Having been into photography for 8 years now, never have I tried shooting portraiture until yesterday. I guess a main reason why I have never shot in this genre is because it takes much effort sourcing models for your photoshoots. Compared to other genres like landscape or still-life photography, all you need is your camera and the world. It’s easy, it’s convenient, you don’t need to find models or book in dates, times, and locations.
During the week, I was made aware of a portraiture photography workshop. So I thought to myself, why not give portraiture a try and expand my photography repertoire a bit. After all, I got nothing to lose and only more to gain. So off I went to the portraiture workshop. I loved having the slightly medieval, old european buildings as the backdrop. That along with the autumn trees made for a perfect photoshoot.
The turn-out for the workshop exceeded my expectations. There were at least 40 people and only 3 models! It became rather crowded trying to get the model’s attention when 40 other people were also fighting for their attention. Luckily I still managed to get some shots.
Portraiture photography is a social art requiring good communication between the photographer and the model in order to take the best photo. For example, it is the photographer’s role to tell the model where to stand, how to stand, and what kind of expression to have on etc… All-in-all, compared to other genres of photography, portraiture requires good communication skills and a lot of thought processes are put in to just taking a single photo! Other genres, like macro or food photography also require thought processes (eg. how should I position my subject, what angle should I take the photo from) but thoughts tend to be internalized rather than discussed (well, that’s what I think anyway 😀 )
Overall, the three take home message I got from the workshop are: 1)lighting is key, 2) consider composition, & 3) know your camera settings!
Lighting is Key
I think this point applies to all genres of photography. In portraiture, however, you have to consider the lighting in terms of the foreground, background and how your model is lit. If direct light is hitting your model, it can lead to a harsh photo and unwanted dark shadows.
Good portraiture photography makes use of “whole body” or “half body” shots. In addition to that, rule-of-thirds should be consider. All that means is knowing where you want to position your model for the photo. If you follow the rule-of-thirds, the model is placed either to the far left or far right (or maybe placed int the center) of the photo. Rules are always meant to be broken, so for those who are more adventurous, the rules-of-thirds can be violated so that maybe only half of the model is captured and the other half is sliced off. Overall, it is important to consider the quadrant your model is standing in when framing your shot.
Another aspect of composition that was discussed is “eye-contact”. Do you want the model looking directly at you into the lens, do you want the model looking off camera into something in the distance, or do you want the model looking at something within the frame of the shot. I rather like the looking-into-the-distance thing because it creates intrigue as the viewer wonders what the model is looking at. The looking-at-something-within-the-frame idea works well when the model is perhaps looking at another model, or at something they are holding. It helps to create a story. But for beginners like me, perhaps the safest is just to have the model look directly at you.
Know your camera settings
The last key message I took home form the workshop was to pay attention to Shutter Speed, ISO and Aperture (F) are. Like driving a manual car, Shutter Speed, ISO and Aperture can be analogous to your gearboxes. You rely on your gearboxes to drive your car, well, you rely on Shutter Speed, ISO and Aperture to take a good portrait.
In a nutshell, these three factors are referred to as the “Photography Triangle”. They impact on each other and how your photo will turn out. For example, having a low shutter speed increases the chance of a dark and blurry photo, so you will need to increase ISO, which in-turn can make your photo grainy.
An ideal portrait has a nice blur in the background. This is achieved by having a large Aperture, or in simpler terms, a larger hole in the lens, to allow more light through. A larger aperture is represented by a smaller value (confusing as that sounds). So an aperture of f10 for example will give you a sharp background and foreground (ideal for landscape) whereas an aperture of f1.4 or f1.8 will give your a blurry, bokeh-like background but your subject will be in sharp focus.
And because by heart I am more of a landscape-nature photographer than I am a portrait person, I couldn’t resist but take a few landscape shots of the beautiful scenery. I am blown away by how pretty these autumn trees are. Can you believe it was only a few weeks ago the leaves on these trees were bright green. I think I am liking these autumn colors more!