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My first love as a photographer and what I continue to love today, is photographing people. I work primarily as a commercial photographer and get to shoot with human subjects quite a lot but I usually don’t have much creative leeway. Most of my assignments come with a creative brief that outlines my client’s project and it’s my job to execute it.
To keep my own creative juices flowing between assignments, I rely on portraiture and I really love finding new ways to create dramatic portraits. I have two secrets these days for adding that special something to a portrait. First, I like to keep a few Lensbaby lenses in my camera bag. Secondly, I bring the magic to my editing process with Skylum’s Luminar software.
I really enjoy using Lensbaby’s creative effects lenses because they always keep me experimenting. Personally, I am a big fan of the bokeh effect for portraits and you won’t find better bokeh lenses for the price. I find that their tilt-shift lenses are simple to use and easier and faster when you are working with a live subject. I have been a fan of these lenses for years and Lensbaby continues to innovate and make better and better gear, especially for us portrait shooters.
For this latest shoot, I wanted to give the Sol 45 a try with one of my all-time favorite subjects; a dancer. And not just any dancer, but a ballerina. I like to use the Sol 45 locked in the central position so that the sweet spot of sharp focus is perfectly centered. This way when I captured Emily’s beautiful leap into the air, I could ensure that her face and upper body would be in focus. The Sol 45 features a fixed f/3.5 aperture and I just love how softly the bokeh effect transitions from the center of the frame outward.
Another way that I like to use the Sol 45 is by placing something between myself and the subject to allow even more bokeh effect to be created. In the example below, I positioned Emily between large palm fronds so that the Sol 45 would create beautiful bokeh both in the background and in the foreground. I really love this effect and think it adds a lot more drama to a portrait.
The other lens I had in my bag for this shoot was the Burnside 35. This lens is super versatile and can create a portrait with a hint of softness or you can go the other direction and create a super dramatic swirl effect. For my first shot with the Burnside 35, I decided to experiment with the bokeh blades. This lens features two small blades that fold out in front of the lens, creating a line effect within the bokeh pattern of your image. In the example below. I placed the blades partially out but not covering the center of the lens. This created the line effect only at the edges of the frame.
The Burnside 35 lens is similar to a standard portrait lens with an aperture range of f/2.8 to f/16. With this in mind, I wanted to create some full-length portraits to also capture the beauty of the Los Angeles County Arboretum where we were shooting.
I positioned Emily next to the fountain and set my aperture to 5.6 to keep the background in focus enough to see it was a lovely fountain, but shallow enough depth-of-field that the trees and water would be a softer focus than the subject. In the example below, Emily’s face and upper body are in focus while the trees and water softly fall out of focus.
To take this a step further, I added a vignette with the built-in slider on the side of the lens. This is a great tool to use on bright days like the one I was shooting on. I like how the vignette cuts down the overall brightness of the sky around the subject and the center-focused vignette makes sure the viewer’s eye goes right to the subject. In the example below, the image on the left has no vignette while the image on the right has a full vignette. Choose something in-between for a more subtle effect, I was going for full drama here.
Another awesome feature of the Burnside 35 is the swirly bokeh effect you can create. I like to use this technique for tighter portraits as you need to position yourself about 3-feet from your subject and place your subject at least 12-feet from the background to ensure a good swirl effect. In the example below, I used a flowering bush as a backdrop and love how much Emily pops out from the background using this technique.
Once the shoot is over, the fun really begins as I get to edit the images and add the final touches to make them really come to life. I find that Luminar saves me a ton of time because I can edit my RAW files and then go right into the creative edits without switching programs. The example below shows a typical edit for me in Luminar. I added a soft vignette effect and pumped up the color, contrast, and warmth. Check out the video below for a more in-depth look at how I edited this portrait.
If you are looking for new ways to add drama and interest to your interest, you can’t go wrong by bringing together Lensbaby and Luminar. I’ll definitely be photographing more dancers with these lenses very soon.
San Francisco Bay Area photographer Laura Tillinghast began taking photos in the ’90s and never stopped. Her love of lighting and photography is contagious and she enjoys teaching the next generation of photography addicts.
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