1> It's all about the eyes
It's said that the eyes are windows to the soul so it's essential to ensure your subjects eyes are in focus. As a viewer our eyes are drawn first to what part of the image is in focus, so by ensuring the eyes are in focus the viewer is able to engage with the subject. Selecting a very wide aperture will also give a shallow depth of field for the classic blurry background 'portrait look' (see image.)
You may also wish to try capturing your subject looking directly into the camera or looking 'off-camera' - both will yield different results. Having your subject looking down the lens creates a connection between the subject and anyone viewing the image. However if the subject is looking outside of the 'frame' then this creates a feeling of intrigue and adds interest as the viewer can only imagine what they were looking at.
Choosing where to place your subject within the image can make or break a portrait shot. There is no golden rule here so the best advice is to experiment. It may simply be that the subject framed centrally staring into the camera works best, however placing your subject to the edge of the frame and giving them some space to 'look into' can also work well.
3> Angle of view / Perspective
Consider which angle to shoot your subject to give you the best results. There are no set rules and part of the fun is trying something different so why not try shooting from a high angle looking down on your subject, or get low and shoot upwards for a dramatic effect.
taking portrait photos of kids? - then simply bending your knees and capturing them down at their level works wonders as you'll find yourself looking at the world from the child's perspective.
4> Consider the background
Whilst the person you are shooting is the focal point of a successful portrait it is also worth considering the background and how you use it to add to the mood of the image. If the background is part of the 'story' that you are trying to convey (for example a corporate portrait of somebody standing outside of the company headquarters) then its important to ensure it is in focus. However the traditional portrait technique is to blur the background to ensure it is not distracting from the subject - this can be achieved by opening the camera aperture as wide as possible for a narrow 'depth of field.'
5> Which lens to use?
A medium telephoto lens will give flexibility and a pleasing perspective if your getting in close to your subject. Wide angle lenses lenses allow you to capture a lot of background (see image) but will also distort perspective (great for fun images of kids or even pets!) whilst long zooms will give you the opportunity to shoot further away from your subject (great for candids!)
If you wish to throw the background out of focus then a lens which offers a very wide aperture will give you a narrow depth of field (f2.8, f1.8 and f1.4 are the favorites.) Worth considering is the portrait photographers 'favourite' the 50mm prime lens.
6> Landscape or portrait?
Many people instinctively hold the camera to their eye in the horizontal position (called landscape) and overlook simply turning the camera on it's side vertically (called portrait) for a different feel to the final image.
Alternatively try bending the rules and holding the camera at an unusual diagonal image, this will add some energy and drama to the image and works particularly well if the subject is moving and not static.
7> Colour V Black and white
Most will shoot colour images without giving black and white a consideration. Black and white lends a timeless classic look to images and is a popular choice for many portrait and wedding photographers who want a simple look without the distractions of colour.
Whilst many DSLR's now include a monochrome (black and white) setting it's usually better to shoot in colour and then convert the image to black and white after using software such as Photoshop or similar programs such as Picassa.
Most photographers will agree that there is nothing like natural daylight, however once again the options are endless and using studio lighting, reflectors etc will give unlimited possibilities. If you are going to shoot using natural daylight then consider the time of day. Try shooting in the early morning or late afternoon when the light is softer and will give pleasing results compared to midday light which is generally harsh and hard to control creating hard shadows and bright highlights. If shooting around the middle of the day then consider trying a diffuser which is a useful tool for softening bright light or a reflector which can be used to fill in unwanted shadows.
The best thing to do is to experiment, side lighting will create a mood whilst backlighting your image against the afternoon sun will create a 'halo' effect around the subject and highlight hair which can give some amazing results.
|9> Shoot Candid |
If your subject is uncomfortable in front of the camera then try capturing them candidly when they are relaxed and at ease. Try a long zoom so you can work without putting any pressure on your subject and allowing them to relax in their own environment. This approach is also great for capturing children at play or kids who don't like to sit still for the camera or for candid shots at weddings or similar events.
Portraits don't have to be static. Why not try introducing some movement by having your subject move and emphasizing the movement by choosing a slow enough shutter speed to introducing some slight blur. You could also ask your subject to stand still whilst you capture the movement of the world around them (for this you will almost certainly need a tripod and to select your shutter speed carefully)
If you live in or near Brisbane and love portraiture then you may be interested in our studio lighting workshop or may wish to join one of our photography courses or workshops.