It was a perfect day to take portraits at Aperture Academy headquarters. While an office complex is not usually considered an ideal background, the weather god blessed us with a nice overcast that provided soft lighting. This was my first comment to my group of seven eager students as they sat in our studio waiting for the lesson to begin. We quickly started off with a review of the basics: exposure, camera settings, and equipment. The discussion on how the three settings--ISO, shutter speed, and aperture--work together proved to be quite interesting, as we touched up on how they not only control exposure, but affect the overall image in other ways as well. The big picture of the discussion was that if a photographer fully understands how these three settings in the camera work, then he or she has control of her image completely.
I eventually led the group outside for some hands-on practice (and to prove the misconception that overcast equals gloomy). Normally, we would start with some light tests in direct sunlight, but since the sun graciously took the day off, we concentrated on positioning the model with an optimal background. Without direct sunlight, there were way more choices, since we didn’t have to worry about shadows on the model’s face. We started with various depth of field strategies. Some students had telephoto lenses, which helped with bringing the background (and blur) closer, while others had fast fixed lenses that allowed for a shallower depth of field. Both types of lenses had their advantages and disadvantages. I quickly showed the students how a telephoto lens can easily make a small bush or tree in the distance the entire background of a headshot, while with a lens that can open to f/1.8, you can get really nice bokeh without having to be as close to the subject.
We practiced with positioning next. Jackie, our model, is a veteran for the portrait photography class, and her natural smile and energy made it easy. However, there are always little tips here and there that can help a photographer pose a model. The number one thing I notice about some clients is that they are really stiff. Over time, they will loosen up, but you also might not be able to spend half a day photographing them. So instead, I always tell my model to keep moving, especially when it comes to shifting their weight. Rarely do we stand flat-footed on both feet, and a slight shift in weight can bring movement into the image.
Next, we talked about photographing adults verses children. There are challenges to both, so different approaches might need to be taken. With toddlers and younger kids, they are so uninhibited and naturally happy, that little interaction is needed. With adults, it is important to keep the conversation flowing, and shooting at every moment. For head shots, I stepped in as a model and demonstrated the importance of tightening the jawline to get the light to wrap around the model’s face, since I had a bit more of a double chin going on than Jackie did.
We wrapped up with some action shots and really focusing on our focus settings (no pun intended). It was amazing seeing the students elated over their crisp images of Jackie walking and twirling--hands down the best part of being a teacher. We ended with our traditional group shot as I griped about how the sun decided to peek out at that moment, ruining my flexibility of background settings. Regardless, we ended up with a great shot, and the students were off to continue to master the skills they learned during the day.
Until next time,
Mary, and the rest of the Aperture Academy team!
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