Portrait Photography

How to Shoot Excellent Portraits

girl-portrait.jpgLocation portraits are really cool! Why? Because you always have heaps of control. If your model is ‘carrying on’ and being difficult, give her a stiff scotch or a glass of champagne. If they are not dressed the way you want them to be, put their clothes in shadow or fix it later on if you have learned a little photoshop or some other manipulative software. You can even fix an unusual or sad expression by back-lighting.

The strange thing is, many photographers ‘give up the ghost’ when it comes to location portrait backgrounds, thereby losing control. Usually the worst place to shoot is where you first find your model. The backdrop is most often a distraction or complex and just makes the portrait too busy.

This is unfortunate because it isn’t too difficult to alter what might seem to be a difficult background.

Here are some pointers to remember;

The three primary points to keep in mind when selecting a background are;

– Avoid high contrast
– Steer clear of bright colours
– A busy and cluttered background is a ‘No No’

You really don’t want anything distracting the viewer from the portrait. Improvements can be a sense of depth and space or simple flowing lines to highlight the subject. Keep it simple.

In relation to indoor portraits, make sure that nothing in the image is competing with the subject. The background should always be complimenting the subject.

Many well known photographers insist on removing the everyday items like flower vases, ash trays, lamps, televisions and similar items that simply don’t promote the subject.

With that in mind, you can always place things in the portrait that highlight or speak for the subject. Using ‘depth of field’ will be enhanced if you have things in the foreground and in the background that may speak part of that persons life or the period of the shot. Positioning is paramount here. The viewer’s impression will be affected by these objects if they are carefully chosen and promote the subject.

Remember that a background that is not in focus will not do much good in most cases. A good photographer will reveal things not hide them. Think about that. if you set your aperture to something like F/11 or F/8 you can keep the background sharp. There’s nothing wrong with having substantial background as long as the model doesn’t get lost in it.

Make sure that none of your shadow area is a solid black and equally important, ensure that no highlight is a solid white. You’ll need lots and lots of tone. It will need to be something like a painting on a canvass. All areas of colour and density need to be clear and almost separate. The result will have a richer appearance. Inform your model to avoid wearing white or black clothing before the shoot.

Everything must be parallel. To do this, your camera lens must be parallel with the background. Your picture must represent the real parallels in life. Anything that is at an angle or appears to be at an angle will be distracting, perhaps sometimes upsetting to the viewer. You can even use internal wall, window or door lines to frame a portrait with some thought.

Believe it or not, unless you have a glamorous model that is spell binding, it will usually be your background that will make the location portrait a winner in the end.

You can become really good at this if you discipline yourself to practice. Take a portrait once a week even if it’s not an assignment. You’ll soon become an expert. Getting the most from your subject’s ability to pose is extremely important.

Seven More Tips;

  • If you have people who have difficulty giving you any kind of decent expression, try keeping them moving and gesturing.
  • It is truly amazing how affective side-lighting can be. It doesn’t matter if it’s clothing or a part of the body. Steer away from on-camera flash as your main source of lighting too.
  • Some professional photographers bring an attractive friend as an assistant who is of the opposite sex to the subject simply to keep them on their toes. In theory it should work but I haven’t tried that one yet.
  • The outcome will be better if the subject pulls their shoulders back
  • Try not to shoot too many; 30 to 35 times should be enough. Otherwise you subject will show signs of boredom or camera fatigue
  • Facial lines can disappear with reflectors and a few extra lights
  • Try and make necks appear longer

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