Portrait Photography: Perfecting Your Techniques
Pictures of people are so captivating because humans enjoy looking at other human beings. Many studies have been conducted that demonstrate this principle. Eye movement tracking research solidifies this observation. Our eyes are drawn to the eyes of others.
Portrait photography is a great way to ensure that your subject matter will be noticed and (hopefully) appreciated. Here are some topics to consider that can optimize your photographic prowess when it comes to taking portraits.
Close in on your subject
The viewer can be distracted by objects in the background. By moving in close to your subject, you eliminate many of the elements that will detract from the impact you are aiming for.
If you approach people in the right way, you’ll find that they will be more than happy to cooperate. Don’t be too serious; explain why you want to take the picture. The more comfortable you are with your subject, the more comfortable they will be with you.
Consider the environment
The place where your subject is situated will help the viewer have a greater understanding of your subject. The room in which a person lives, their home, the neighborhood in which they live – all provide information about people and enriches the story about their lives.
Shoot for a balance between subject and environment. Include enough of the surrounding scene to add to your image, but not so much that the subject becomes lost in it.
“Stalking Your Prey” for candids
Pictures of people going about their business are always fascinating. But how do you accomplish your mission while remaining unobtrusive and inconspicuous? The goal is to allow viewers of the image to feel that they are seeing an unguarded, unrehearsed glimpse into the scene.
Once you choose your subject, find a place to sit or stand that provides a good view of the scene. Position yourself there and wait for the elements to come together in a way that will make an interesting and unique image.
Always compose your shot before the moment you want to capture occurs. If people notice you, just smile and wave. You don’t want to come off as unfriendly.
An effective way to get the most out of people photography is knowing your subjects well enough to be able to anticipate what they are going to do. Sometimes, the only way to get the pictures you want is to be able to anticipate the actions of your subject. In cases like these, you’ll need to study and observe your subject in advance.
Set the aperture and shutter speed in advance. You won’t have time to adjust them when the magic moment comes.
Predicting the future
By understanding human nature and being aware of how people usually react, you’ll be able to capture shots the average photographer can’t.
For example: a person usually looks up when a waiter approaches in a restaurant. The crowd jumps to their feet when a batter connects with a ball. Think through the situation you’re photographing and plan how people are probably going to act.
Getting permission and cooperation
Candids with the consent of the subject, taken when the photographer is engaged with the subject, are a record of the photographer’s relationship with his or her subject.
The relationship can be obvious (in which the subject looks directly into the camera) or subtle. A relationship is implied because the image feels more intimate. The viewer gets the feeling that the photographer was physically close to the subject and that the person was fully aware of being photographed.
Engaging Your Subject
The first order of business is to overcome any shyness and approach people in an open and friendly manner.
Let your subject(s) know who you are and what you’re doing. Never interrupt a scene with your camera pointing rudely into someone’s face. It’s often a good strategy to leave your camera in its bag when you first approach people.
Be patient. Take time to employ conversation to help them feel comfortable. Always remember the Golden Rule. Think how you’d feel if someone approached you and wanted to take a snapshot. The approach will have a tremendous effect on how a person will respond.
The Casual Portrait
Always be on alert for those fleeting moments when a person’s true character shines though. Even within a formal portrait session with someone, some frames of your subject while getting ready or waiting make wonderful and emotional shots
Always be on the lookout for the revealing moment. Every person has a story, and every picture can tell part of that story.
Portraits are about people. Environmental portraits include what they do, the kind of house they live in, about the surroundings they choose. Environmental portraits try to convey an idea about a person by combining the portrait with the place.
Group portraits are hard to do. The larger the group, the harder it is. Merely arranging everyone so their faces can be seen is difficult. Getting the shot where everyone looks good—all eyes open–takes imagination, patience, and tact. If you can find a way to relate the group to an environment that expresses something about what kind of group they are, you’ll have a photo that will be appreciated by all.
Family members are the people who are photographed most often. Occasions large and small are recorded for posterity. Albums full of baby pictures, first steps, Little League games, Halloweens, Thanksgivings, and weddings are the baggage everyone carries with them wherever they move.
These photos are memories made real and are probably the most important pictures there can be. No others subjects will be so trusting or willing to indulge your photographic obsession.
Hands and Other Details
There’s more to a person that just a pretty face. Hands tell a story of their own. For example, consider the hands of a mechanic, a painter, a surgeon. Then, there are the feet: the feet of a ballet dancer, a marathon runner, a traffic cop.
Other expressive body parts include: the belly of a pregnant woman, the bicep of a construction worker. The many facets of the human body make great photographic subjects. They can be used to express ideas or emotions. They reveal the uniqueness of an individual.
Whenever you have to opportunity to photograph someone, look for details of their body or dress that can help get your message across in a subtle, indirect way.
Use your eyes and your imagination to say something about an individual. When making photographs of details of the human body, you will be working intimately with people and will have to direct them, tell them where to pose, and how.
With every assignment, you’ll gain experience and skills that will hone your talents and give you greater confidence that will be revealed in your images. Keep shooting.