I had to look back at some old files to confirm that I have been teaching at Aperture Academy for the past eight years. Throughout that time, I’ve been able to share my love for photography with numerous students, and I hope that my last class would be filled with the same excitement and enthusiasm as my first. It was a bittersweet morning for my final Natural Light Portrait class. I started off greeting the students as they came in one at a time and learning a little about them and their expectations for class. We then dived into a review of the exposure triangle. When I first started in photography, it was tough for me to learn the technical skills. One of the reasons was due to my lack of understanding the exposure triangle. I knew the terms: aperture, shutter speed, ISO—but it didn’t fully comprehend how the three worked together.
My struggles are also why I love to break down the fundamentals when teaching any photography class; teaching high school has also helped with that. Our review consisted not only of how each setting works, but how it affects portrait photography specifically. We then moved onto different lens choices and compositional techniques to incorporate. After a solid hour of review, we stepped out to photograph our model of the day: Andon.
When Andon first modeled for one of my classes, I think he came up to my chest. Now, he towers over me at six-foot-four. Sometimes I wish I had a step stool to get a better angle of him. But before we went over perspective, I had the students practice photographing Andon in different light. Direct sunlight was first. There’s three main angles that direct sunlight can hit our subject: front light, side light, and back light. I’m partial to backlighting, not only because that’s my style, but also because it creates soft light on the face. Another way to get soft light on the face is having out subject in indirect light, aka. the shade. Our goal was to always try and get soft light on Andon first and then figure out posing.
We started off by having Andon lean up against the brick wall of the building. This allowed us to play with perspective and angles. Leaning against the wall also gave a more natural pose as opposed to standing flat footed. Next, the students were given the opportunity to pose Andon the in plaza area—they chose to place him against a tree. This was a great time to take out the telephoto lens to help us compress the background. We also had him sit on a bench, another way to show more comfort in the photograph.
After playing around with some leading lines, I tagged Andon out to demonstrate the power of wrapping light around a subject’s jawline. It was a hard lesson to learn in my professional photography career as I was always afraid to address the dreaded “double chin.” But after years of experience, I learned positive ways to bring it up with clients and most importantly, that it’s always better to get the best shot in the camera vs having to edit it later on. I demonstrated how to turtle a subject’s head forward, and in doing so, creating that sharp jawline.
We ended with some shots of Andon walking and jumping (much to his protest) along the pathway. Modern cameras now have advanced focusing features such as face detection, but understanding and using focus modes correctly can greatly help when photographing action shots. We switched out focus mode from AF-S to AF-C (no Canon users for the first time in a long time) and practiced keeping the focus point on Andon’s face as he came toward us. We had Andon do multiple runs before ending in a jump.
Before I knew it, my last class for Aperture Academy came to an end. I’ve been truly blessed to share my knowledge in photography with so many students over the years, and I can only hope that each one of them got something positive out of it.
For the final time, from Mary and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team!
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