As a portrait photographer, I get the honor of bringing out the best in people. Whether it is capturing a special day or just bringing out a natural smile, there is no greater feeling than a happy client who beams at their portrait. The only comparison I can make is teaching. Much like how a portrait photographer brings out the best in their models, as a teacher, I try and bring out the best in my students. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to combine both my passions on a Saturday morning with seven students excited to learn the art of portrait photography!
We first started with a review of camera basics and exposure. There are times we can easily get tunnel vision on the final outcome of a picture, rather than focusing on the steps to achieve that outcome. Understanding the exposure triangle, proper focusing, using the ideal lens, and how to compose an image are all important skills that take time to master. Most students were pretty new to the digital SLR, so we started with just a basic run-through of how ISO, aperture, and shutter speed work together as a whole to control exposure. Next, we focused on aperture and how it controls depth of field, which is especially important in portrait photography as it creates that nice blurry background. While you can get a more blurry background using a big aperture, I warned the students against getting too comfortable and always relying on shooting wide open. This is a mistake I made (and sometimes still do) in my earlier years as a photographer. While shooting at f/2.8 can be an amazing look, it can become problematic when photographing groups or even up close. The depth of field is so shallow, that not all the people in your group will be in focus. A slightly smaller aperture coupled with a telephoto lens can be more useful in this case.
We headed out to photograph our model, Vanessa shortly after our indoor review session. Luckily, the sun had chosen to come out right before we headed out, so I was able to show the students a quick light test. The goal was to have indirect light on the model’s face, which can only be achieved through backlighting when the sun is at its highest point. This also gave Vanessa a beautiful rim light on her brunette hair. Another option we explored was simply going under shade, but being mindful to avoid an overexposed background as well.
While we had Vanessa in the shade, we practiced posing a bit. Especially with head shots, there is a fine line between posing the model in a flattering angle versus making her uncomfortable. I stressed the importance of tightening the jawline when doing a close up as it can really slim down the face. We also practiced our focusing. Many beginners use auto area focusing when they first pick up a camera, but it is a habit I wanted the students to put aside. Instead I had them practice single point focus, and even though it was new to them, they soon mastered it like champs!
With their newfound mastery of single point focus, we moved on to framing and using that telephoto lens to really compress the image. We framed Vanessa in between two trees—the negative space in between creating the frame—and it became an opportunity to also use exposure compensation. Because the background was so bright, the camera underexposed Vanessa, which we corrected by telling the camera to overexpose by one stop. We ended with some shots of Vanessa walking and capturing the movement with continuous focus and shooting. Unlike photographing still subjects, it is important to move the focus point to where you want the subject in the frame. The focus point will constantly search for focus in this mode, so good aim is also a must.
As the students headed off, I reminded them that practice makes perfect! Practice, coupled with the knowledge they left with today will hopefully continue to help them grow in their photographic endeavors.
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.
Leave & read comments below...