From the San Francisco to Tanzania, Aperture Academy workshops allow photo enthusiasts to not only explore new locations, but hone their photography skills with the guidance of professionals. One workshop we offer, however, is not location dependent: Natural Light Portrait Photography. Portrait photography can be a success in any location, especially if a photographer can position the subject and work with natural light. Fellow photographer DeAnna Roberts and I led a group of students on Saturday morning here at Aperture Academy to explore the art of taking a great portrait.
We started off with a simple review of our exposure triangle, type of lenses, and composition. We would be shooting in aperture priority, so our main focus was reviewing how aperture affects the depth of field in a portrait. While shooting wide open can give you really nice bokeh in the background, there are times that it is not the optimal choice. Group portraits, for example, require a a smaller aperture in order to keep everyone in focus.
The real fun began after our initial review. DeAnna and I led the group outside to photograph our model, Jasmine. The students had a variety of lenses, some rocking the 50mm and 85mm prime, and others with telephoto zooms. DeAnna and I first showed them the pros and cons of each. While the students with telephoto lenses could not open their aperture to f/1.8 like the ones with the prime lenses, they had the advantage of being able to compress the image and bring the background closer to the subject. We practiced by farming Jasmine in front of a colorful bush, and using that telephoto lens to fill the entire background with that natural color. The students with the prime lenses could not fill the frame entirely, so we switched gears to give them the advantage. By positioning Jasmine in an area where there was plenty of depth in the background, the prime lenses were able to capture amazing bokeh.
Another technique DeAnna and I showed the students was using the camera's dynamic range to their advantage. While our eyes can see variations of tones, the camera is limited to 255. So when photographing our subject in bright light against a darker background, it creates a studio-like environment. The sun then decided to pop out at just the right moment for DeAnna and I to go over the most important lesson of the day: positioning the subject in harsh sunlight. The main problem with sunlight is shadows on the face creating a high contrast image. Side lighting was an obvious no-no, and front lighting was torturous to our model's eyes, so we settled with back lighting! With back lighting, we were able to get a nice rim light around Jasmine's hair as well as even lighting on the face.
We ended the day by practicing some framing techniques and focusing on moving subjects. Photographing people moving is one of the toughest tasks for beginning photographers, and by really understanding the camera's focus settings, our students were one step closer! We ended the class with sharp photos of Jasmine strutting the walkway, and the students were off to continue practicing on their own.
Until next time,
Mary, DeAnna 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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