PIXEL PERFECT "PERSONALITY PORTRAITS",
By George Margolin, firstname.lastname@example.org
With the Epson 850Z Digital Camera
Former Technical Editor, Popular Photography Magazine
About the Author - George Margolin - and why
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For starters "Personality Portraits" are not formal. They are not
set up, or lit with controlled or contrived lighting. They are spontaneous and
natural pictures taken whenever and wherever you find an interesting (and
willing) subject in an interesting place. They take advantage of that moment
in time and space where the available light and available subject are in the
same place at the same time. The new Digicams, like the Epson 850Z I used for
all these photos, are now versatile enough -- their effective film speed (ISO
100 to 400) is fast enough -- and their lenses have sufficient zoom range to
permit absolutely stunning natural light results under a wide range of
conditions. Only when all else fails, use the flash, knowing that flash will
make the pictures useful only as "record" shots. The successful and
beautiful pictures will come from handling the light and subject well. The
cameras will generally do their work well. Your job is to do your job well.
How -- With my press credentials and a big stroke of luck
-- I was able to borrow a brand new Epson 850Z Digital Camera at COMDEX, so as
to be able to evaluate it for a number of Computer User Group publications I
write for, as well as our new technology website, -- www.netsurfernews.com.
Little did I know, at that time, what this technological marvel would work
wonders for the kind of "personality portraiture" I have enjoyed
doing for fun or profit for years.
In fact, in the many years since my professional photographic career
changed to one of a happy inventor of photographic and now computer related
products, picture taking became a kind of "hobby" that came out
looking professional because of my years of experience, not because of my
former intensity and passion for it.
As cameras became smarter and smarter, my well practiced and automatic
"techniques" of proper exposure and sharpness and darkroom skills in
black and white and color, became -- letís face it -- virtually useless.
Obsolete, is another word for it. Who needs the ability to guess perfect
exposures in any light when the cameras, themselves, with little intervention
from the human operating them, could almost always provide reasonably well
exposed, and sharp pictures.
But while Technology helps eliminate the need for Technique
-- even the new 2 megapixel cameras need help in taking digital portraits you
canít tell from film portraits. Here are some of the "rules" that
I use. They will help you startle your friends and let you hang beautiful
portraits on the wall, as well as letting you send stunning pictures over the
NOTE: While I was able to take all these pictures hand held -- often in
really rotten, low available light conditions Iíve had years -- decades, of
practice. I will make suggestions here for you to practice, but steadiness is
the key to sharpness. Even the cleverest digital cameras canít make a sharp
picture when the camera moves during exposure. And under low light conditions,
they will take a long exposure -- often 1/3 of a second or longer.
For these conditions, use a tripod. Though it will cut some of the
spontaneity youíre looking for in "personality portraits," at
least youíll have sharp pictures to show for it. Work on the spontaneity as
you develop your skills.
Rules for Digital Tools
- To shoot sharp, do what the sharpshooters do -- s q u e e z e the
The camera MUST remain still during the exposure -- even in well lit
conditions. Otherwise the picture Will Be Blurred. You can (I did) learn to
stop breathing, hold your breath and keep from swaying for the moment the
shutter is operating. Itís a learned skill and is doable. Difficult, but
- Compose your picture so it doesnít need any (or much) cropping in the
While the new 2 plus megapixel cameras will permit absolutely beautiful
8X10 and larger prints -- they have only about 1/3 the resolution of a good
film camera. So you wonít have much latitude before you get that splotchy
"digital" look The less cropping you need, the better off you are.
- Beware the bad or busy background. While itís true that we can
now do a bunch of post picture processing in our digital darkrooms with
tools like Photoshop 5 and others, donít count on it. And
donít put yourself or your subjects in a position to have to count on
saving a good shot garbaged by an intrusive, cluttered or inappropriate
background. THINK Before you shoot. Always work to keep the picture simple
enough for a straight forward print. Unless, of course, you enjoy doing
brain surgery, like removing telephone poles or trees from the heads of
people in your pictures.
- Parallax problems can poison your pictures. Reminds me of the old
joke, "What is worse than biting into an apple and finding a worm in
it? Finding Half a worm in it!" That pretty much sums up parallax
problems. Which is the difference in what you see through the optical finder
of most digital cameras -- and what the camera sees through the lens. Since
they are offset from each other -- each one looks at the subject from a
different angle of view. If youíre shooting from a distance -- it makes
little difference. But -- when youíre shooting closeups, or with the lens
zoomed out -- what you see and what youíll get -- using the optical
viewfinder -- may be Half a worm -- or in photo terms -- half a face or body
Parallax is the reason single lens reflexes rule the film camera world.
What you see is exactly what you get. And some old pre-single
lens reflex cameras, like the Leica and Canon and Nikon -- had automatic
parallax correction in their viewfinders. Good enough for most professional
use -- IF you didnít get too close, or use too long a lens.
But SLRs are inherently larger, heavier and more expensive -- along with
the early Digicam generations being relatively expensive and large -- most
companies relied on un-corrected-for-parallax optical finders with little
lines or crosses on them. Helpful for some situations but Not Acceptable for
Closeup portraiture or macro work
What to do about Parallax? The LCD is the simplest and most logical
"way out" of the problem. It was the one I used for many of the
closeups printed here. BUT -- LCD screens wash out in bright light like
sunlight. And even the excellent Epson 850Zís switch hat permits turning
off the LCD light and letting Sunlight in behind it to shine through --
leaves much to be desired. Maybe weíll have to go back to the old big
black focussing cloth I used to use when operating an 8X10 view camera while
shooting products or architecture -- in the "good old days" of
monster film in monster cameras.
The Other problem with using the LCD -- even in subdued light, where it
provides a great image, is -- Camera Shake! Itís hard enough to hold a
camera steady when its held tightly against your face as you look through
the finder -- and you're well braced. But itís a BEAR to hold the camera
steady when it is held far enough in front of your eyes to focus on the little
2 inch screen. Once again -- tripod time and/or working hard to learn to
control your breathing and heartbeat while looking and shooting through the
- The Long and the Short of Zoom Lenses in Portraiture
Which is better for Personality Portraits?. While it may depend on the
personality youíre seeking to portray -- except for special effects or caricatures
-- longer is almost always better!. The Epson 850Z lens ranges
from a film camera equivalent of 35mm to about 110mm. The shorter length is
a very good working wide angle lens -- while the longer zoom is virtually
perfect for portraiture. Why? Because it shows the personís face in about
the same proportions as you normally would see it in life. Therefore it looks
"natural" and pleasing.
With this story are three shots of the same person. His unusual bushy
eyebrows and interesting features make him an ideal subject for
demonstrating the effect of various focal lengths. In the three shots --
each with interesting natural daylight coming into various parts of my
office -- the short lens distorts his face and make his nose look like a
honker. I did it to point up the sharpness of the camera AND show what
happens when you are too close to the person being photographed.
The second shot shows a natural full head perspective. My friend reminds
me of Alec Guinness in this shot. Other people say Boris Karloff. And it,
too, shows a very sharp, well defined picture, illustrating the excellent
photographic quality of the Epson.
The third shot is a medium long lens close-up which I did both for its
dramatic effect and as a powerful demonstration of the sharpness of the
camera, lens and printer combination. The prints of all these pictures --
which canít be reproduced in a magazine, are stunningly sharp. They are
all printed on an Epson Stylus Photo 700. Itís unfortunate that you canít
see their true photo realistic quality. Without a strong magnifying glass,
the prints are virtually indistinguishable from an actual photo print.
What the NEW Digital Photography has meant to me. For an old war horse
photographer like me -- it has meant bringing back the joy of photography
that made me become a professional photographer in the first place.
Diary of a well traveled Epson 850Z Camera Where the pictures were taken
Las Vegas 7 days -- COMDEX -- Lots of Computer people, places and faces
Newport Beach,CA, one day. Upload pix to main computer -- print pix.
Ohio -- 6 days -- Thanksgiving on the dairy farm -- cute cows, lots of
Wright Patterson Airforce Base -- marvelous photos of the Blue Angels off
of the IMAX screen -- planes and people, people and planes
Newport Beach -- 3 Christmas parties Dozens of revelers
New York -- 7 days -- Ground Zero, New Years Eve on Times Square
-- Great Pix -- 15 great restaurants Got permission from NY Public Library
to shoot "700 Years of Scientific Illustration". Great photos --
camera surprised me -- more sensitive than I thought. No flash allowed. All
hand held. Surprisingly good for the circumstances. But thatís another
Las Vegas -- again -- CES (Consumer Electronics Show) Multiple picture
Los Angeles -- Portraits on a movie set of fellow actors.
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