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The changing colors of fall create a beautiful backdrop for the season’s special occasions and favorite activities. Halloween, Thanksgiving, school sports, outdoor fundraisers, class trips—there are endless opportunities for creating dramatic photos of friends, family, neighbors and co-workers playing, working, celebrating, enjoying the cooler weather.   

 

To give TakeGreatPictures.com readers helpful hints for creating photos that do more than record a moment, I contacted Los Angeles-based Michael Grecco, award-winning celebrity portraiture, advertising and editorial photographer. One of the most respected visual storytellers in the world, Michael creates distinctive images by combining innovative visual concepts and dramatic lighting with a knack for connecting or relating to his subjects. A popular lecturer and author of the 2006 bestseller Lighting and the Dramatic Portrait and an eBook based on the book’s contents, Michael recommends 5 ways for creating memorable, story-rich photos.

 

1. Create a relaxed atmosphere. When taking pictures of friends, classmates, co-workers or family members at a special event or important occasion, you’ll have the best results if your subject or subjects stay relaxed. “If you are feeling a bit nervous or worried about getting a great picture, do what you can to not let it show,” suggests Michael. “I get keyed up before some of my biggest shoots, but I keep my set happy and relaxed. I play great music, have food on hand and create an atmosphere where my subjects can kind of ‘melt’ into the chair, couch or wherever I want them to sit. You can read more about this in ‘The Connection’ section of Lighting and the Dramatic Portrait.”

 

joaquin phoenix potos

@Michael Grecco

You’ll have the best results if your subject or subjects stay relaxed, so “if you are feeling a bit nervous or worried about getting a great picture, do what you can to not let it show,” suggests Michael. 

 

2. Look at the light you are in. If the sunlight is soft on the subject’s face, it’s probably O.K. to shoot where you are. “However,” says Michael, “if the light is creating dark shadows in the eyes, at noon for example, you’ll want to find a better location to shoot. Open shade next to a building is always good, as long as it has an interesting exterior. I would avoid a red brick building, because it will create a distracting background. When I was hired to shoot Marcia Gay Harden on set for Entertainment Weekly, I had very little time to shoot between her takes. So before our session I found an area that had soft light and an interesting background.”

 

Marcia Gay Harden Photos

@Michael Grecco

“When I was hired to shoot Marcia Gay Harden on set for Entertainment Weekly, to save time, I found an area that had soft light and an interesting background before our session,” says Michael.

 


3. Forget the rule about never shooting into the sun. Sometimes breaking a rule can bring surprisingly good results. As Michael explains, “Shooting your subject with his back to the sun can create a soft light on the face and a nice rim of light around the body. This usually works well mid-day and when the light is low. Just make sure to avoid this position when the light is low and flaring into the lens.” 

 

tips for seasonal photos

@Michael Grecco

“Shooting your subject with his back to the sun can create a soft light on the face and a nice rim of light around the body,” says Michael. 

 

4. Shoot at the Magic Hour. There are two “magic hours”: first hour the sun is up and last hour the sun is up. As Michael says, “The light is not only low, but it’s softer and warm at these times. It makes for very pleasing portraits and helps add atmosphere to any subject matter. I grabbed a shot of a kid in Key West doing a summersault just before the sun disappeared, but while it still illuminated my shot.”

 

portrait tips

@Michael Grecco

During the first hour the sun is up and the last hour the sun is up, the light is low, soft and warm. Says Michael, “I grabbed a shot of a kid in Key West doing a summersault before the sun disappeared, while it still illuminated my shot.”

 

5. Use your flash to light your subject. To help light the foreground of an image, you can always use your on-camera flash. “While in Key West making portraits of the local people, I came across this escape artist performing on the pier,” says Michael. “The sky was beautiful, but there was no light on the subject. If I had shot the picture without my flash, he would have been silhouetted. I figured out the exposure for the background then added flash in the front to balance the shot, while that beautiful sailboat passed in the background. Timing is everything!”

 

Michael Grecco Photos

@Michael Grecco

“While in Key West making portraits of the local people, the sky was beautiful but there was no light on the subject, so I used my on-camera flash. If I had shot without flash, the escape artist would have been silhouetted,” says Michael.

 

Michael Grecco is running a contest, with lots of prizes, including a rare, collectable, hard cover edition of his book, Lighting and the Dramatic Portrait. Click here for your chance to win in Michael Grecco's contest

 

 

Alice B. Miller is the owner of Plum Communications Inc., a Long Island, N.Y., editorial services and marketing-communications company that supports the photo industry. Her clientele includes photographers, manufacturers, publications and associations. She is the director of public relations for IPC, the International Photographic Council.



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