Here at Aperture Academy, we offer numerous workshops that allow photo enthusiasts to travel to beautiful places and photograph gorgeous landscapes. The scenery, coupled with the instruction and aid of our wonderful instructors, leads to some amazing images that our students are proud to take home.
However, we are especially fond of one workshop we offer; it's very close to our hearts, because it is right here at our office complex! It may not be considered one of the most exotic or adventurous locations we offer, but, it's a perfect location to demonstrate how, with portrait photography, any location can be a great background once you know where to look.
I was eager to meet with six students on a sunny Saturday morning to share the truth of my previous statement with equally eager aspiring portrait photographers. And, since our Natural Light Portrait Photography class is perfect for photographers of all skill levels, all our students, whether they are really new to using a DSLR, or have been shooting for years and just want more structured practice, were ready to shoot!
I strive to cater to each individual in this workshop, focusing on helping them grow their personal photography skills, as much as their getting great final products. With this particular group, I quickly found that most of them knew their way around the camera, but some were still heavily relying on “auto” settings. That "auto" dependency was going to end today!
We started our workshop with an indoor presentation, which set a good foundation, especially for going over exposure. I couldn’t stress enough how important it is to understand how your camera is working first, before going off and expecting to take great images. After reviewing the exposure triangle, I made sure to remind the students how each of the three settings (ISO, shutter speed, and aperture) play a role in portrait photography. Then, we were off to put everything I talked about to the test.
Outside, we first worked with our model, Jacqueline, in different lighting scenarios. Lighting is of the first and foremost importance. Learning to access and analyze light takes some practice, especially when working with direct sunlight. So, what works well? In direct sunlight, there was a consensus that back-lighting looked best (no shadows on the face and a nice rim light to highlight our model's dark hair).
Now that we had our lighting picked out, it was time to find an acceptable background. With Jackie being back-lighted, our options were limited. Most of the background was office building. Basically, it was ugly! So, what could we do to fix this while still maintaining our good lighting?
I knew most of the students had telephoto lenses, so I showed them a little trick in "faking" a good background. We positioned our model so that a bush was in the background behind her, and although the bush was nowhere near large enough, by backing up and zooming in, we were able to bring it close enough to fill the frame. Voila!
The students practiced more composition techniques in different lighting scenarios before a question on focusing came up, and I realized half of the students were relying heavily on their autofocus. While using autofocus is the correct and smart choice, every photographer should understand how the camera is focusing, and how to choose what it is focusing on. So, we really focused (no pun intended) on practicing and understanding focus mode verses area mode.
Using AF-S (Nikon) and One-Shot (Canon) are great for still portraits, simply because the photography can lock the focus and recompose the image, but AF-C (Nikon) and AI-Servo (Canon) are better for moving objects, because the focus will continuously readjust. We proved it by having our model strut down the pathway. By using continuous focus, the students were able to get some sharp images. This was my absolute favorite part of the class -- seeing the students understanding their control over autofocus and putting it to use. The growth was tremendous!
After our fun group shot, we headed back inside to collect our gear and wrap up with any additional questions. As they left, I sent them along with one last reminder: practice, practice, practice! With this aspiring group, I think they will take my advice.
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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