We started the first weekend of December right at Aperture Academy by taking six students out into the crisp winter morning to practice their portrait photography skills. Despite the chilly air, the sun was out and ready for us to utilize its natural light. The students and I started with a indoor review first. We went over the basic exposure settings: ISO, shutter speed, and aperture—concentrating more on examples of aperture and the importance of understanding depth of field in portrait photography. Examples of shallow depth of field were prominent, but it was also important for the students to see how a small aperture and deep depth of field works better for environmental portraits. We continued with examples of composition, choosing the right lens, and photographing in aperture priority versus manual; after a thorough session, we headed outside with our model Holga.
Like all of my portrait classes, I started the students off with a simple light test. Working with natural light can be tricky, especially when shooting in direct sunlight. This is why it is essential to understand how the direction of light can really make or break a portrait. Front lighting, while creating little shadows, is quite harsh for a model to look directly into. Side lighting fixes this problem, but unfortunately will result in a harsh shadow across the subject's face. Back lighting looks skeptical at first, as my students commented on how our model's face was "dark," but with the right exposure and background, it can actually result in a very evenly lit image.
My style of portrait photography emphasizes little on posing, but when my students asked, I did have a few tips and tricks to share. One was just getting them in a relaxed position: shifting their weight, sitting down, resting their weight on a tree, bench, etc. The more relaxed your model is, the more natural he/she will look. The next is to get them to move around. We instructed Holga to play with her hair, fix her clothes, and even walk around. When people are moving, they again, look more natural. One of the students even showed me his favorite picture of the day, commenting how it was almost accidental as she didn't know he was photographing her at the moment. Those happy accidents can occur quite frequently if you remember to just keep shooting, especially in the moments where your subject's guard is down.
We ended the session photographing Holga while she was walking. This was the perfect opportunity for the students to practice shooting in AF-C (Nikon) and AI Servo (Canon) mode. It's a bit tougher photographing a moving object. In these modes, instead of relying on the focus and recompose strategy, the photographer must follow and track the subject with the active focal point. But they did great! In the end, everyone seemed to have gotten a sharp image of Holga strutting down the runway (by runway, I really mean the parking lot).
As we packed up for the day, I gave one final piece of advice to the students: practice. It is so hard to remember all the information we learned and practiced today if not put into use often. With this group, I'm confident they will do so!
Until next time,
Mary and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team!
If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.
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