Portrait photography is a universally beneficial skill, especially in today’s age of digital cameras and smart phones that allow photography to be so accessible. At any given moment, we are tempted to take selfies, photograph candid moments, and document our lives. On a warm Saturday morning, I took five amazing students on a journey through natural light portrait photography. We started off with a quick review indoors of camera settings. Our focus was mainly on aperture, and how it controls depth of field in a photograph, making it extremely important when taking successful portraits. We also discussed choosing the correct lens as well as composition. But practice is what really makes a photographer get better, which brings us to the best part of the class: photographing our model of the day, Jasmine!
When we headed out to photograph Jasmine, the first step was to assess light. I had Jasmine positioned under the sunlight in various angles, and right away the students were able to see the issues in shooting in harsh light. Front light created a high contrast look, but even worse, it made Jasmine squint and she looked uncomfortable. Positioning her off to the side created a harsh shadow on one side of the face. Putting the sun behind her caused haziness and sun flares in our photo. While all three had its issues, we were able to solve the issue caused by backlighting easily by shading our lens. This eliminated the haze and gave us a nice even exposure with some rim light highlighting Jasmine’s hair.
From them on, we would focus on light first. We found a way to get even lighting on Jasmine and then worried about our background. Using a big aperture will automatically blur the background, but it isn't until you couple it with a telephoto lens that it really becomes effective. A telephoto lens does so much more than just zoom into your photo; it compresses the image, allowing us to bring objects in the background closer—enhancing the blur and eliminating unwanted objects at the same time. We demonstrated this technique by placing Jasmine in indirect back light, and then backing up and zooming in until only the foliage of a tree was in the frame. While the telephoto lens is my favorite to photograph portraits with, prime lenses are also amazing. Some of the students rocked their 50mm primes, and while it cannot compress the image like the telephoto lens, the resulting bokeh is still amazing.
We went on to posing Jasmine next. An easy trick (especially with children) is to get them to sit or lie down. In doing so, it kills two birds with one stone: they are immediately in a relaxed position, and they are finally still! For a beginning photographer, it is so much simpler to practice on still subjects then moving subjects. And we all know how much kids like to run around. When photographing adults, primarily head shots, I demonstrated a trick that helps slim the subject’s face down. Jasmine did not seem to need this trick, but I knew for a fact that I did, so I tagged her out as model for a few minutes. We all have a tendency to throw our heads back when we laugh, or even in our natural stance. When photographing head shots, you want to do the opposite: forehead out toward the photographer. When I craned my head out toward the students, they were amazed to see the difference in my face shape. All the excess skin under my jaw disappeared and the light wrapped nicely around my face. But be aware that this is just for head shots. Don’t get caught looking like a pterodactyl in a half or full body portrait!
In the beginning of class, a couple students mentioned being able to photograph young kids moving, so that’s what we ended on. I had the students adjust their focus mode from AF-S to AF-C for continuous focusing (One Shot to AI Servo for Canon users). And then on continuous release mode, we snapped away at Jasmine striding down a dirt path. The key was to keep the focus point on Jasmine at all times and voila! They each walked away with some crisp images of a moving subject.
As always, we took a group photo before heading back inside, and then I was sending the students on their way. I have no doubt that each one of them will continue to improve with continuous practice!
Until next time,
Mary and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team!
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