Portrait - a lesson by Simon on how to make your portrait shots stunning. Click an image to view the Learning Gallery.
Portrait Photography - 101
Camera setting guide for this demonstration.
Mode dial: A - Aperture Priority or P - Programme Mode. A or P mode will allow you to take control of the focus. Focus should be on face - or for the perfectionist, the eye nearest the camera. Cameras that have ‘face detection’ focus mode will probably do a fine job too. Or you could try ‘Portrait’ setting in the presets — I’ve never used it so not sure how well it works but might be worth giving it a go. Set Aperture to the smallest number, such as f2.8 or f4 or f5.6 - depends on your camera. Set ISO to 800 - may need to go higher but this is a good place to start.
The three Ls - Lens, Light, Look
Which focal length to go for and why?
1. For a Portrait of just the person, a long focal length
a) includes just the subject
b) can reduce the background to a blur by using a big aperture (small f number e.g. f4)
c) maintains facial proportions
2. Environmental portrait needs some of the environment to make the image tell the story -
so a wider angle lens (shorter focal length) may be needed. However this requires care as:
a) wide angle lenses can distort facial features when used close to the subject
b) the background needs carefully controlling to avoid unwanted elements.
Using daylight. Examples of overhead light (not so good - shadowed eye sockets [panda eyes]) and how it can be simply improved by blocking the overhead light, by moving the subject under some form of canopy where light comes from above and in front, but not overhead (slides).
How to go from not-so-good to good light: where is the good light?
1. Outside: Get rid of toplight - but light still needs to come from above subject - just not directly overhead
a) Under cover e.g under a bridge, in a doorway, under a covered passage etc
b) Soft light not direct sunlight
c) Watch colour if your under trees or light is bouncing off a coloured surface
d) Look for ‘catch lights’ in the top half of the eyes
2. Inside/outside: Doorway light
a) Find the right doorway - they’re not all sources of good light.
b) Position subject just inside but not too far back
3. Inside: Window light - bit trickier than doorways
a) Find the right window for light and height - may need to sit subject down if windows aren’t very tall or you’ll get light from below.
b) Position subject relative to the window
c) Control contrast - may need a reflector to bounce some light into the shadow side
4. Fake window light Practical session with soft box
This covers a heap of things - posing, clothing, hair, make-up, expression, props. Its where the artistic/creative/interaction all come together. Good idea to have an idea of what you want to achieve before you get to this point. Engage with your subject before even picking up the camera. As you chat with them notice mannerisms - how they stand, what they do with their hands etc. This gives you an idea of ways to photograph the subject - as many people loose the ability to behave naturally when you point a camera at them.
Expressions: For a bit of fun try emotions - such as annoyed, excited, scared, bored, frustrated, desire, puzzled etc etc. Or maybe conjure up a scenario - “You’ve just won the lottery”, “Donald Trump is coming round for tea”, “Your flights been cancelled” etc. How to get people to do what you want. Can be confusing to try explaining - easier to show them and get them to mirror you. Hands. Can look ugly and dominant and can be difficult to make look elegant. Try leaving them out. Try props - hats, scarfs, sunglasses - all make great extras
Final note: This method of using daylight is very powerful - but not something you can always use - for example at a wedding, events etc as you don’t have the ability to move people to where you have a ‘great spot’. This is where the on camera fill flash is used (think of wedding and press photographers) to push some light into the faces to get rid of those panda eyes and generally brighten the subjects face.