- The first piece of the puzzle shows you shooting a specific kind of portrait photos. Portrait photography is a wide field, with many kinds of portraits and ways to shoot them. Improvement in your portrait work begins when you decide to concentrate on a single type of portrait photography. For example, you can divide portrait photography according to the two primary settings, in a studio or outdoors. Pick one. Then, narrow your focus more. You picked portrait photography outdoors. You could use the outdoors environment for carefully posed portraits or you could travel the streets and the world to create a portfolio of the people you meet and see.
Now that you’ve defined a type of portrait photography that interests, even inspires, you, you can determine the exact equipment you need. For many amateur photographers with limited budgets, the camera and lens they can afford (or already own) may dictate what kind of portraits they can shoot. If your goal, however, is to pursue portrait photography seriously, then you need the right equipment.
The third piece of the portrait photography puzzle is to determine the setting in which you will pose your subject. If, as in the example above, you want to shoot carefully posed portraits outdoors, then picking the location must be just as carefully planned. It may even require a scouting trip to find one or more settings/backgrounds that perfectly complement the portrait you want to capture. You must be thoroughly familiar with the location of your portrait shoot, so you can make decisions about lighting, how you will pose your subject, how you will compose the portrait and what shooting techniques you may use.
As one of these decisions, lighting is another critical piece of the puzzle. One of the primary benefits of learning to improve your portrait photography is that it forces you to learn more about lighting. It’s virtually impossible to shoot good to excellent portraits without an understanding of photographic lighting. There are many PhotographyTalk.com articles about lighting concepts and techniques, and you should read them all.
By this point, the puzzle is starting to reveal itself, but the fifth piece is essential: posing your subject. To fit this piece accurately requires practice and experimentation. You can find many specific posing tips in a number of PhotographyTalk.com articles. If you’re new to portrait photography or trying to advance your skills, then ask a friend or group of friends to be “guinea pig” subjects for you. You will no longer feel the pressure of producing portrait photos to make your subjects happy. Instead, they are acting as practice “dummies,” so you’re able to apply posing techniques from PhotographyTalk.com articles and learn from your mistakes. As you become more proficient, plan, pose and shoot serious portraits of the same friend(s) that he or she will want.
The final major puzzle piece of portrait photography is shooting technique. Again, the setting and the outcome you’ve envisioned of your portrait work are determining factors of your technique. For example, you can shoot in a vertical or horizontal format, or at angles between 90 and 180 degrees. You can use a wide-angle lens, or focal length, or break the rules of framing or the rule-of-thirds. Learning to control depth-of-field is an important portrait photography technique. It’s one of the major reasons you want a lens with a wide aperture. It will help create an excellent bokeh, or a pleasing background blur, which gives the subject and image more dimensionality.
- Portrait Photographer's Handbook
- 500 Poses for Photographing Women
- 500 Poses for Photographing Men
- Posing for Portrait Photography: A Head-to-Toe Guide for Digital Photographers
- Doug Box's Guide to Posing for Portrait Photographers
- Master Lighting Guide for Portrait Photographers
- Light It, Shoot It, Retouch It: Learn Step by Step How to Go from Empty Studio to Finished Image
For many amateur photographers, whether they are beginners, enthusiasts or serious hobbyists, creating better portraits is a bit of a mystery, like the empty outline of a jigsaw puzzle. The solution is to learn where 6 critical pieces fit. Once these are in position, the other pieces will fall into place.
The first “rule” of buying a digital camera and lens is to buy the best lens possible, and then a compatible camera. A better lens on an average camera body will produce better images than vice versa.
For portraits, the best focal length is between 70mm and approximately 200mm. Shooting portraits at less than the 35mm-equivalent of 70mm actually creates distortions in the look of your subject. The chin and noise can appear extended and the head larger. These mid-range focal lengths compress the image just enough to show your subject in the right proportions. You also want to choose a fast lens, one with a wide aperture, f/2.8 or f/4. This allows you to control depth of field.
The setting of your portrait dictates the lighting equipment and skills you need. If you’re shooting those carefully posed portraits outdoors, then you may only need to bounce the light from the sun off a reflector. If you’ve chosen a shaded area or plan to shoot at dawn or dusk, then you may need an off-camera flash or a series of flashes firing together. Studio portrait work requires a different set of lighting equipment and technique, specifically how to use the three-light concept.
Image credit: volkoffa / 123RF Stock Photo
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