Portrait photography is an excellent way for new photographers to get their feet wet. Photographing people teaches photographers how to multi-task with a variety of skills: changing settings properly, interacting with a model, and using environment as well as equipment to their advantage. I worked with six students Saturday morning at Aperture Academy to practice these skills, and help them grow as portrait photographers!
We started off with a review of the basics of the exposure triangle, how aperture affects portraits, and using different lenses to capture a portrait with the optimal background. I explained how ISO, shutter speed, and aperture work together like a well-oiled machine, and how using the optimal aperture was essential of getting that perfect portrait. But talking about these settings can be a bit confusing—so we ventured out to put the knowledge to use! Practice and learn by doing was the goal when we stepped into the morning sunlight to photograph our model, Holga.
We started off with some headshots of Holga with different lighting positions. The students were able to see how even lighting on the face was crucial, and one way to achieve that was to backlight our model. However, when backlighting, we also had to watch out for overexposed backgrounds and lens flares, which were pretty easy to correct. I also had the students throw on their telephoto lenses. In doing so, we were able to get a more compressed photograph—isolating a bush in the background and using it to fill our entire frame.
When posing our model, there is a fine line between direction and comfort. Some of the best portraits end up being candid shots, so a photographer must always be ready to shoot. But giving the model direction is also a necessity. We had Holga sit and lie down just to get her in a more relax position—this is especially useful for people who are not used to being in front of the camera. When people shift their weight and move around, it brings out a natural fluidity.
Focusing was also one of the main focuses (no pun intended) of our day. It is easy to start by allowing the camera choose where to focus, but eventually, we want to progress to picking a specific focus point. With portraits, we generally focus on the model’s leading eye. I instructed the students on how to change their focus and area modes, and with that simple adjustment, they had a lot more control of their image!
What impressed me the most was how engaged and curious this group was! I loved that they were not afraid to ask questions and it certainly showed they were serious on improving their skills! We ended the day with some framing techniques, photographing moving subjects, and working with spotty lighting. I saw improvement each step of the way, especially when it came to understanding focus settings as we walked away with some crisp photos of Holga striding toward us!
We ended the day with our group picture, and even as we headed back to the office, great questions were being asked. From getting a sharp photograph of their children to being one step closer to starting their own business, I was happy that each student walked away with something today!
I hope they continue to practice what they learned—their potential is limitless!
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.
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