Archives for Portrait Photography category

Self portrait using light and shadow

Shadow Self
f/9.0 – 1/100 sec – ISO 200 – Focal Length 70 mm

For anyone who has followed my blog you will notice that portrait photography is not a regular part of my portfolio.  In fact I generally avoid it at all costs.  Nature, landscapes, still life, architecture; these are the subjects I prefer by far.  But I also realize I should expand my repertoire and go beyond my comfort zone from time to time.  So I have dabbled in photographing humans now and then.

For me, there are two major challenges with portrait photography:

  • Posing – Giving a person directions on how to pose is not an easy task.  It helps when your subject is an adult who can move and adjust themselves with the camera pretty much on their own.  But throw a child into the mix and it becomes a whole other ballgame.
  • Lighting – This one is harder than the posing.  Lighting is very tricky and will make or break an image.  I am far from mastering this yet and have some reading and practicing to do.

With a recent portrait session I was inspired by a photographer I ran across on the internet (hopefully imitation is flattery).  The portrait photography of Jason Lee is definitely outside of the box and very creative.  I also threw a few of the “traditional” in as well.

I am my own worse critic.  I can pick the above portrait apart for all kinds of reasons.  But my biggest take away from it is that I have to master lighting.  I think I have his face lit pretty well.  The background however is too shadowy and gray.  I need to balance the subject’s face and the backdrop lighting.  This was taken against a white seamless backdrop and I would have liked it to be more white.

This is a perfect example of how difficult posing your subject can be.  Sometime they are just not willing to cooperate.  That is where the portrait photographer needs patience.  You need patience in all photography of course, but when you have the human element it is a whole different thing.

You Can Have Your Cake and Eat it Too

This is where I think portrait photography can get much more fun.  It does not, and I think I can go so far as to say, should not, always be the same old strip mall portrait studio photograph.  Give a baby a giant cupcake and just see what comes of it!

Bath Time

What do you do with a kid covered in green frosting?  Give them a bath of course.  This is the photograph that was inspired by Jason Lee’s work.

I am going to keep practicing portrait photography even though I do not foresee it becoming the main focus of my photographic portfolio.  But I think it is a good skill to have under my belt and something that will undoubtedly be useful.

Here is another great photographer to check out on Photography Served.  I have been highlighting photographers from this site that I particularly like such as Jonathan Hillyer, Bartlomiej Lurka and Anthony Redpath.  But you shouldn’t take my exclusive word for it, it is well worth a visit to see for yourself.

In a fantasy world, I would be a travel photographer, jetting around the world photographing people, cultures, architecture and such.  So Diego Arroyo’s portrait photography of people in South East Asia really speaks to me.  He captures both the people and their land beautifully in this series of portraits.  Here are two of my favorites from the series, but check out all 23 portraits from Diego Arroyo’s South East series.

Portrait photography by Diego Arroyo
Portrait Photography by Diego Arroyo

Portrait Photography by Diego Arroyo

Portrait Photography by Diego Arroyo

Photo of a pug looking sad

Why So Sad?
f/5.6 – 1/100 sec – ISO 400 – Focal Length 90mm

I have always found portrait photography one of the most challenging types of photography.  For the most part that is because I do so little of it and practice, practice, practice is what makes you better at any type of photography.  So I have been practicing more lately with any willing models I can find.

Here are a few tips to help improve your portrait photography that I have discovered along the way.

1) Pay as much attention to the background as you do to the model.  A busy background can draw attention away from the model.  Objects positioned just right (or wr0ng) can look like they grow out of the models head.  If necessary move your model or if possible use a shallow depth of field to blur out your background.

2) As with all photography lighting is key.  But when photographing people there are no constants with lighting.  Skin tones, clothing, the setting; these all need to be taken into consideration when you are lighting your subject.  I prefer ambient lighting when shooting outdoors.  But in a studio play around with your lighting (even if you don’t have professional studio lighting) to make sure you are seeing your model in their best light.

3) Every model is different, especially when it comes to children versus adults.  Some people are more comfortable in front of the camera than others and you need to feel out their comfort level and work with it.  Suggest poses and let them come up with their own if they want.  Don’t force a smile; if it does not come naturally it will look forced on the final image.  Above all, just do what comes natural to your model.

These images are from a photo shoot I did with my niece using a seamless back drop and studio lighting in some and an outdoor setting with natural lighting in some.

Studio Lighting
f/5.6 – 1/15 sec – ISO 200 – Focal Length 60 mm

Studio Lighting
f/5.6 – 1/10 sec – ISO 200 – Focal Length 35 mm

Natural Outdoor Lighting
Note the background.  I like how the square pattern of the fence compliments
the plaid of her shirt yet it is blurred out enough so as not to be too much
of a distraction from the model.
f/5.6 – 1/60 sec – ISO 200 – Focal Length 200 mm

Natural Outdoor Lighting
f/5.6 – 1/100 sec – ISO 200 – Focal Length 200 mm
Photo of my Pug in a green bucketScooter in a Bucket
f/2.2 – 1/15 sec – ISO 400 – Focal Length 50mm

Sometimes you just have to shoot an image at the moment it happens and you might not have time for 100% perfect preparation.  The depth of field is not ideal on this image in that the left side of his face is not in as sharp of focus as the right.  Also the moment presented itself when I did not have the flash unit on the camera.  So I adjusted the settings to get the right exposure even though I would have preferred to have used a flash.  But throwing out the “rules” to get a cute shot is not the end of the world.

I did some portrait photography of my dogs this past weekend.  Here are a few tips I picked up through trial and error for better pet portrait photographs.

1) Animals work on their terms and their schedules.  If you think high maintenance models are difficult to work with try a dog.  Anticipate potty breaks mid shoot and playing with rather than posing with the props.  Bottom line, they are animals patience is critical.

2) As with human portraits lighting is very important.  It really helps to have studio lighting but I am sure you can improvise with natural window light or some combination of natural and artificial light.

3) Animals don’t take posing directions too well so they are going to move; sometimes quickly.   The right camera settings will not help with the squirmiest pet but they can help combat some movement.  Ideally you want to keep your shutter speed no slower then 1/60 but if you can bump the speed up to 1/125 even better.  A larger aperture will allow you to keep the shutter speed fast and give you a shallow depth of field to blur the background.  As for ISO you want to keep it low to avoid noise.

Pet portrait - dog

Pet portraits - Pug

Pet portrait photography

Pet Portrait Photography - Pug

Every so often I come across a photographer whose work I connect with.  Phillip Toledano’s photo essay, Days With My Father is one such work.  I have done very little portrait photography and am drawn much more to non-human subjects such as nature and architecture.  But Phillip Toledano’s portraits of his father in the last years of his life are an amazing collection that represents the type of portrait photography I would love to do if I did portraits.  They are not conventional studio portraits, rather they are visual stories of the subject that draw you into their life.

In addition to the website, Days With My Father, Mr. Toledano has also published this collection in a book of the same title, Days With My Father.  Check out other Photography Books by Phillip Toledano too as his work is very thought provoking and well done.

Portrait photography has never been my forte.  In fact I have pretty much avoided it at all costs.  It scares me a bit.  First, you have to please someone other than yourself; your subject.  In the nature, landscape and architecture photography I have focused on almost exclusively the subject has little to say about how the final image turns out.  Second, I very much enjoy the solitary aspect that photography can have.  I can go to the middle-of-nowhere and be alone with my camera and engross myself in something I love.  Portrait phot0graphy, by its very definition, does not allow for much solitude.

But I have decided, for the sake of improving and expanding my photography skills, I need to branch out.  I started photographing a friend and my niece.  Then last week I had a portrait photography first for me; a four year old child.  I think I may have jumped in with both feet on this one. But that is a good thing and a great way to learn something.  Sink or swim so to speak.

These photographs are from my first shoot of a young child and the tips here are a few things I discovered in the process.  Some are specific to photographing kids, some can apply to any age subject and some even work for any photography subject, human or not.

  1. Be prepared – Get everything set ahead of time.  Make sure your camera and flash settings are where you need them before your subject arrives.  Get tot he location early and scout out a few good locations.  Whether shooting a child or adult don’t keep them waiting while you get things set up.
  2. Lighting is key – If you aren’t using studio lighting, but natural light, be watchful of how that light is interacting with your subject.  Are there shadows across their face?  Is the  sun in their eyes?  Move around to find the best lighting and try using a reflector to bounce light back up at your subject.
  3. Talk – Keep the kids engaged and having fun by talking to them, asking questions and not making the experience so much like a chore.
  4. Kids move fast – Keep the camera ready and shoot.
  5. Let kids be kids – Don’t try to force smiles or poses.  Kids acting natural will result in great, fun poses.
  6. Work with the Kids – Let the kids make decisions of where and how they want to pose.  Let them play naturally and capture them being a child.  It will result in photos that don’t appear forced and will hopefully keep your subject relaxed and more photogenic.
  7. Be Unconventional – You don’t have to limit yourself to the traditional “head shot” portrait.  If you take points 4, 5 and 6 into account these “unconventional” shots will just happen.  As cliche as it may be, think outside of the box too.
  8. Take lots of photos – This is easier done with digital photography.  But, especially for those of us just starting out with portraits, shoot as much as you can and edit down later.