On a warm Sunday afternoon, three amazing students joined me on an exploration of natural light portrait photography. We started with our indoor session which consisted of an exposure and camera review. We discussed how we will be photographing in aperture priority mode for the day, as aperture is the main setting that we want to control with portraits. Additionally, we went over the different types of lenses and how photographers utilize each lens as a tool to capture the best composition.
When we stepped out to photograph our model for the day, Anthony—the first thing we did was make sure the camera mode was set to aperture priority mode, and that our ISO was low since there was plenty of sunlight. We worked on some light tests to see how direct sunlight affects a portrait. In the middle of the day, the sunlight is pretty harsh, so front lighting our model immediately caused him to squint. Side lighting resolved this situation but another problem occurs as you get high contrast shadows on one side of the face. Finally, when back lighting our model, we were able to get even lighting on the face as well as a great expression! The only issue to be mindful of when back lighting is making sure that the background behind the subject is not overexposed. To do this, we just angle ourselves so that the background is also shaded.
Next, we practiced using our telephoto lenses to compress the image and bring the background closer. We experimented with a tree first—backing up and zooming in until the tree took up the entire frame behind the subject. For students who did not have a telephoto lens, we adjusted our strategy and positioned the subject as far away from the background as possible, taking advantage of the large apertures that the prime lenses offer.
We then worked on some poses and angles, specifically getting the subject to relax. We had Anthony sit down and photographed him at a lower angle. This not only immediately relaxed him, but the angle added a dramatic mood. The students also had to be mindful to not include the trash can in the background or have the tree coming out of Anthony's head. It was a great combination of adding mood, attention to lighting, as well as avoiding background mergers.
We practiced some headshot techniques next, and since Anthony had a wonderfully full beard, I decided to tag him out and model myself. When photographing headshots, I emphasized the importance of tightening the jawline and having your model turtle their head out toward you. It looks and feels awkward at first, but after some before and after tests, the students were amazed at how much of a different it made as the light wrapped around my chin. This is something that I am conscious of as a photographer as well as someone who is getting their photo taken, so much so that it was the one thing I asked my husband to remind me to do during our wedding photo sessions.
We ended classes by practicing framing and capturing continuous movement across the street from the office. There are plenty of trees that act as natural leading lines as well as negative space that can create a perfect frame. With some adjustments to their autofocus settings, the students photographed Anthony strolling through the foliage, checking to see if the photos came out sharp and in focus. Before I knew it, we took our group photo and my students were off to practice on their own.
Until next time,
Mary and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team!
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