Monday, January 7, 2008

Inexpensive Portraits

As promised, today I am going to share a portrait I took in my own home, with my own son. And I'll give you a few tips to recreate the look at your own home.

But first let me explain why I feel this is an especially important area for our family to be frugal ... I used to drop $20 or more at each portrait session of my children. (And I did it once a month for the first year, quarterly the second year, and twice a year or so after that.) I have saved us literally hundreds of dollars just by learning to use my camera.

So how did I take this portrait that I will treasure for the rest of my life?

  • I started with a good camera. I use a Canon S1 IS digital camera. I bought it refurbished a little over 2 years ago for $210, including shipping and tax.

  • Use the preset modes on your camera when you're just starting out. I used the Portrait setting on my camera, and it does a lot of the thinking for you.

  • Find a large, north-facing window in your house and place your subject at a slight angle to it. Here, I had him lean against the window frame. You'll find that natural lighting is the most flattering if you catch it at the right time of day. Observe the window for a few days to see when you get the best light - you don't want it glaring in on your subject, but you don't want it too dark, either.

  • Use a tripod and zoom in. I paid for the zoom lens on this camera and have not regretted it for a minute. When you have kids, a zoom lens isn't optional. (That's the only way you'll catch them doing all those cute things across the room.) If you don't have a tripod, steady the camera on a table or some other surface that won't "give".

  • Take a lot of pictures - kids are funny and will give you the best shots when you're least expecting it.

  • Once you have the pictures, download them to your computer and explore your editing options. I encourage you to do this even if you really like the pictures. This was a great picture before I edited it, but the Soft Focus and Glow really took it to the next level! I highly recommend Picasa (which is what I used here). It's free and it has some terrific features. Play with saturation, soft focus, and glow to see what it does for your picture.

And before I end this post, let me warn you about jpeg files - the more you save them, the smaller they get. That means you won't be able to make really big enlargements out of them if you save them over and over again.

I recommend keeping your original, unedited version first. Then do all the editing you want to do to the picture before you save it as a copy (don't click "Save" after every edit). This will keep your picture as large a file as possible and save you from having a fabulous picture that won't enlarge well.

Oh, and don't crop it too close, either, as that will do essentially the same thing.

I'd love to see how your pictures turn out! Post them to your blog and leave a link in the comments!