Picture Doctor: 4 Ways to Avoid Harsh Florals

Soften your look, shed years from your face, put your memory on a diet, and other photo health and beauty tips.



4 Ways to Avoid Harsh Florals

Everybody loves flower pictures, but they often wind up looking harsh, as in the photo on the left. The culprit is direct sun -- "hard," or directional, light, which greatly increases subject contrast. Much more favorable for delicate blossoms is soft, shadowless light.

Hard Light Soft Light

Here's how to find soft light for flowers even on hard-light days:
• Wait for it. For the ultimate in soft, white light, wait for a cloud to cover the sun, or for an overcast day. Just don't include the overcast sky in your composition: The pure white sky is sure to be distracting.
• Do it yourself. You needn't wait for clouds if you use a diffuser -- a piece of translucent white fabric, usually on a flexible metal hoop, was used for the main shot above. (In a pinch you can use a white T-shirt.) Hold this portable cloud over your subject to soften the light. This only works on small subjects, unless you can afford a diffuser that will cover a house!
• Make some shade. Use something like a sheet of cardboard to shade the subject. This is akin to using a diffuser, but, since the yellow light of the sun is blocked from the photo, the picture will edge toward blue. Use an 81B warming filter on the lens or set the white balance to "shade" to restore truer colors.
• Hold out for natural shade. Shoot when the sun has moved behind a hill, a stand of trees, or a building. It's like cardboard on a grand scale -- so you'll still need that warming filter or shade setting. -Timothy Edberg

Foolproof Framing

In theory: A square frame is the best way to emphasize a round subject's symmetry. In practice: Most of us use cameras that produce rectangular frames, not square ones. So here are two strategies: (1) Center your subject and later crop it square. With the astrological clock (left), the frame fits the outer circle, while the off-center inner circle adds tension by breaking the symmetry. (2) Embrace the rectangle by showing just a part of the circle off-center. The Ferris wheel (right) is set off by the even bands of blue at top and right.

||| |---|---| | Square Crop| Rectangle Frame| |
Fast Relief

Diet plan for memory cards: Ever find you're running out of space on your memory card? And you've already deleted as many frames as you can? And you don't want to shoot at a lower resolution? Shoot at a "lower quality" setting, which increases file compression, squeezing it into less space. If you're not shooting extremely detailed scenes, or don't want huge blowups, you won't really lose quality.

What Does This Do?

The 2-sec self-timer: Boy, you'd have to run real fast to get into the picture with only a 2-second delay! But that's not what it's for -- it's really a built-in remote release. (Not all cameras have it, by the way.)
Where it is: It can be just about anywhere. It's almost always under the drive-mode control, which can be a button, or a switch, or a menu item. You'll have to look for it, and maybe check the manual.
What it does: Delays the shot 2 seconds after you press the shutter button. Many film and digital SLRs also flip the mirror up when you press the shutter.
Why: Even with the camera on a tripod, pressing the shutter induces a bit of vibration in the camera body. Two seconds is just about enough time for the camera to settle down.
How: Set the drive mode to 2-sec delay, aim the camera, lock the tripod (or put the camera on a steady surface), press the shutter, and hands off! In this photo: The 2-sec self-timer is in the Function menu of the Pentax K10D.

30 Second Photoshop

Anti-aging formula: Got portrait subjects that you want to flatter? Take years off their faces with a quick black-and-white conversion. Go to Image > Adjustments > Channel Mixer. Check the box for Monochrome, and click OK. Since Channel Mixer's default settings use only the red channel, you'll get luminous, smoother skin. (If, on the other hand, you want to make your subjects look ancient and leathery, try 100% blue and 0% red and green. But be careful, they might not speak to you again.)

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