Portrait photography is built on a strong foundation of multi-tasking. On a bright Sunday morning, I, along with four amazing students practiced the different skills in taking great portraits: finding great light, posing our model in attractive ways, working with our model for great candids, and finding the right background for our shot.
Before we went out to practice these tasks, we still had to remember our cameras basics such as exposure and focus. We did a quick review session on ISO, aperture, shutter speed, and how they play a huge part in portrait photography. We also discussed pros and cons of different lenses (wide zoom, mid zoom, and tele zoom), especially how the telephoto lens does a great job compressing the image and creating a soft background for portraits, whereas a wide angle would unflatteringly distort the subject. And after some final examples of strong composition techniques such as rule of thirds and framing, we headed out to practice what we learned with our model Andon.
Our first task was to find some amazing light. There’s a common misconception that sunlight equals great light for photography when in fact direct sunlight can be very harsh and unflattering. It not only causes discomfort when directly in the model’s eye, but also creates harsh shadows on the face, resulting in a high contrast photo. Backlighting was the only way to get even exposure in direct sunlight, but we had to pay attention in making sure our background was not too overexposed.
Being at an office complex, it gave the students a perfect learning environment. There weren’t many areas that would be considered a great background to the naked eye, but with the right lens and perspective, the opportunities grew. We first photographed Andon up against a brick wall, adjusting our angles so that the wall can serve as a leading line to our subject. Next, we practiced using the telephoto lens to photograph through some plants as well as bring the background closer to the subject, isolating Andon from any distractions present.
One of the hardest jobs as a portrait photographer is getting your model to be comfortable in front of the camera. We tried a couple different poses that automatically gave the illusion of comfort, first having Andon sit down and then lean against a tree. Making him laugh is always a tough ask, so most of our shots had a more serious feel. I tagged Andon out halfway to demonstrate headshots and tightening the jawline so the light wraps around the chin and then practiced some extreme close ups.
We ended by working on two techniques: framing and movement. I showed the students ho easily nature can act as frames for your subject—all you have to do is look for them. In this case, we photographed through the leaves of a bush. For movement, I had the students change their focus mode from AF-S to AF-C for continuous focus (One Shot to AI Servo for Canons). This way, as Andon strolled toward us, our focus point would continuously focus on him rather than lock in place. The challenge was to keep the focus point on Andon at all times. After a few strolls down the walkway, I was super impressed on how the students quickly captured freezing movement as they each got sharp photos.
Before I knew it, it was time to wrap up with our group picture and off they went. Hopefully they will continue to practice the skills they learned today!
Until next time,
Mary and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team!
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