I had the pleasure to teach natural light portrait photography to an amazing group of students on an early Saturday morning here at Aperture Academy. While I am not the least bit of a morning person, I felt enthusiastic as soon as the class began—this group had an immediate energy that was contagious! Our in-class session started our day off with the basics: exposure triangle, lens choice, and composition. We discussed how aperture plays an important role in portraits, especially when switching between photographing groups versus photographing a single subject—getting that perfect depth of field to assure everyone stays sharp in the photograph is essential. Lens choice was another factor (the most underrated one in my opinion)! I explained how a telephoto lens can really enhance blur in the background, creating a stunning portrait even in the most unideal locations. And we ended with various examples of composition: using rule of thirds to create eye movement through a photo, framing with nature to draw attention to the subject, and eliminating head room and unwanted distractions in the background.
It wasn’t until we headed outside that we were able to practice the skills mentioned in our discussion. Our model, Emily, was new to the Aperture Academy family; it was her first time modeling, and she could not have picked a better day to start. We first analyzed light, immediately seeing how direct sunlight is troublesome to work with. Harsh shadows became apparent when the sun was directly hitting her face. In the end, we solved the issue with backlighting which created soft light and even skin tones.
Using a telephoto lens is always my favorite part of the class. Several students explained how they assumed prime lenses were the most successful way of obtaining an excellent portrait. While the 50mm and 85mm are amazing portrait lenses, a telephoto lens is extremely versatile in portraits as well. Using a telephoto lens, we were able to bring forward a colorful bush and use it as a blurry backdrop. While a prime lens can create bokeh that cannot be replicated, the telephoto lens can magnify the blur and create an equally amazing affect.
We worked with posing Emily next: having her lay down, shifting her weight, and just getting in a more relaxed position. Movement is important in all photos, and when it comes to portraits, it is no different. So when posing our subjects, portrait photographers need to think about both the comfort of the model, and the overall fluidity of the image. Turning the model even in the slightest bit can give us some curves—allowing the viewers eye to flow through the image more smoothly.
We ended the class with some actual movement: having Emily walk while we snapped away in continuous shooting mode. Having her walk was beneficial in two ways. First, it showed that a little bit of movement can create a very natural pose. And second, it allowed the students to practice different focusing modes. We changed our focus mode from AF-S or One Shot (Nikon vs. Canon respectively) to AF-C and AI Servo. This allowed our camera to continuously focus on the focal point. As long as we kept the point on Emily’s face, she remained in focus throughout her entire walk. After just five minutes, the students were able to walk away (no pun intended) with some crisp photos!
After our group shot, I sent the students on their way, thrilled about how the class went. There was such genuine interest and understanding, that I have no doubt their photography will continue to progress!
Until next time,
Mary and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team!
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