As an extrovert, I am naturally drawn to people—-and it is no surprise that this trait is so dominant in my career, both through my teaching and my photography. On June 25, a lovely Saturday morning, I got to combine my two loves and teach a group of students how to excel at portrait photography using natural light.
We started with introductions and a basic exposure review in our Aperture Academy studio, and much to my delight, there was a familiar face. A former student of mine enjoyed the class so much, he returned to get more practice and growth in!
We discussed some of the basic elements for this type of photography: 1) the importance of aperture and having a shallow depth of field, 2) using a fast enough shutter speed for those who are trying to photograph their toddler’s running across the yard, and, 3) picking the correct ISO depending on the light. With a few students being extremely new to using digital SLRs, we spent extra time discussing exposure, so everyone was comfortable and ready, before moving on to subjects like evaluating images on a camera, and having optimal composition.
As fun as the classroom is, it's really the hands-on session outside where the real fun begins! Several of the students expressed their concerns about interacting with the model, especially since they were more introverted. We were lucky to have an awesome model in Briana, but I still wanted to give the students some tips to work with, as it can be hard focusing on both camera settings and engaging conversation at the same time.
My first tip was to pose the model so that he/she is always in the most comfortable position: shifting weight onto one foot, leaning on a natural element, or even sitting down to get more relaxed. The second tip was to always keep the camera up and shooting. There are always idle moments that the model drops his/her guard, and that can sometimes be the most natural shot! And my last tip: practice makes perfect! You can never teach someone how to truly interact with others in a comfortable way; do what works for you, be yourself, and over time, it will get easier.
We also focused on lighting right away. After all, this is a natural light portrait photography class. So naturally, light is important (no pun intended)!
Before my students were even allowed to raise their cameras, I quickly positioned Briana in the sun, first front lighting her. I asked the students to analyze the lighting. Was it good? Why or why not? They came to the conclusion that even though it didn’t look “bad,” Briana was squinting and didn’t have a very pleasing expression.
We tried side lighting next. This time, everyone agreed it did look bad with harsh shadows on her face.
Finally, we tried back lighting. The students saw how even the coloring on Briana's face looked. But, they asked an important question: isn’t she too dark? Is there enough light on her face when the sun is lighting up the background but not her? (Excellent observation!)
This led perfectly into our next lesson... what you see in person isn’t necessarily what the camera will see. So yes, Briana’s face is technically “dark,” but if you find a background equally as “dark” and expose correctly, then problem solved. The secret to success? Use a background that is also in shade so the lighting becomes even.
Our hour and a half came and went just like that. We went over using telephoto lenses to bring the background forward, about adding a bit of light with reflectors, addressed getting rid of spotty sunlight with diffusers, and most importantly, tips on not being afraid to direct the model.
The students made amazing progress in the short amount of time, and I can’t wait to see the progress they make independently in the future.
Until next time,
Mary, and the rest of the Aperture Academy team!
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