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Another month, another fun session of portrait photography! Since the start of spring, I find myself looking forward to our Natural Light class even more than usual. The trees are full of leaves again, the flowers are in colorful bloom, and the weather is perfect for an outdoor photo adventure. Despite my allergies, I was in great spirits as I, along with 6 students, started Saturday morning immersed in portrait photography.
We began by reviewing basics in camera and exposure. A strong foundation is always my motto to achieve great images, and understanding the exposure triangle is essential when it comes to getting the exact look and feel a photographer wants in an image. Our main focus was on the aperture. When we think of professional portraits, one of the first visuals we notice is that blurry background. How blurry that background comes out is determined by the aperture, as it controls depth of field. Using a bigger aperture, coupled with a telephoto lens, can really enhance a portrait by isolating the subject from the background. In order to make life easier, I also recommended the students to set their cameras to aperture priority mode. Setting correct exposure manually is one less thing to worry about—in aperture priority, the photographer controls the aperture setting, and the camera will automatically adjust for proper exposure by changing the shutter speed.
Once we had our camera set, we ventured outdoors to photograph our model, Holga. The four lessons we focused on were to 1) find the right light, 2) find the right background, 3) pose our model in attractive ways, and 4) interacting with the model for great expressions. Naturally, we started with light (no pun intended). The sun was high up in the sky by the time we started shooting, and while I’m a huge advocate of shooting in the shade, there are times where that just isn’t possible. So how do we deal with sun?
It’s hard to explain about how harsh sunlight is bad, but it is easier to show it. We had Holga face the sun, and right away she began to squint. The lighting was so harsh that she was barely able to look up. When the sun was on the side of her, the squinting disappeared but harsh shadows took its place. The only workable solution was to backlight our model and shoot toward a shady area which gave us some nice even lighting.
After finding the right light, we worked on finding great backgrounds. This is where the telephoto lens can help in an area that is not ideal for portraits. While a 50mm prime with f/1.4 creates an amazing shallow depth of field, it cannot compress the image like the telephoto lens—which in turn allows photographers to work with a minimal background. We practiced by posing Holga in soft lighting, zooming in to work with the background, and starting her off with leaning against a tree. Getting a model to relax can be difficult, so getting them in a more natural position can alleviate some of the stiffness.
For the next hour, we worked with Holga in different areas, posing her and getting her to smile—walking that fine line of constructive direction and natural reactions. We winded down with a technical lesson on photographing Holga while she was moving, and then wrapped up with the students jumping in and working together to access the area and find a perfect shot. Before I knew it, they were off to practice on their own!
Until next time,
Mary and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team!
If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.
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