Today’s post is a guest post from Diane Stec, view more information about her at the bottom of the article.
1) If light is the most important element to a portrait, then the camera is one of the most important tools. Having an expensive camera is not the only way to capture great portraits. I will not argue with purchasing good gear, but an experienced and talented photographer can take an incredible portrait with an old film camera. It’s a combination of thorough knowledge of photography and the understanding of many key elements to create stunning portraits. It’s important that the camera can change aperture, shutter and ISO to create creative images. Learn to set the camera on proper exposure and then experiment with creative exposure, and you will see your portraits come to life.
2) It’s important to have a good lens or what pros call, “Good Glass.” Actually, the best lenses should open-up (wide aperture) to f/2.8 or larger (f/1.8, f/1.4 and so on). This is important to achieve shallow depth of field by knocking the background out of focus. Also, it’s a good idea to have a high-quality portrait lens for your particular camera. If you’re shooting with a digital camera, the crop factor may add to the “mm” of the lens. Usually, prime lenses are the best; but many photographers prefer a range in “mm” choices without having to change the lens or their distance from the subject. If you are using a SLR, roughly a 70mm to 135mm or even a 200mm are great lenses for portraiture.
3) One of the most important ingredients to a successful portrait is the expression. You can unsuccessfully break the rules or mess up the lighting and to a degree save the shot with a good expression. Of course, the stronger the portrait will be if all the elements fall into place. It’s important that your client feels comfortable and relaxed. Keep up a conversation and never let them sit like a lump while you’re making technical adjustments. They need to be a part of their session. The more comfortable they are in the session the stronger the portrait, and the easier it will be to direct them to achieve the desired pose and expression.
4) The choice of location is incredibly important to the overall look of the portrait. The location should complement what the subject will be wearing. Have a consultation with your client on clothing choices for either the studio, location or both. These two items need to balance each other, which will allow for continuity with the pose and composition. It will bring everything together to create and strengthen the overall look and feel of the portrait. I enjoy outdoor locations for a great deal of my work. There is always something special about what Mother Nature provides. I do love shooting in the studio for greater control, special lighting, certain sets or trippy shots that you usually can’t achieve outdoors. As photographers, we must communicate visually what our client describes verbally. This discussion will dictate the choices on clothing and location.
5) One of the most overlooked but what all images require, even in the smallest amount is the Light. Just like the subject has a personality so does the light. It has a look, a color, a feel and a quality. It’s important to study the way light highlights or wraps around your subject. Many photographers take light for granted excusing all failure to either the equipment or the photographer. You need to really understand ISO. There is a simple guide to follow. Use higher ISO’s in darkly lit areas and lower ISO’s for brightly lit areas. However, this isn’t always a fast hard rule. As you will learn, photography doesn’t always have absolutes. Today, much depends upon the camera, sensor, pixels and the quality of the ISO speed chosen just to name a few. A good example is using slower ISO’s for cityscapes or night scenes. Again, much depends on what you are trying to say creatively. If you are doing outdoor portraiture, it’s important to avoid direct sunlight. Try to photograph in areas with even illumination or shade. Also, drag the shutter on a dark background to open it up, or if the background is too bright choose a faster shutter speed to knock it down.
There are many components needed to create a strong portrait. I believe these are some of the most essential techniques. It’s a good idea to always keep reading, learning and studying other photographers work. Nothing can replace a talented, creative and experienced photographer. It takes time to become a professional or even a master photographer, but only a very select group will achieve the level of Artist.
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