DeAnna Roberts and I met with nine students at Aperture Academy headquarters on a sunny Sunday morning. Our mission: shooting portrait photography in natural night. The objective: getting quality shots by understanding light, angles, and equipment.
Before we would start shooting, we brushed up on some basic camera and exposure skills. Understanding the exposure triangle and how it plays a part in portrait photography was essential. Our focus was mostly on using the correct aperture, as it controls depth of field. In simple terms, is it what causes that beautiful blurry background you see in professional portraits. We discussed what aperture to use for what situation. While a blurry background might be ideal for portraits, what if you were photographing a group of people? Or what if the environment added to the image? There are always exceptions to every rule.
We continued on our review by going over lenses as well. Every photographer has a preference when it comes to lens choice. My go-to lens is the 70-200mm. But if the sun is starting to set, I usually switch over to a 105mm to avoid camera shake. A telephoto lens can greatly improve an image, especially if the environment is not the most ideal, whereas the opposite effect can occur when using a wide-angle lens. This led to our discussion and examples of composition—using rule of thirds, framing with natural elements, and knowing where to crop in on the image.
It was then time to go out and practice! We had two amazing models, Holga and Richard, who bravely demonstrated why direct lighting was not flattering. With the sun facing them, they couldn't help but squint and cover their eyes. Turning didn’t help either as the harsh shadows formed from the direct side lighting was equally unflattering. But with their backs to the sun, we were able to get some great shots. Indirect light, or soft light created by backlighting the subject worked well, but there were still issues of sun flare and the occasional underexposed subject. Luckily, both these issues can be easily resolved by simply shading the lens and using exposure compensation respectively.
Next, it was getting comfortable directing the models and getting them comfortable with us. Interaction can be the toughest aspect of portrait photography. I’ve always felt it was the perfect way to test your multitasking skills; while paying attention to settings, light, and backgrounds, you must remember to engage the subject as well. Our biggest advice was to keep shooting—the most genuine laughs are in fact real laughs. It can oftentimes be missed if a photographer falls into a routine of directing and shooting. We practiced head shots first, and DeAnna and I both volunteered to sub in for the models when explaining why tightening the jawline (aka sticking your head out) is important. The students were amazed at the difference it made. We also worked with getting Holga and Richard to sit in comfortable positions and shifting their body weight—minimizing the stiffness.
We ended our class by dividing and conquering. While DeAnna took Holga and showed half the students the advantage of working with a diffuser, I made Richard crouch under a tree to demonstrate framing. Apparently great minds think alike because DeAnna and both ended our lesson with capturing movement! By changing our focus mode to AF-C or AI-Servo, we were able to get some crisp shots of our models walking toward us.
Before we knew it, it was time for our group picture and our students parted ways. It’s now up to them to practice what they have learned!
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.
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