Venutian Transit Tomorrow — Portrait Photography Today!

The “OMG Space Is Cool” club wanted me to make certain that the rest of you know about the transit tomorrow. No, I’m not talking about a bus or anything. Apparently Venus is going to pass in front of the Sun and, if you’ve still got your gear from the annular eclipse handy, you’ll be able to see it. If you happen to get any photos of the event, then share them with us over at Twitter or on Facebook.

If you’re wondering what a transit is, it’s when one body passes in front of another body. Tomorrow, Venus will pass in front of the Sun, putting it between Earth and the Sun. The last transit was in 2004 and the next will be in 2117 so this will be most people’s last chance to see one of these things for a while. If you want to know more, head over to the Bad Astronomer’s site because he’s got the full story there.

Now, enough from the telescope jockeys. Let’s talk a little bit about the basics of portrait photography. Portraits involve people, for the most part. Now, just about everyone carries around a portrait of themselves in their wallet in the form of a driver’s license, passport, or other kind of ID card. The images in those, however, generally are not something most people would be proud to hang on their walls. So, how do you get decent portraits captured? Well, here’s a few quick tips to help you out.

Consider the light source

If you’re doing an outdoor portrait, you’ll have to deal with the most powerful light source in the solar system — the Sun. If the subject is looking directly at the Sun, they’re going to squint and look uncomfortable. If they have their back to the Sun, there will be shadows across their face and you’ll have to compensate with flash which can lead to overexposure if you’re not careful. Sometimes, you can get the backlighting (the shadow effect) to work out well, giving you a great silhouette but, in most cases, this is not the effect a portrait photographer is going for.

Your best bet is to get your subject somewhere with some natural shading and to use a reflector to redirect the sunlight onto them. You can make a reflector fairly easily with cardboard and tin foil or wax paper.

Consider the perspective

“I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeVille.” Okay, you don’t want to be so far away that you can barely see your subject but you don’t want to be too close either. You also don’t want to take a photo from an unflattering angle. For this one, the best option is to try several different angles and points-of-view until you find one that works best for that person.

Don’t encourage false expressions

This one is just a pet peeve of mine. There’s nothing more annoying than a plastered-on fake smile. When a person smiles in genuine happiness, it’s more than just a movement of the lips and cheeks. And, a happy smile is vastly more pleasant to look at than a false smile, let alone a frustrated smile that says “I am imagining how much fun it would be to reprogram this application with a sledgehammer” and is currently plastered on History Geek’s face because his computer keeps crashing. If your subject doesn’t want to smile, then don’t make them. If you can elicit a smile that is genuine, then feel free to do so!

Relax and have fun

Most people hate doing portraits because they’re so worried about how they look. If you’re just as tense worrying over how well the photos are going to come out, then the session is going to be bad. So, if you can relax and get your subject to relax, things will go much better and you’ll both be happier with how the images turn out.

That’s all for today. I’m going to go pick out my spot for watching the transit tomorrow. I’d hate it if one of the space-cases nabbed the area I’ve been eying and I had to see Venus pass between Earth and the Sun from another location.

— da Bird

Images from Joan and Helvey Photography