Good Guide To Portrait Photography
portrait images is down to two key things - your ability to pose
your subject and control the light. It really is that simple. Mastering
these basics will transform your people pictures from ordinary photos
that show little more than what a person looks like, into professional-quality
images your subject will love. Here we're going to deal with the
art of posing your subject and lighting skills to create flattering
results. Being able to quickly steer your subject into a pose that
works means you can concentrate on communicating with them, which
always makes for more natural and successful photos. Once your subject
is feeling relaxed and confident, you can guide them by fine-tuning
their pose. These little tweaks - just a tilt of the head or twist
of the torso –can make all the difference between an average
snap and a stunning image. For instance, using the natural curves
and lines of the body can convey character and mood, and help make
composition more dynamic; the position of the arms and hands can
make a pose come alive, while the face provides the expression to
set the mood. Altering your viewpoint and cropping in-camera can
add a vital creative edge, too. So, just follow this guide, practice,
and you'll soon be producing portraits like a professional ...
To Lean On
Standing on your own in the middle of a studio with a photographer
pointing his camera at you can be daunting even for experienced
models. It's often better to start your session by giving your subject
something to lean against, such as a studio wall or door. This helps
them relax and feel less vulnerable, and can help your images by
using the texture or shape of the
chair/wall as a part of the composition.
To Do With Those Hands?
It's important that the hands don't compete with the face for dominance
in a portrait. Positioning the hand too far forward can be overpowering,
and if you see the whole back of the hand, it can be distracting
and ugly. Seeing the side of the hand, with some of the fingers
slightly bent, looks far more natural.
Hands can easily end up dominating a photo and ruining it, especially
if they just dangle at the subject's sides. If you're not sure whether
to leave the hands in the picture, try leaving them out. Or, if
the subject has pockets, get her to tuck her thumbs into them. This
looks far better than stuffing the whole hand in there.
Directing your subject to put their hands on their hips is a great
way of making them look more elegant and less dominant. It usually
means the elbows are bent, which adds a dynamic angle to the composition.
Resting the subject's hand on their hip can be graceful; tucking
the thumb behind the hipbone suggests a bit more attitude.
Pose That Works
Fashion dictates that most people want to look slimmer, and the
best way to do this is to turn the body at an angle to the camera.
This gives the appearance that there's less width between the shoulders,
so the body looks thinner. For the more stout-of-stature, it's far
more flattering than a completely side-on pose, which can highlight
a beer belly! Putting the body at an angle yet turning the head
back towards the camera gives a more dynamic composition, too.
A small tilt in the angle of the head not only looks more natural,
it can make the face look slimmer, especially if it's tilted towards
the front shoulder. However, get your subject to move her head around
a little. Try some shots with the head tilted forward, some back
some dead straight. Each will give a slightly different feel to
the portrait. Eye contact can be important, but bear in mind many
women prefer shots of themselves not looking directly at the camera.
If there's a body joint you can see in the viewfinder, bend it!
Straight legs and arms make a subject look stiff and awkward. When
the front leg is allowed to relax, the knee and ankle bend a little,
which look far more comfortable. With the weight on the back foot,
the front hip is less pronounced. Arms also look much more relaxed
and natural when bent slightly at wrist and elbow. Putting a hand
on hip means the subject oozes confidence.
Getting the position of the feet right is the best place to start.
Standing flat footed with both feet pointing towards the camera
is a no-no as it can look confrontational. If that’s not the
kind of shot you’re after, point the back foot about 90 degrees
to the camera and the front foot towards the camera. This naturally
turns the body too which is exactly what you are after.
is about the way you divide the picture space to give a pleasing
sense of impact and balance. The rule-of-thirds is the best known
guideline. Divide your picture into a grid of three vertical and
three horizontal bands – the most pleasing effect is when
your subject coincides with one of these lines. But there are at
least two other compositional ideas to try when photographing people.
composition is ideal for head-and-shoulder portraits, where the
head makes the top of the triangle and the body the base. Triangles
are also good for group shots, using a higher face in the middle
that leads the eyes down to the other faces at each side.
composition is particularly strong for women. This is where the
head is usually at a slight angle, then the body is turned away
from the camera, and the front-most leg has a bend at the knee.
It’s great for showing off a fantastic curvy figure. Remember:
rules are made to be broken and a straight-on portrait slap-bang
in the middle of the frame can look modern and edgy.
& Nose Rules
When shooting a head-and-shoulders portrait, it’s best to
avoid having the top of the nose break through the line formed by
the edge of the furthest cheek. This has the effect of making the
model’s nose look overly large, even if it isn’t. (And,
if they do have a big nose, they won’t thank you for emphasising
A true head-and-shoulders portrait is usually cropped just above
the chest, and works best when there’s some space above and
to one side of the subject. This gives excellent balance to the
composition. Cropping really tight, even right through the forehead,
can give great impact. Placing the subject at the edge of the frame
can also work well for increased drama.
You can always tell a good photographer – they own a well-used
stepladder and have worn-out knees on their jeans! That’s
because images can often be improved by looking at your subject
from a different angle – often up high or from down low. Unusual
viewpoints can add a real twist to your pictures, or help convey
a different mood or attitude. Getting down on your knees or up on
a ladder can also make your photo session more fun!
This is the conventional eye-level angle we’re used to seeing,
and it can work well. It doesn’t overemphasise any particular
part of the subject or convey a strong mood or attitude, but can
be great for direct eye contact. Using the camera at eye-level with
the subject is especially important when photographing kids, as
looking down on them makes them look too small and detached.
If you position yourself slightly above the subject it can swiftly
change the dynamic of the picture and make the subject look more
passive or even sultry. It also lets you use their body shape as
a stronger part of the composition, and focus more clearly on the
eyes. It’s often good to have the head tilted slightly so
the eyes aren’t in a horizontal position. It’s much
easier to do this if you shoot from slightly above.
you're after straightforward natural portraits then this technique
is for you. By using diffused light from a large window you can
capture stunning, dramatically lit pictures of family and friends,
with plenty of contrast and gentle, muted skin tones. Despite the
fact you're using a natural light source, you actually have an amazing
amount of control over the strength and direction of it. By using
different windows and angling your subject at different orientations
to the light, you'll gain a level of control that you'd normally
only expect to find in a studio. What's more, the light is continuous
so it's easy to pre-visualise how your shots will come out when
you hit the shutter release only is the light source free, you don't
need any fancy gear either - just a good portrait lens that offers
focal length of 50mm or longer and, preferably, also boasts a wide
maximum aperture of around f/2.8. Your shots will probably benefit
if you use a white or gold reflector too, as this fills out the
shadows and gives a more flattering, even light.
Short of home studio space? Step outside! Portraits taken on location
are far more visually exciting than working in front of a boring
old studio backdrop!
park or empty beach can provide a far more natural-looking backdrop
for your portraits than your house or studio and they offer loads
of great opportunities for props as well as making the most of natural
light. With the extra hours of daylight and warm weather (most of
the time), summer is the ideal time to lure friends and family outside
with the camera. Not only does the bright sunlight make photography
a much more enjoyable experience for everyone, it also means you
can often work with faster shutter speeds to freeze movement and
work with the camera handheld. However, summer sunlight brings a
special set of challenges to deal with – overcast conditions
can make portraits look dull and lifeless, while the dark shadows
created in bright sunlight, especially during the middle of the
day, can turn eye sockets into fathomless black holes!
Isolate your subject from a distracting or messy background by using
a wide aperture of around f/4. This will create a shallow depth-of-field
that throws the backdrop out of focus. You’ll find it easier
to achieve this effect using the longer end of your standard zoom
and by bringing your subject forward from the background.
At An Angle
A simple way to add a sense of movement to your portraits is to
shoot them at a slight angle, rather than keeping the horizon level.
Here, the angled composition looks more fun and dynamic and prevents
the image looking too staid and formal.
To Black & White
For a classic, timeless look, convert your shots to black &
white. This can also help you remove clashing or dominant colours
in the background that would otherwise distract attention away from
the main subject.
One of the major advantages of shooting portraits outdoors is the
availability of natural props and location elements to incorporate
into your compositions. Look out for opportunities to use grasses,
trees and architectural forms to help frame your pictures and create
a sense of the location. They may even present new posing options,
such as lying down, sitting or leaning.
Using a reflector is a good alternative to using a flashgun to help
lighten the shadows in your outdoor shots. You’ll need a willing
assistant to hold and angle it into the right position to catch
the light, and if it’s windy it can be a difficult job keeping
it at the right angle. On the plus side, it’s easier to see
the illuminating effect that a reflector has on the shadows compared
to using a flashgun.
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