Learning Portrait Photography

May 16, 2016

Portrait photography is not as easy as one might think. It is more than simply saying "smile!" and snapping away. There is a lot of thought that goes into it. Luckily I had the expertise of my photographer friend Amelia to help me out. She is a naturally beautiful woman but from the differences in the photos I have featured here, you will hopefully notice some key differences. Take the above picture for example. The reason this portrait is not ideal all has to do with lighting. One of the terms I learned from Amelia is "open shade" vs. "closed shade". Open shade is where one's subject is in the shade but facing the light. Closed shade is where the subject is entirely in the shade. In the above photo, Amelia is in closed shade. You can see much more shadows on her face and bags under her eyes. The background is also very bright and distracting. Now lets compare it to the image below. 

Much better! The lighting is more even on her face. There are catchlights in her eyes. The background is dark and less distracting. All because we used open shade correctly!

Now let's talk negative space. Does the above image feel a little strange? Do you wish you could see what she is looking at? Amelia is facing away from the negative space, causing tension. You may wish to use this tension for artistic purposes but for our purposes of creating a pleasing and harmonious portrait we want to pose the model facing the same direction as the negative space. 

Ta-da! In the above photo, the negative space works harmoniously with the way Amelia is posed. Now let's step into the sun...

 

Bam! Wow, why is this image so bright? The above photo is clearly overexposed. Be careful when switching from a shaded to fully lit area. You may have adjusted your exposure compensation to make up for a dark lit area or a more brightly lit area. This is great to do as it accounts for lighting in the moment so you don't have to adjust it in post production. Just remember to adjust your settings when relocating and to check each photo on your LCD screen before snapping away to realize all of your images were over or underexposed. Furthermore, the trees, rushing water, and grass are naturally light colors. So think about positioning your model near naturally dark backgrounds as well. 

Whew, there we go. Our exposure compensation is set back to 0.0 and we have a nice dark background. However, I could have been positioned a little higher than her to get a more flattering look. 

I hadn't thought about how much height matters as a photographer. Have you ever noticed that most women take selfies with their phones held high above them? This is because generally speaking women look thinner and more flattering with the camera angled above them. That being said it is also a technique for photographers to position themselves below a model (usually men) to make them look more powerful. In the above photo I am below Amelia and she does look big and strong but that is probably not the look she is going for. So an easy fix (since I am short and didn't have anything to stand on) was to simply ask her to kneel down. The below image is more feminine and flattering. She also has more catchlights since she is looking up towards the light. 

So to recap, remember to do a once over on your model and decide if you should position yourself above or below them, get your model in open shade, position them near dark backgrounds, and adjust your exposure compensation. Happy photographing!

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ABOUT ME

 

​I am a family and wedding photographer based in Denver, Colorado. I love telling stories and candid moments. I am LGBT friendly. I have a passion for all things outdoors especially running. I love bold colors, dynamic black and white, and capturing moments. Kids are my favorite subject to photograph but I also love getting creative with portraits. Photography allows me to connect to people and capture who they are as human beings. 

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"Keiko has a wonderful instinct for both playful and serious compositions, I love the head shots she did for me!" - Shana

KEIKO MATSUNO
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