Missy Elisha Cerino

What elevates a youth portrait or any portrait of someone under the age of 30 from the mundane to something special? It's not the sports paraphernalia or cheesy props that scream, "This photographer is with it!/Rad/Sick" (or whatever term was current nine or ten months ago). As it turns out, the real key to shooting an effective portrait of a younger person is timeless. Your goal should be to capture the optimism and enthusiasm you'll find in every subject who has an entire life of experiences ahead of them, as photographer Elisha Cerino did with this portrait of Missy.

In this picture, the vivacious expression and glow of Missy's face are the most important elements. It would have been a successful portrait even if the lighting weren't so flattering, and the background subdued but effective. But Cerino manages to bring all these aspects together in a classic portrait that has almost a three-dimensional effect.

Taken on a beautiful Fall day, Cerino seated Missy on a small boulder underneath a second story deck. She placed a white board on the ground in front of her subject and to the right of the camera, which illuminated her face well, creating the glowing look. The white board also added nice catch lights to her subject's eyes.

Cerino shot this picture with a Canon EOS 30D, using an exposure of 1/180th second at f/5.6 and ISO 250, using spot metering to determine the correct settings. With a focal length of 44mm on the Canon 17-85mm lens, the f/5.6 aperture allowed sufficient depth-of-field to image Cerino's young subject, but still threw the background slightly out of focus. (The photographer says she used a Gaussian blur filter in Photoshop to further blur the edges.) You'll find that for a waist-up portrait of this type, a 40-60mm focal length on a camera like the 30D (which has a 1.6X "crop" factor) is the equivalent, on Cerino's Canon camera, of a 64-96mm lens on a full-frame or film camera.

That range encompasses the perfect portrait focal lengths, providing the best combination of depth-of-field for selective focus, and accurate rendition of human subjects (without the flattening or distortion that longer or wider lens focal lengths can produce).

Of course, most portraits can benefit from a little digital retouching. Cerino used Photoshop to clone out some minor dark circles under Missy's eyes, and worked with the Curves command to brighten her eyes, teeth, and face in general, while darkening the background.

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