From cell phones to mirrorless cameras to DSLRs, portrait photography is always accessible to us on a daily basis. Whether you are photographing a model or your best friend, the key to a good portrait is light, expression, pose, and background. I had the opportunity to teach three awesome students these concepts on a cloudy Sunday morning.
We started off with our usual indoor session, beginning with expectations for the class. We get a wide range of experience at Aperture Academy—some students have been photographing for 20+ years, while others just picked up a camera. Knowing everyone’s expectations also paces the review on the exposure triangle. We went over ISO, aperture, and shutter speed briefly, focusing on aperture heavily as it will control our depth of field. Afterwards, we moved on to lens choice, focusing, and then composition. But seeing these tips and tricks don’t compare to actual experience. We headed outside to photograph our subject of the day, Natalie, and began to practice what we learned.
Since it was cloudy, we were blessed with soft light, allowing us to photograph pretty much anywhere. There’s a misconception that the sun has to be out to get great photographs, when in reality, diffused and indirect light is often more flattering for portraits. We started off using a brick wall for Natalie to lean on. Getting a subject in a relaxed position is a good way to start and allow them to settle in. We changed our perspective and created some leading lines to Natalie with the patterns of the brick. This also allowed us to get a shallower depth of field, creating that soft blur leading toward the subject.
Next, we explored the courtyard of the office area. One of the benefits of photographing in an office location is that it really shows the students great portraits can be taken anywhere. We might not be in Yosemite or Zion, but we have the tools to make anywhere appear magical. One of the tricks to getting a great background is using our telephoto lenses. This allows us to compress the image and isolate the background. We got some great shots of Natalie up against a tree as well as some close-ups on a bench.
We also used uneven exposure to our advantage. While our eyes might see an ugly building in the background, the camera sees a dark backdrop. I showed the students how to position Natalie in the light, use their telephoto lenses and angle themselves so the dark building wall would be their background—in the camera, it looked like a studio backdrop!
We practiced headshots next, leading with my demonstration of turtling of the neck. This allows light to wrap around the face and accentuate the jawline. The before and after shots truly amazed the students (it was also my secret move during my wedding). The students practiced some extreme close-ups of Natalie afterwards, still utilizing the telephoto lens, but being mindful of closing down their aperture a bit.
To end, Natalie walked the runway for us, allowing the students to practice continuously focusing and photographing with continuous release mode. When using AF-C or AI Servo, the focus does not lock, but instead will continuously refocus on the focus point. Unless you have a camera that has face detection (the students did not), practicing keeping the focus point on the subject’s face was the first step to getting sharp photos of a moving subject.
Before I knew it, we took our group photo and the students were off. I’m confident they will keep putting the skills we learned to good use!
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.