PIXEL PERFECT "PERSONALITY PORTRAITS",
With the Epson 850Z Digital Camera

By George Margolin, editor@netsurfernews.com
Former Technical Editor, Popular Photography Magazine
About the Author - George Margolin - and why
Links to Photo Albums

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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 Internet.

 

 

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 trigger button.

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 doable..

  • Compose your picture so it doesnít need any (or much) cropping in the computer.

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 part.

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 LCD.

 

  • 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.

George Margolin

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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 family pictures

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 story.

Las Vegas -- again -- CES (Consumer Electronics Show) Multiple picture opportunities.

Los Angeles -- Portraits on a movie set of fellow actors.

 

 

Links to Photo Albums

 

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