Six things to consider for starting portraiture

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Portraiture – the photographers passion.

Starting in portraiture can be daunting. We are going to look at the important things to consider when getting started with photographing portraits. There are also links to some of the portraiture resources available on Photokonnexion.

This post is aimed at introducing the portraiture resources found here…

Location

Choice of location can make or break a portrait. If you choose an outdoor location you have to consider a range of issues like the weather, how to pose your subject and exactly what you will be putting in the background. The problem with outdoor portraits is that there is potentially a huge number of composition decisions to make. Taking the shot can be quick. Deciding on what background is right can take a lot of effort and research.

If you are just starting out with portraits it might be better to focus on indoor shots. The environment and light is potentially simpler and the lighting more controllable. The essence of good indoor shots is to reduce the composition to a very simple background and lighting and to focus your attention on the subject. This gives you time to practice the posing, including expressions, and the lighting set up.

Lighting

Light and Lighting can be as simple or complicated as you make it. My advice is to make it as simple as possible. Most great portraits are done with one simple source light. Working with one light gives you the ability to try out shadow casts and hard light vs. soft light. Practice with simple ideas will help develop your skills more than working with confusing multiple light sources.

Background

This is not the same as the location (which is really more about the surroundings). When you are considering the background this could be as simple as a blanket suspended behind your subject. It could also be as complicated as a workbench that your subject works at. What you have to do is decide how to set it up, how to light it and how to place your subject in front of the background. You have to make a decision as to whether you are taking an environmental portrait (a large amount of the background is visible) or a simple portrait where the background is a minimalist setting, where you show very little of the environment and make it as simple as possible.

It is better to start simple. Placing your subject in front of a coloured, white or black background is a great way to get started. You will be able to focus on posing your subject and spend less time worrying about what to include or exclude in more complex backgrounds.

Posing

The best advice for starters is to work with your subject. He or she will be comfortable with certain poses. Get them to start the posing. Then, when you see how they like to pose, you can ask them to vary it to get your light right and get them showing their best side (the left side of the face is best).

Remember that that definition of the features of the face are defined by light and dark. Your poses should be aimed at using the shadow/light relationship to bring out your subjects facial and body features.

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Props

It is difficult to provide resources about props. There are as many props as there are things people can hold, wear, sit on, stand next or or play with. Yes, props can be pretty much anything you want. However, one thing is certain. Your portrait subject will suddenly come alive when they have a prop to distract them from the daunting prospect of the camera. Try to get them to work with a prop they are familiar with – get them to tell you about it or show you how they use it while you photograph. These things will make the comfortable and help them to relax. It will also show you the character of the person they are.

Camera settings and lenses

Some people will tell you this is the most important point. Others will say the posing, still others will focus on the other things above. How you set up your camera, and how you place your subject are very closely related. But there is a lot to learn here. Start simple so you can feel in control. If you are not yet working with manual controls then be comfortable with auto mode – try to become aware of the types of settings that seem to work.

Exposure settings are an important study. There are some exposure links in the link box below. However, you should be concentrating on natural colours. The type of light you use is important to your exposure. I have one piece of adice on this. Beginners at portraiture almost always over-light. Keep your lighting soft and your exposure moderate and not over-bright to start. If you are using flash, turn it down. Bright flash always washes out flesh colours and sometimes causes nasty highlights on the face. It is worth reading up about how you can ruin your shots with flash.

I hope that this article has provided you with some options for getting started in portraiture. Please spend some time going through the links on the portraiture resources page to get more detailed information.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photographers.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
See also: Profile on Google+.

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