Portrait 101

by Canvas Press | November 16, 2007

It's a pretty safe assumption that most of you have a digital camera of some sort. With all the features and options available on a digital camera, sometimes it can get confusing as to how to create a decent picture. And many of us don't have the equipment or extra hands to replicate the kinds of portraits that come out of a professional studio. So as a regular parent, friend, or budding photographer, how can we make portraits that stand out from the regular snapshots? I'm going to take you step by step on how to make great photos with just the camera in your pocket.

The first aspect of a good portrait is the time of day. Evenings are the best for taking portraits because of the lack of direct sunlight, which can cause harsh shadows and high contrast on your subject. But we can't always pick the time of day for pictures, so what next? Well, if you find yourself working in broad daylight conditions, the next best thing is to put your subject's back to the sun. This prevents squinting, and overly-bright light on your subjects features.

The next thing to consider is what's around you? By using buildings, trees, and other objects, we can manipulate how light hits our subject. In the photo of my assistant, Sheree, I have seated her in the shade next to a pool. The shade from the tree prevents her from getting uncomfortable. Also, the natural stone pavement around the pool reflects some of the diffused sunlight back up at Sheree, creating soft reflected light. This helps eliminate any dark shadows under the eyebrows, lighting up the face.

Finally, get your subject in a comfortable pose. This creates a more natural posture. Having someone face squarely at the camera creates a very stiff look. By asking Sheree to tilt her head slightly, cross her arms on her knees, and straighten her back, her pose looks more natural.

The only camera settings you should consider are your white balance (I prefer shade, it creates a warmer look) and zoom. By zooming your lens all the way, you create a telephoto effect that puts more emphasis on your subject. Add a little flash to eliminate any remaining shadows and click!

Creating good portraits doesn't start with the right equipment, it starts with you. By observing the light, and your environment, you'll be creating professional-looking images in a snap.

Keep these tips in mind when you are getting family together for the holidays and don't just take the same boring group shot, or picture of the kids in front of the fireplace. If you pay attention to these important aspects you will create holiday portraits for all to envy!

Photography, fine art printing and decorating news and advice

Tips-n-Tricks #96

If your subject is concerned about a double chin or a little extra weight then do not photograph them from a low angle (ie shooting up from a crouching level). Instead try to shoot from a slightly elevated position.


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