Monday, March 15, 2010

SLR Camera basics

SLR Camera Basics
by Rachel Opdahl

SLR = Single Lens Reflex This refers to how your camera differs from a point and shoot.  With an SLR, the image you see through the viewfinder is reflected with mirrors onto the chip inside.  What you see is what you get … because the lens sees the same thing.  With a point and shoot, the viewfinder doesn’t reflect back any image with mirrors…in fact, what you see is not what the lens sees because the viewfinder and lens are not connected in any way.  The viewfinder is just a hole in your camera that sits above the lens.  This can be a problem, especially if you are close to your subject.  For example, have you ever taken a picture with a point and shoot and later saw that someone’s head was cut off?  What you see is not what you get with point and shoots.  However, your LCD screen will be accurate for both camera types.

3 Exposure/light controls.
Aperture:  Controls how much light enters the lens and controls your “depth of field,” or in other words, how much is in/out of focus. Think of how your eye works.  The pupil dilates like the aperture opens and closes.  Is it wide open, letting in more light or barely open, letting in less?
Shutter: Controls how much light enters the lens.  Think of the length of time in between blinks, or how fast your eye lid opens/closes.
ISO: Controls how much light the chip is recording and how “noisy” the file will be.   Lower ISO = less noise + more light needed...not good for low-light situations.  Higher ISO = more noise + less light needed…great for low-light situations. (“Noise” refers to the “little dots” or “blocks of color” that can appear.)  Think of a piece of film…when it has small particles…you can’t see them as easily, but it’s not as easy for the particles to capture the light.  Larger particles easily capture more light, but you can see them.

Circular Dial with: M, Av, Tv.
-Av: Aperture Priority.  You can set the aperture and the camera will set the shutter for correct exposure automatically.  (Also known as “setting your F-stop”).  Why use this?  You can have a “shallow depth of field” or in other words “a nice blurry background."

-Tv: Shutter Priority.  You can set the shutter and the camera will set the aperture for correct exposure automatically. Why use this?  You can freeze or slow time and get those action/motion shots.

-M: Manual.  You will need to set the aperture and the shutter yourself for correct exposure. (Use your camera meter to help with this.) Why do both?  You will really get better exposures and better looking pictures overall!

What’s a meter?  … and my camera has one?
All cameras have a meter to help determine the amount of light that is seen.  When you learn to read and control the meter, you can control the light and exposure.
Above:  Here's a picture of what your camera meter reading looks like when it's properly exposing a picture.  The largest green line is right smack in the middle.  You can either see it by looking into your viewfinder (it's down at the bottom usually) or it is usually on your LCD screen.
To overexpose, it goes to the right.  To underexpose, it goes to the left.  The numbers are your shutter speed, f-stop, ISO speed, and picture number.

Assignment #1: Exposure control

"Keep it simple" definition: 
Exposure:  Amount of light exposed.

Exposure is controlled by: 
  1. Shutter speed (ex. 1/125) ... Exposes the digital sensor to light.
  2. Aperture or "F-stop" (ex. F5.6) ... The diameter of the opening.
  3. ISO (ex. 200) ... How sensitive your chip is to the light.  Higher number = more noise.

To do: Correctly expose a nature scene, without flash, using your camera meter and "Manual Mode."
You will need to set the aperture, shutter, and ISO setting to correctly expose your scene.  Hold down your flash, if necessary...although, you typically shouldn't need to do this if your scene is correctly exposed.
HINT: Often a high shutter speed should be accompanied by a low f-stop, and vice-verse. For example: F32 and 1/60 went together well for one of my photos.  For the other: F5 and 1/1000 worked well.  It all depends on your scene/lighting.

Q: I can't get the dial on my camera meter to line up, as you instructed in class..what's wrong? 
A: If your curser is to the left of the's underexposing and not getting enough light.  So, you will need to choose a smaller number for shutter speed and/or aperture to let more light in.  Also, check your should be between 100-400, generally speaking. (If the curser is to the right, it's overexposing and letting too much light chose a larger number for shutter speed and/or aperture.)

Q: My screen just looks black and I can't get a picture.
A: There is not enough light.  Are you indoors?  Your camera can only see very strong light, like sunlight or flash.  The light in your house is not bright enough, generally speaking, for your camera to see.  So, open curtains or go outside.  Also refer to the above question.

Q: My picture looks a little blurry.
A: Was your shutter speed less than 60?  Remember, you can't really handhold your camera with a shutter speed less than 60.  Another possibility is that you or your subject was moving too much.  Also, make sure your camera is done focusing before you take the shot.  Most cameras require you to press the shutter release button down half-way to auto-focus and then all the way to take the shot.

If you are in my class and have more questions...please post a comment and I will try to answer them.

Here is a simple video on "Exposure."

Rachel Opdahl's example of assignment 1:

Shutter speed: 1/60.  F-stop (aperture): F32.  ISO: 100

This photo (above) is not "untouched," so don't feel bad if yours doesn't look as vibrant.  (I have manipulated the color)...but I posted it anyway, to give you an idea of how light/dark your photo should be.
Shutter speed: 1/1000.  F-stop (aperture): F5.  ISO: 400

(Above) This one was taken here in Michigan.  I had a shallow "depth of field", which made the background berries out of focus.

Capture the Essence of fall!

I found this great article off Canon's website.  I just pasted it here for easy reference.  Click on the links for even more info.  Enjoy!

Quick Tip: Fall Foliage Photography

Autumn begins around late September, bringing with it a seasonal change that inspires photographers across the nation: Fall foliage. There’s no question that autumn’s dramatic landscapes are stunning to behold; the real challenge is how to preserve the impact in a still photograph that captures the unique quality of this season. Here are a few tips that may help (for further insights on capturing fall colors from California-based photographer David Henry, click here):
Get Closer

Macro lenses help you capture interesting details that are easily overlooked in wider shots (photo by Rebecca Gurian)
The temptation of wide shots, of entire forests or mountainsides may be hard to resist. However, variety is important. Shoot the panoramic landscapes, but also remember that beauty can be found in the details.
Canon has five different macro lenses that offer between .05x – 5x life-size maximum magnification. Macro photography is a great way to explore the colors and textures of autumn, while also using unique points-of-view. Not only can you get closer to your subjects -- macro lenses also help isolate your subject against a blurred background.
Another way to get closer is simply zooming to a longer telephoto setting, or switching to a tele zoom lens. Telephotos are great for isolating parts of subjects, and they usually will throw your backgrounds beautifully out of focus. Don’t forget to try focusing close with that telephoto lens – with many of today’s zoom lenses, you can focus close enough to fill the frame with a single large leaf.
Out-of-focus backgrounds are a photographic effect you can heighten, or reduce, by controlling your aperture: Wider apertures (that is, lower f-numbers, such as f/4, f/2.8, etc.) will result in a shallower range of focus, and soft backgrounds. Smaller apertures, such as f/11, f/16, or f/22 will increase the range of focus, resulting in sharper backgrounds. Either effect may work; you just need to make the creative choice depending on what, and how much of the background you want to see in the image.

Wider apertures will create shallow Depth of Field, allowing you to include background elements that won't compete with your main subject (photo by Steve Inglima)
Think Before You Point and Shoot

Instead of pointing and shooting, think about ways to artfully compose your shots for greater impact. Many novice photographers only pay attention to their main subject in the frame, and capture it in obvious ways (such as centered in the frame, or right in the foreground). Instead, take the time to consider the background, and experiment with more dynamic ways to make your main subject stand out:
  • Try not to shoot everything from eye-level. Live View shooting, available in all of our newer EOS digital SLRs, makes it easier to frame from high- or low-angles.
  • Look for patterns or repetition in the frame, such as reflections or groups of similar objects, which creates a pleasing effect in the composition.
  • Look for contrast through colors!  (photo by Scott Alexander)
  • Remember that contrast can help colors to ‘pop’ – for example, the warm tones of autumn leaves will be enhanced with the subtle inclusion of something cool (blue, or blue-green) in the frame. For example, a vivid sliver of sky, or a blue-painted automobile or house strategically placed in the foreground.
  • Don’t forget the power of wide-angle lenses. A standard zoom lens, such as an 18-55mm lens (or 28-90mm lens on a film camera) can produce some spectacular results – especially if you move in close at its widest setting and focus upon one object in the foreground. A low-hanging branch with leaves can suddenly become a broad burst of color and detail, if you move in and focus upon the nearest leaf.
  • Shoot some back-lit pictures, with the sun coming toward the camera and shining through leaves. Back-lighting can really increase the rich color of fall foliage. Watch for glare or lens flare, however. Sometimes, moving the camera just a bit can cause other leaves to block the sun, shading the lens and reducing or eliminating lens flare.

Backlighting fall leaves creates increased depth and saturation (photo by Scott Alexander)
Take Advantage of Natural Light

If possible, make a point of shooting during the ‘magic’, or golden, hour. This occurs generally during the first half-hour right after the sun rises in the morning, and the last half hour just before the sun sets at the end of the day. During these fleeting periods, the quality of light is ideal for autumn landscape photography:
  • The sunlight is naturally warm, rich, and golden-hued - further enhancing the colorful leaves.
  • The angle of the sunlight is lower and more directional. You can create enhanced textures and shapes if you shoot with it as side-light, or increased depth if used as a backlight.
  • The quality of magic-hour sunlight is more diffuse, with a pleasing contrast that is less likely to overexpose in the highlights, or underexpose in the shadows.
However, if the weather is not cooperating (magic hour light is most pronounced on days with clear, sunny forecasts) – don’t get discouraged. Fall showers can inspire beautiful photo opportunities, as well: Fall colors can look even more saturated during or right after a rainstorm, and moody skies can offer that perfect contrast to a fiery-hued tree. Or, get out your macro lens and look for details such as raindrops clinging to the leaves.

Magic hour light has a warm, soft, flattering contrast ideal for landscape photography (photo by Amy Kawadler)

Magic hour after an autumn storm results in stunning contrast -- look out for these unusual conditions! (photo by Damian Donach)
 Picture Style, and Other Enhancements
If Mother Nature doesn’t provide, Canon’s Picture Style can help create just the look and feel you want in your fall foliage shots. You can select one of the preset styles, such as Portrait (designed to enhance skin tones with softer detail, and slightly warmer tones), or Landscape (designed for increased details and more vivid blues/greens) – or you can create your own Picture Style, using Canon’s Picture Style Editor software and store it in the camera’s memory for future use. You can also add, or change the Picture Style of RAW images with Canon’s Digital Photo Professional software.
Finally, you can download and install into your camera additional, special-purpose Picture Style Files from Canon. One you may want to consider is Canon’s Autumn Hues Picture Style, which is available for free download at Canon’s Picture Style web site.

Canon's Picture Style is one way to tweak and enhance the look and feel of your images (photo by Steve Inglima)
You might also try different combinations of camera settings and accessories that will enhance the look of an autumn landscape:

  • Consider shooting RAW images. They give you lots of freedom to experiment with many of the following settings when you’re back at the computer, if you use Canon’s Digital Photo Professional or RAW Image Task software to process your RAW files.
  • Try adjusting the in-camera White Balance to help autumn colors pop
  • Shift your camera’s white balance towards amber or amber/magenta to add warmth to the image. (You can easily do this with the White Balance Shift/Bracket feature, a menu option on most recent EOS digital SLRs).
  • Take a custom white balance (such as with an ExpoDisk Portrait, or blue WarmCard White Balance Reference) to create a golden cast to your photos.
  • If you’ve shot RAW images, and there’s something white or neutral gray one of the images, try using the “click” white balance feature when you view the images in the computer.
  • Use the Detail Settings within Canon’s Picture Style to increase the contrast and color saturation of your images, for brighter colors and more definition.
  • Use a polarizing filter to help reduce reflection on wet or waxy leaves -- just rotate the filter until everything looks more vibrant.
  • Use low ISO settings for crisp, clean images that will hold their detail even enlarged and framed.
There are few subjects as universally inspiring as fall foliage. Take advantage of this fleeting period: Go out with your camera (and these tips in mind) and shoot! Remember to look for different ways to shoot familiar subjects, whether it's up-close, down low, with filters, after dawn, or during a storm -- and you will find it pay off in many wonderful, dynamic shots that capture the spirit of the season.
For more photography insights, click here to read our 2009 tip on fall foliage photography written by guest contributor David Henry.

The leaves don't need to be in the foreground to stand out (photo by Eric Stoner)

Use a polarizer when shooting wet leaves for improved contrast and color (photo by Jennifer Wu)

Sometimes it helps to fill the entire frame with your subject (photo by Rick Berk)

Patterns, repetitions, and reflections create pleasing compositional balance (photo by Rebecca Gurian)

Depth of field and "f-stop" (aperture)

3.5 & 1/250, 24-70mm @ 70mm.  Window light on the left & a little "bounced flash" from the white ceiling.  (This is an "untouched" photo)

Keep it simple definition: 

Depth of Field =   How in focus something is from foreground to background.

There are three things that affect Depth of Field : Your aperture setting (F-stop,) the focal length of your lens, and the distance you are away from your subject.

1. Aperture: the smaller the number (ie: f/2, f/4) the shallower the depth of field (less in focus from foreground to background). The larger the number (ie: f/16, f/22) the wider the depth of field (more in focus from foreground to background).
FYI: The smaller the number = the larger the hole, the larger the number = the smaller the hole...but don't focus on this fact.  It can be confusing at first.
2. Focal Length: A wide angel lens will produce imagery with more in focus from foreground to background such as a 35mm, 14mm, or lower. A telephoto lens will produce imagery with less in focus from foreground to background such as a 200mm, 400mm, or higher.
3. Distance: The closer you are to your subject the shallower your depth of field will be. The farther away you are from your subject the wider your depth of field will be.  In addition, the farther away your background extends from your subject, the more it will be out of focus.

Why is this important? Most point-and-shoot cameras are set to have the most in focus from foreground to background. It is difficult to manipulate a consumer camera to obtain shallow depth of field. It is a dead give-away that something was shot with a higher end camera when things are out of focus in the background or foreground. Shallow depth of field creates a more beautiful look to your imagery and you will feel more professional. 
3.5 & 1/200, 70-200mm lens at 135mm.  Overcast day in the late afternoon.

Want more to think about? More details....

Consider this: Just because you have a small f-stop, doesn't necessarily mean your background will be out of focus.  If your subject and the background are pretty close to being on the same plane, like if your background is right up next to your subject, and if you are not right next to your subject, then the background won't really be out of focus.
Look at these two photos.  They both use the similar f-stops, but the backgrounds differ in proximity to the subjects... leaving one in focus and the other out of focus.
5.6 & 1/60, 24-70mm lens @ 27mm. No direct sunlight, with a small burst of flash.

5.0 & 1/200, 75-300mm lens @ 85mm. No direct sunlight, overcast day, with a small burst of flash.

This last one was taken at dusk with one flash through a white transparent umbrella.  (The umbrella greatly softened the light...which needed to be pretty strong...since it was getting dark outside and the flash was the key light.) We will go more into lighting in another lesson.

3.2 & 1/160, 70-200 lens at 135mm. 

Assignment #2: Depth of field

More outdoor shots:  Complete at least 4 photos: at least one with a shallow depth and one with a large depth.  You are welcome to use more than two methods.  Remember: the more you experiment, the better you will get at each method and the more feedback you will be able to get from me.  Some examples of these methods are below.
Also, remember to record your f-stop and shutter speed.  Label your post as "assignment #2 your name".

For a shallow depth use a small number (5.6 or lower).  The lower the better, usually.
1. Be close to your subject.  (This will make part of your subject out of focus.)
2. Have your background really far away from your subject. (This will make your background out of focus.
3. Using your telephoto lens will create imagery with less in focus from foreground to  background.

For a larger depth use a large number (f11 or higher).  F22 is usually the best for distant landscape shots.
1. Be far from your subject.  (This will make all things in your picture in focus)
2. Have your background next to your subject. (There won't be any separation between the two because your camera will see them on the same plane)

Note: Remember to intentionally focus on what you want to be clear and crisp.

Shutter Speed

What is Shutter Speed?

Shutter speed controls the amount of time your digital sensor or film is exposed to light. The shutter is a plastic peace inside your camera that opens and closes to let light onto the film or digital sensor.
General formulas:
Freeze fast action = 1/250 or higher. (1/500 is better)  For sports, or generally moving children or subjects.
People = at least 1/60. (If you don't want to see blur)
Getting motion blur = 1/15 or lower...(depending on how fast your subject is moving.) You will want to use a tripod to avoid camera shake.
Above (untouched): Shutter speed: 1/320 & f-stop: 5.6
Above: Shutter speed: 1/200 and f-stop: 4.0
These two photos above needed a fast shutter speed in order to freeze the action.
Above: Shutter speed: 1/15 & f-stop: f11
With the above photo, I used a tripod to steady my camera and was able to get the action of the groom dancing at his wedding by showing motion blur.  He was doing the "robot" and died laughing when he saw this.

Watch this video for a better understanding on shutter speed.

Assignment #3: Shutter Speed

Complete at least 2 photos: at least one with a fast shutter speed and one with a slow shutter speed. (You can also experiment more with f-stop and exposure to fine tune your skills since we will have extra time between classes, if you like).
Also, remember to record your f-stop and shutter speed.  Label your post as "assignment #3 your name".

Different methods:

1. Sports or active subject shot...when no motion is desired.  (High shutter speed needed.)
2. Motion blur...You can for example, take a shot with your child waving something colorful (if you have a 1/60 shutter speed, and your child isn't moving too much accept what they are waving....then your child will be sharp, yet the motion of the hands moving will be visible.  You can get creative with this.  Or if you see something interesting that would look good in cars at night, can use a tripod or set your camera on something sturdy.  Then use your timer so that your fingers won't cause blur when you take the picture, and use a shutter speed of 1/15 or lower for best effects.

Note: Remember that something in your picture should look clear and crisp, even if it isn't your subject.

Your goal at the beginning of next year should be to have a basic knowledge of how your camera works to get a correct exposure and how to get desirable effects with your shutter and aperture.  Please experiment until you feel you have met this goal.  If you do so, you will be able to move on with our next assignments and start having fun with a more detailed approach.  We will go into things like lighting, composition, techniques for getting happy pictures, and whatever else you guys desire...if you are ready to move on.  This means you need to stop using your automatic features all together!  If you keep defaulting to this mode, you won't gain an understanding of how your camera works and you won't ever get fast enough manually to feel confident.   See you next year!

Natural Lighting

Color of natural light:  Have you ever noticed how the light changes throughout the day?  The color and quality of light varies greatly as the sun moves across the sky.   By quality, I mean: varying degrees of softness/hardness, and by color I mean in cold (bluish) and warm (yellowish) tones.  To keep things simple, I would recommend you remember the following:
Morning light = Somewhat soft, yet bluish and sometimes unflattering light.  But, this can be corrected if you know how.  We will talk about the correction in a later lesson.
Mid-day light = Harsh, unflattering (especially in direct may get the "racoon" eyes with harsh shadows when the sun is directly overhead).  It's a warmer light than morning, but if you are forced to photograph at mid-day...stick to open shade (see below for details).
Early evening = This is called the "sweet light" for a reason.  It's usually beautiful and soft and very warm in color....the most flattering.  You can even shoot in direct sunlight, if it's in the early evening because the light is so soft....meaning the shadows aren't leaving harsh lines across the face necessarily.

Whenever possible, I try to shoot in early evening light.

Diffused vs directional light:  Direct sunlight : when the light is hitting your subject when there are no clouds or shade.  Diffused sunlight: when the light is somehow being blocked, yet still able to penetrate through to your on an overcast day or in shade...or if you held up a white sheet, for instance, between the direct sun and your subject, you would be diffusing the direct/harsh light on a very sunny day and making it nice and soft.

Use Clean Light!
It is no wonder most professional photographers love using daylight. It is the “cleanest” light around. Natural daylight is also infiltrating. What does that mean? Because the light source is so large (the sun) it bounces off of everything. If sunlight is clean, what is dirty? Anything man made other than professional strobes. Even on camera flash can be a bit dirty if not used correctly because it is too small. When something is shot indoors, everything usually looks like it was shot with a pale yellow piece of film over it. It lacks contrast and detail. When sunlight is introduced your colors will be clearer, contrast will be crisper and your images will pop. But beware: not all sunlight is created equal. Just as the Eskimos have 100 different words for snow, so does the photographer for light. The best light is in what is called “open shade.” Look for a place that is fully covered from the sun, but looks open and airy. The way to learn how to light is to attach a feeling to it. Once you are able to start doing this, you will begin to understand light and will most certainly become a better photographer!

Bounced light:
Lighting is crucial to a great photograph. How big your light source is in relation to your subject is also key. The smaller the light source the harsher the light. The larger the light source the softer the light. As an example, the sun, while in reality, it the largest light source we know, however in relationship to us (the distance away from us) it is a very small light source albeit strong. This is why our shadows are extremely sharp/harsh. When the sun sets we get some of the best light possible because the sun is reflecting into the entire atmosphere around us and now the sun is no longer our light source but the atmosphere is. In relationship to us the atmosphere is huge because it wraps around us. With this idea in mind, whenever you are shooting outside in the bright sunlight, look for a shady spot that is opposite a big wall that is fully lit by the sun. It is easy to find in cities... and why I can always do photo shoots in the middle of the day in some places. The above shot was taken in full shade in a doorway with the sun reflecting off the walls and door.  The big white sky and the reflections all around her created a beautiful sparkle in her eyes and a soft light on her face.  You know your lighting is good if the specular highlight (white reflection) in your subject’s eyes is large and clear. This shot was taken years ago with my old Digital Canon Rebel with a lens at focal length 75mm. No flash was needed.  I didn't own much professional gear back then, but this photograph still remains one of my favorites.  I think it shows that you can get good results even without a professional camera.
-Bounce with a hand-held reflector:  Have you ever seen one of those big silver circular discs that photographers carry at times?  This is a tool to reflect light, thus it's name "reflector."  The bigger the reflector, the comparison to your subject (since technically it makes your bounced light a bigger and softer source of light and it hits more areas of your subject more evenly.)  You can make a reflector by using one of those silver windshield pop-out thingy's....or just wrap some cardboard in aluminum foil.  (I did this for a while until I could afford to buy a real one).  Get the reflector in the sun and reflect the sun back onto your subject.  It takes a bit of getting used to and may be difficult to see at first.  But, with a little practice, this can become second nature and you will be able to spot the light easily.  If the sun is strongly reflecting...then it may be helpful to move further back from your subject, as to not reflect too much light.  But, if you don't see much reflection at all...moving closer to your subject usually helps.  On a very overcast day, you may not be able to reflect anything.

Window Light:
1.  The closer your subject is to your light source, the softer the light will look.
2.  The further your subject is from your light source, the harsher the light will look.
Thus, get your subject as close to the window as possible!

If you find yourself in a room with a large window, get your subject as close to it as possible and shoot away.  Window light is some of the prettiest lighting because it is super soft and directional meaning the light will wrap around the person with both highlights and shadows that create better depth.
The above shot was taken in my little apartment right next to the sliding door.  I believe I also used a reflector to bounce the light back into the shadows.  It resembles studio lighting...because the window acts like a big soft box.

Some lighting techniques:
Back lighting:  One of my favorite techniques....this is when you intentionally place the sunlight behind your subject and then using a reflector (or flash) you bounce light onto your subject.  Don't forget to bounce light back onto the subject or you may get a silhouetted look.  This technique works well in early evening light that is directional...with no clouds in the sky.  The below pictures demonstrates back-lighting.  The sun behind creates a beautiful glow in the hair and around the body.
Direct early evening light:  This is best achieved right around sunset.  The light is very warm and soft enough that it can fall directly onto your subject.  In this shot below, I saw how the light was beautifully bouncing around this little nook of a building.  So, that's where we went.

Side lighting:  When your light-source is illuminating the side of your subject.  This shot below was taken on a slightly overcast day, she was in the shade, and the light was coming from her side.  I had her look into the sunny area, which caused the light to softly illuminate her face.
Diffused light (overcast day):  This is one of the easiest techniques and most flattering.  On an overcast day, the light is softly diffused, yet you still get the specular highlights in the eyes.  In this photograph below, I bounced a little flash onto my subject, but not so much that you can tell it's flash...just enough to light up the eyes and even out the shadows.  This technique can also be done with a reflector.  There is an appearance of even soft light all around.

Assignment #4- Natural window light

Okay guys... Here's your chance to try out what we have been learning!  Even if you weren't able to attend photo group this month, you can still try this out.

Directions:  Practice with window lighting on someone and show us your best result.

Things to remember:
1.  You'll need a lot of light!  Try it on a brighter day, if possible.  This will help your exposure.  And open all your other curtains in the room to let in as much natural light as possible.
2.  Don't forget to reflect the light into the shadows!  Use a home-made reflector to bounce the light coming from the window onto your subject.  (Foil wrapped around cardboard...etc.) Place it directly opposite the window.
3.  Diffuse, if necessary.  If the light is directly on your subject as it comes through the window, like on a day with no clouds, then place a white sheet over the window to soften the harsh light.
4. Pin up a background!  You may use some of my fabric, until you get your own.  Just pin up a large enough piece to cover the ground and wall behind your subject.
5. Place your subject as close to the window as possible, without getting the window in your shot.  This will give you the softest light possible.  Also try to have them angled a little toward the light...basically, you just want to make sure the window light is illuminating the most important parts of the face (both eyes if possible).
6. Using a tripod will help you get the shot.  If you need to borrow my little cheap one, let me know.
7. Don't worry if it's not perfect!  Especially if it needs a little photoshop if part of your background gets messed up or something...don't worry!  I will try to also show you how to photoshop your pictures soon.  But, until then, just focus on getting the best you can.

Please post an example for us and label it with your name and "Assignment #4".