I took a group of eight Aperture Academy students on a journey through portrait photography early Sunday morning. It was an overcast day, perfect for going out and practicing taking great portraits. But first, we started with a refresher of the basic foundations--how the exposure triangle applies in portraits. We focused our attention heavily on aperture as it controls depth of field, essentially blurring or sharpening the foreground/background. We eventually moved on to lens choices and ended with compositional techniques.
When we finally stepped out to photograph our model, Kayla, it was still cloudy out. While it is great soft lighting for portrait photographers, as a teacher, I wish I could have demonstrated working in direct, harsh sunlight. Since we couldn't, we went straight to exploring how a telephoto lens can help in reducing unwanted objects in the background as well as enhancing bokeh. The students were able to take a tree in the background and use it as their entire backdrop for their portrait.
Another technique we went over is separating Kayla from the background as much as possible. This works really well with any prime lenses. I told the students to keep these tricks in mind and gave them a designated area to work with Kayla. Where can they position her where the lighting and background was good? Was the fountain a distraction or does it add value to the portrait? These are questions that a portrait photographer needs to consider in a span of seconds. The students did pretty well on their own before I suggested for Kayla to prop herself up against one of the trees. It was a good transition into posing: shifting weight, leaning on trees, sitting, laying down--all are ways to get a model to relax more.
I tagged Kayla out on the next lesson: headshots. Most people tend to throw their heads back when they laugh (I do this a lot, making me the perfect model), and it can be unflattering at times. I had the students photograph me in my normal stance, and then do a comparison when I turtled my head out and dipped my front shoulder. They were amazed on how much the slight position changed affected the picture, with the light wrapping around my jaw.
We discussed the different autofocus modes next. When do we use AF-S verses AF-C and what was the actual difference in how the camera focuses? While AF-S is ideal for portraits and still objects, AF-C is helpful when tracking continuously moving objects. So of course we had Kayla model the part. While she walked the runway, students practiced keeping the focal point on her face. The continuous focus coupled with their good aim kept Kayla in focus even as she was moving closer every second.
The sun decided to peak out, and we were able to end the day with some light tests! Since there was a slight haze still in front of the sun, it was not as harsh as normal. Front lighting actually didn't look too bad and Kayla didn't squint too much, but it was still backlighting that was the clear winner since it provided the softest light.
The day was filled with such enthusiasm and energy, that it was a bit disappointing to say goodbye so soon. Time had flown by, and I know that this group will practice the skills on their own when they get home.
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.