While I appreciate all forms of art and photography, portrait photography is by far my favorite! Being in the field for so long, as well as being a high school teacher, I have noticed that people are more critical of themselves than others. We will often compliment our friends, or even strangers, on their fashion, appearance, etc., but rarely do we give ourselves that same positive reinforcement. This is why working with people, getting them to be comfortable in front of the camera, and hearing their reactions of “wow, I LOVE that photo of myself,” is so awesome.
Being a portrait photographer is a blessing. And sharing that gift is equally as important. This past Sunday, I was able to do just that with seven students at Aperture Academy. Our group was pretty diverse, some students already dabbling in different concentrations in photography, while others just picked up a camera a week ago. But in the three hours we had together, everyone helped each other and learned together.
We started off with the in-class session, to review basic exposure. Lecturing about ISO, shutter speed, and aperture is not the most exciting thing to do, but it is really important that photographers start with a strong foundation of how the camera works. Why? Because, while happy accidents are great, making the conscious decision of freezing a person moving, or having that nice blurry background, is even better. Those conscious decisions and critical thinking are what separates being a photographer from taking pretty photos on your smart phone. So we reviewed! Why don’t we want a super high ISO if we are in the sun? Why is a slow shutter speed bad if you are taking pictures of your toddler? Does it matter what we set our aperture to? After setting that strong foundation, we ventured outside to get some hands-on practice.
We first did some light tests in the sun with our model, Holga. Many think that in order to take great portraits, the use of external lights are necessary. But really, if you understand how to make natural light work in your favor, it truly is the best light source. We talked about what makes lighting on a person’s face flattering vs. unflattering. The main problem photographing in the sunlight was the harsh shadows casted on the model’s face. With front and side lighting, the shadows were really harsh, but as soon as we backlit the model, the shadows were eliminated.
Next, we ventured into a shaded area—-another alternative to dealing with the harsh sunlight. Making sure the background was also in shade was essential, otherwise, the background would overpower the subject. We also used the opportunity to talk about posing, especially the importance of keeping the model moving. Also, with head shots, I explained and demoed the difference between a relaxed stance vs. craning your neck forward and tightening your jawline. By tightening your jawline, the light wraps around the face, essentially slimming down your model.
My favorite technique is always framing, so we traveled across the street next to practice how to use natural elements in the area to frame our model. Utilizing negative space was important, as well as looking for patterns that can be used as leading lines. After the framing lesson, we ended with a little more practice on focusing with our different autofocus settings. Using continuous focus, the students practiced tracking Holga as she walked down a path toward us. We went a little over time as we headed back to take our group picture, but it was worth it! I felt that in the three hours we spent together, the students were already showing tremendous growth. Now, it is up to them to keep practicing!
Until next time,
Mary, and the rest of the Aperture Academy team!
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