpness off. In these cases, it’s important to be realistic and accept that you won’t get every shot sharp, as Neil says, “I certainly don’t get the focus bang on all of the time, especially if I’m focusing manually, but that’s just one of the issues working with fast lenses.” To up your hit rate you can try a few things. First, using the camera’s single AF mode and the area set to its selective mode where you can move the AF point, place it as close to the subject’s eye as possible. This will mean you don’t need to change the framing too much after focusing which can throw the sharpness off. Automated modes can work well, too, especially facial recognition that’s smart enough to work out which is the closest eye and focus on that. “I sometimes use the eye recognition on the Olympus cameras if the subject is moving quite a bit as it does work reallywell,” says Neil. “If all else fails, you can ensure a bit of extra sharpness by stopping down to a slightly smaller aperture, say from f/1.8 to f/2.2; the increase in depth-of-field may be slight, but it’ll give you more to play with and therefore more chance of getting the subject sharp. Finally, shoot a lot. The more images you have the better your chances of getting the one you want.” Learning from experience Neil has taught a lot of photographers, so we finished by asking him what he felt was the most important thing he’d learned and taught others about shooting portraits on location. The answer is refreshingly untechnical, and proves that it’s always an artistic eye that prevails in photography; many people get bogged down in the technicalities of exposure but if you can read the scene, the light and pay attention to detail you’ll be on the right track in no time. “There are a few things which took me a long time to get better at,” he says, “and I notice those in other photographers who’re just starting. For instance, knowing where to find good light in a new location is more about looking for the right kind of shade, for dark spaces… “Another is learning from your mistakes each time. I would edit a shoot and, only at that stage, notice what had worked and what hadn’t. Take note of those things and apply them to the next shoot by slowing down, standing back and taking a really objective and dispassionate view of the subject and the scene.”
If you fancy learning from one of the best tutors in the business, Neil offers a range of courses in some amazing locations. A four-day workshop in Budapest is planned for June 2017 and will be co-hosted by landscape pro, Steve Gosling. “This will be my third workshop with Steve, and if the others were anything to go by it should be great fun!” say Neil. He is also running a workshop over 11 nights in Vietnam and Cambodia with Kuoni travel in November 2017, commenting “having hosted a similar trip last year in India, it should be a cracker”. If you’re interested in either of these events, you can find out more about them and other upcoming training programmes on Neil’s website. ‘Early bird’ discounts are available and Neil can be contacted via his website, but check out his blog entries, too, where you’ll get a great flavour of how fun and rewarding these events can be.
Ensure a bit of extra sharpness by stopping
down to a slightly smaller aperture
Top Here, Neil used soft light to contrast with the richer shadows of the backdrop. Middle Due to the very bright backlighting of this street scene, +1.6EV of exposure compensation was used dropping the shutter speed to 1/200sec at f/2.4, ISO 50. Above For this shot, Neil used an Olympus FL-300 remote flash, holding it to the camera’s left and triggering it wirelessly.
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