Got a camera? It won’t be long before you are asked to take a portrait of group shot. So, time to find out how to think about this challenge.
That’s because some thought before you start and some practice with your camera will make the session easier and so help you to produce the results that will make both you and your subject proud of the images.
Pictures of friends and family are the most frequent, yet often yield disappointing results. This type of experience can often put you off the idea of doing more serious portrait photography.
Yet the basics are straightforward. Get these right and you will be delivering great pictures. Then, once you are comfortable with these principles, add your own spin for striking results.
It’s all about the eyes – It’s been said that ‘the eyes are a window onto the soul’. And in one sense at least it’s certainly true. The eyes are connected directly to the brain via the optic nerve, something we intuitively understand. That’s why most portrait photos are taken with the subject looking directly into the camera. It works so well that it has produced many of the most iconic images in photographic history. So your subject’s eyes must be in focus. Period. It’s worth using manual focus if you are working on a static pose to really make certain.
It’s all about the eyes (again) – your subject may not be looking at the camera and, in that case, the viewer will be asking themselves “what are they looking at?. And so you, as the photographer, must provide either an answer or a clue. You could include another person, animal or object in eh photo that gives an answer and tells a story. If they are looking out of the frame then you need to identify some emotion that satisfies the viewers curiosity and causes them to use their imagination. Some context can help such as an identifiable background (e.g. farm buildings) or some task specific clothing (e.g. a sailing jacket).
It’s also about the light – The early advice to photographers from Kodak was to place your subjects facing the sun and position the camera so the sun shines over your shoulder. Excellent advice for an absolute beginner as there is now a good chance that the subject can be seen and recognized. But light like this flattens the image and reduces the depth of color making the image flat and uninteresting.
Natural light is best, but natural light that is diffused and at an angle. Try finding a window that does not have direct sunshine , or one with a net curtain to act as a diffuser. Position your model close to the window with the camera close to the wall alongside the window so the light is at right angles to the model. Now half turn the head towards the camera with the gaze directed at the camera.
An additional point here is to use plenty of light and as fast a shutter speed as you can. People move all the time and slow speeds will leave your pictures with motion blur when you need them to t be tack sharp.
Use accessories and background to tell a story – No person is an island, they have context in their relationship with the world. You can show that relationship by placing your model ‘in context’ by using visual clues.
A sailor could by pictured with boats in the background, suitably distant and out of focus so as to inform but not dominate. An equestrian could wear a riding hat and hold reins.
The first four tips have shown you how to use your photographic tools to take competent images. Now let’s look at the next steps to making your images more interesting.
Change your viewpoint - most pictures of people are taken when you are at the same height as your model, That is with the camera held at eye level. Now try something different – Move up and stand on a stairway to take a photo from above the line. Or duck down and point your camera upwards. Be very conscious of the lighting angles and make sure they support your new viewpoint.
Move close and fill your frame – You can make interesting effects when taking a close up of the face that fills your frame. The way clothes fall against the curves of a woman’s body or the lie of a baseball cap as it conceals parts of a youngsters’ eyes can tell part of your story.
Remember the rule of thirds – This simple guide says place the key photographic elements (eyes??) along lines that are one third of the way up or down and left to right. |The guide works best when a wide angle view is in mind.
Get it right ‘in camera’ – Do take care to get your shots right when you take them. Yes, there’s always the opportunity for post processing, but it is so time consuming that you will get faster, better and ore results by shooting right first time for the majority of your portraits.
And finally, probably the most important tip of all…
Get to know your subject – For great pictures you need your model to be at ease. When they are relaxed their natural goodness will show through. They will be able to hold a pose more readily giving you really sharp pictures.
If you didn’t know your model before the shoot starts then try getting them to relate to you by chatting and telling stories so getting to know them a bit as you begin shooting.