Fellow photographer, DeAnna Roberts, and I took a group of students into the world of portrait photography here at Aperture Academy on a cloudy Saturday morning. We were eager to get the day started, and as always, I was excited to work with DeAnna again! We started off with a round of introductions, getting to know each student and their expectations. Everyone’s experience with a camera was different, and DeAnna and I made it our mission for the day to cater to each students’ needs.
We first started off with a basic review of the exposure triangle, with emphasis on aperture and depth of field, in hopes to build a strong foundation before practicing the skills. Next, we went over evaluating images and how to use exposure compensation when necessary. And finally, we discussed lens choice as well as composition. It was a successful review as questions were being asked and opinions were brought to the table, but now it was time to put the information to use!
We headed out to photograph our model for the day, Jasmine. Just as the group stepped outside, the sun peaked out ever so slightly behind a cloud, giving us some harsh sunlight to work with. Immediately, DeAnna and I positioned Jasmine in multiple angles in relation to the sun. While a lot of natural light is good for photography in general, direct light from the sun can be troublesome. When Jasmine was front lit, she immediately squinted and looked downward. When the sun was positioned to the side, the high contrast from the shadow was unflattering. However, backlighting provided a even tone on her face, and coupled it with a glowing rim light around her hair. Lesson number one was complete: always, always, always find good light to photograph in!
With lighting in mind, DeAnna and I asked the students to take over and position Jasmine. Doing this workshop at Aperture Academy headquarters might not be the most scenic, but for teaching and learning purposes, it is very beneficial. The students had to think about how to create portraits in an area that was not the most visually stunning to look at––at least not a first glance. They achieved the goal of soft lighting, making sure the sun didn’t hit her face directly, but now had to combat the background. Was there reflections from the windows? Was the foundation behind Jasmine a distraction? So many aspects to consider, and so many tricks to make a photographer’s job easier.
The first one was using a telephoto lens to really compress that background. Suddenly, the cars that were behind Jasmine when we had her lay on the fountain were cut out of the frame. Instead of a window or a barely blooming tree, we got a texture of colors as a backdrop. Angles were another important factor to consider. One student had an excellent question of what angle do we normally photograph portraits in? Higher or lower than the subject? While DeAnna and I tend to photograph pretty straight on, we did address how a lower angle will make the image more dramatic and the subject more dominant. While that higher angle makes the subject more innocent and elegant. We brought angles into headshots as well, but this time, angling the subject versus the photographer. DeAnna tagged Jasmine out for this demonstration, as we showed students how tightening a subject’s jawline can really accentuate their features.
We ended class with practice on moving subjects. Jasmine tagged back in and walked the runway for us, throwing in some spins, twirls, and jumps! The final lesson was understanding focus, and using the camera’s autofocus modes correctly. DeAnna and I had the students change their focus modes to AF-C and AI Servo (Nikon and Canon respectively). In doing so, how the camera is focusing changes. Instead of locking on the active focal point, the camera is now continuously adjusting its focus. Both DeAnna and I were delighted to see the students come away with some sharp photos!
Before we knew it, it was time for our group photo, and then we were saying goodbye to our wonderful group, knowing they will take the skills learned today to continue growing in photography.
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.