This time of year throughout America, countless millions of dollars will be spent on candy, flowers, greeting cards & gifts for Valentine’s Day. And while the sentiment is certainly heartfelt, the effects can be fleeting or soon forgotten (especially when you don’t remember that your loved one LOVES milk chocolate but DETESTS dark chocolate…). Why not take a portrait of your loved one & present it as a special Valentine’s Day gift? Such a portrait shows you truly care and profoundly appreciate the person’s unique qualities. These portraits need not focus on traditional romance but on capturing the inner beauty of  your subject. Capturing the character of yourself or your model is most effectively achieved through what we call an “environmental portrait.” To get you started and ready for the big day, I'll be posting some tips to help you take that perfect shot that will say  "I Love You" long into the year & beyond.The ideas are simple, such as finding a flattering angle or blurring the background, but they can have a huge impact on the photos. Other tips include using props found around the house or outside and making sure to take advantage of beautiful, natural light. Let's begin... Tip #1 - Blur The Background This photo of my CWS colleague Kim Williams shows how blurring the background emphasizes the face in the foreground and gives a dramatic effect to the picture. You'll notice looking in magazines & websites that this is a technique that professional photographers commonly use to good effect. (Photo by Fred Bonilla) If you’ve got a camera with manual controls, such as a DSLR, your can open up your lens to F/5.6 or lower to blur the background. This can also be done with point-and-shoot cameras by putting the camera on “portrait” mode. And many of the better point-and-shoot cameras give you the chance to choose a lens opening when you set the camera to the “A” or aperture priority mode, then picking an f stop of 5.6 or lower (If you have a pro quality lens for a DSLR that goes down to F2.8, here’s your time to shine!). The dial illustrated to the right shows the portrait mode (the face) as well as the aperture priority mode (AV) that can help you acheive this effect. Experimenting by taking the camera of off automatic and using the portrait or AV mode will instantly give you a better result in your people shots and will get you well on your way to taking that perfect portrait for the 14th. Try it! On Monday, I'll give Tip #2 which deals with the windows of the soul... the eyes!

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