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On a bright and early Saturday morning, fellow photographer, DeAnna Roberts, and I took nine students through the world of natural light portrait photography. This was one of the largest classes we’ve had in a while, and I was grateful for the opportunity to work with DeAnna again! After going through introductions, DeAnna and I went through some camera basics. We discussed the settings that make up our exposure triangle: ISO, aperture, and shutter speed—explaining how they can affect an image either positively or negatively. Aperture was the setting we took the closest look at since it controls the depth of field. With most portraits, getting the blurry background is always visually appealing, but a photographer must also be careful to not have the depth of field too shallow, especially when photographing close-ups or groups.
After our indoor review, we set our cameras to aperture priority mode and headed out to photograph our model, Andon. DeAnna and I first talked about light, letting the students take some test shots of Andon in direct sunlight: first front lighting, then side lighting, and finally backlighting. Of the three, the softest was when the sun was behind Andon, as it caused even skin tones on his face. Usually backlighting also gave a nice rim light to our subjects, but because Andon has light blond hair, it was very easy to overexpose. To compensate for this, we tried to photograph him in the shade as often as possible throughout the class in order to avoid blown out highlights.
DeAnna and I also showed the students how the telephoto lens can help eliminate unwanted distractions and isolate parts of the background. Photographing portraits with the telephoto lens gives the photographer the ability to enhance the bokeh as well. We reminded the students to back up and zoom in as often as possible—giving more emphasis to the model rather than the background. But as the case with any rule, there are always exceptions. A wide angle lens can be used in dramatic portraits—especially when coupled with a low angle. These type of portraits are less about the subject’s features, but more about the mood; almost like setting up the atmosphere for a story.
For portraits that did focus on features, such as headshots, there was a simple trick that DeAnna and I demonstrated. While Andon was the perfect model, the technique was much more apparent on DeAnna and I: tightening the jawline. A simple turtling of the head and neck allows the light to wrap around the face, making the headshot more flattering. There was a noticeable difference from our regular stances to when we dropped our front shoulders and stuck our heads out. While I can’t speak for DeAnna, it looked like I magically shed five pounds from my face.
Andon tagged back in when it was time for photographing moving subjects. We discussed the different focus modes: AF-S vs. AF-C or One Shot vs. AI Servo (Nikon and Canon respectively). The key is to understand how the camera is focusing in each autofocus mode. While AF-S/One Shot has the camera lock focus, AF-C/AI Servo has the camera to continuously adjust focus on the focus point, even as a subject is moving toward us. So as Andon ran and jumped for us, we set our release mode to continuous, and practiced shooting with that focus point never leaving Andon’s face.
Much to both DeAnna and my delight, the students were able to walk away with some crisp photos of Andon—and with his speed and energy, that was not a easy task! Before we knew it, the day had come to an end and our students were off to continue exploring portrait photography on their own. Hopefully, they will continue to walk away with some amazing portraits of their own!
Until next time,
Mary, DeAnna, 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.