We're already to the 6th post in the series about 10 Cool Features of Your Digital Camera You Should Learn and Use. But we're not to the 6th feature we're just on the third, and that is the scene modes. If you read the previous post about Computers With a Lens, you'll remember that I said that the digital camera engineers just took what good photographers already knew how to do and programmed it into the tiny computers attached to the lens and most manufacturers call them Scene Modes. Knowing that, then you can choose to use the scene mode if your camera has it, or if it doesn't, then simply reverse the process and do what good photographers have always done to accomplish the same thing.
One of the most used of the Scene Modes is the Portrait mode. Skilled photographers have always paid close attention to the background of their photo. A cluttered or busy background, or one that has too many colors and/or geometric shapes will distract from the subject. We've found that the best solution to that is two fold: 1. Find or create a pleasant background. 2. Soften the focus on it. When I'm using an indoor studio where I have total control I use a muted background with no real shape and which has homogeneous colors, and even then I try to create a soft focus and control the light on it. In other locations, whether indoors or out, I just try to pick a pleasant background and have it out of focus. Even the cleverest digital camera cannot control the background, but it can work on softening it. How does it do that? Refer back to the post on Macro mode where I showed several examples of flowers with varying depths of field (DOF) depending on the lens opening. You'll recall that the wider open the lens (the smaller the f number) the shallower the depth of field. So, when you select Portrait Mode (see your camera's owner's manual) the computer in the camera will tell the camera lens to open up wide. Then to compensate for light it will simply adjust the shutter speed so that the photo does not become over exposed. Some cameras might also warn the focusing mechanism that you will probably be closer to the subject and some might even apply a slight softening filter to reduce the detail in the skin to give your model their best possible look. It will probably also put your flash in auto with "red-eye reduction" on.
In this first photo you'll notice that the leaves in the background are almost in sharp focus and although it is a pleasing background it can still be distracting as you notice leaves and wonder what kind of tree it is. This portrait was taken with the lens at f11, which is closed down quite a bit so that it gives a pretty good DOF.
Well I probably don't need to tell you what the assignment is for this post. But don't skip it. Grab that camera and a model and try some portraits in and out of protrait mode. Want to stretch yourself just a tiny bit? Try getting as good or better results without using portrait mode and adjusting the controls in the camera yourself. As always I'd love to see your results so leave us a comment and be sure and include a link to the photos you took.
Next post I'll quickly cover a few more of the most popular scene modes.