Portraits

Discussion in 'Beyond the Basics' started by 407370, Jan 5, 2016.

  1. 407370

    407370 No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Hi All,
    Normally I avoid taking pics of people (they have opinions and unreasonable expectations) but I have decided that I want to have a go at taking pics of humans.
    What makes a good portrait?
    Are there any golden rules?
    staged or natural?
    indoors / outside / studio?
    If anyone would like to share a few tips I would be grateful.


     
  2. tirediron

    tirediron Watch the Birdy! Staff Member Supporting Member

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    There are no rules. There are lots of guidelines. Which ones you choose to follow depends on what your style is. I prefer posed, controlled portraits, where I set up the lighting I want, and I tell the client to pose how I think looks best. IMO, this is easier, even though you have to deal with a few lights, because you're in control of everything, whereas in the case of ambient light, you have to "make the light work for you".

    The best thing you can do, IMO, is to find a patient subject, who is willing to sit there for hours and have a million pictures taken of him/her self. Find a style you find attractive, and then practice 'reverse engineering' it.
     
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  3. chuasam

    chuasam Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    Rule 1: People are stupid, opinionated, and have unreasonable expectations.
    Rule 2: refer to rule 1.

    What makes a good portrait? it's a collaboration between you and the subject...and it shows the person in a way that makes the viewer want to keep looking.
    Golden Rules: the eyes matter.
    staged or natural? explain.
     
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  4. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    I think you ought to read at least five or six of Kirk Tuck's blog articles on portraiture. He has some superbly-related insight, based on something like 30 years of commercial portraiture. Here are some search results from The Visual Science Lab, the name of his blog, as it relates to portraiture.

    Visual Science Lab on portraits - Google Search

    Not too many days ago, he published a sort of "here's how a portrait session really goes," blog entry, and it's a lot like my experience: people at first pose for the camera; the do all the poses they've done their whole life, and then, after maybe an hour of actual session time, there's a sea change, and their real, inner self reveals itself in a fantastic shot or two, and then...the remaining images are lesser, of lesser importance, of lesser quality, and it's time to end the session.

    Not sure if there are ANY rules except, "have film in a film camera, and memory in a digital camera," and after that, well...a portrait session can be conducted in myriad ways, for times ranging from one minute to three hours, depending on multiple factors. I think Tuck is correct though, in that the best images usually do not happen immediately with real people (meaning people who are NOT actors, nor celebs, nor professional posers).

    For me, the biggest thing is building rapport, and that begins with explaining HOW I will conduct the shoot, meaning how fast we will fire the frames, how the poses will be determined and directed, and how expressions should most definitely NOT always be a big, herkin' smile. My experience is that many older people who grew up in the film era are often, at some level, uptight about picture-making, and they fret about blinks, weird looks, and so on. I take the first five minutes before shooting to go through exactly what the process will be like. After a few minutes, people begin to get into the rhythm. It's like a dance: there are at least two people, interacting with one another, in a sort of rhythmic, repeating social interaction. A dance.

    It really,really, really helps a lot to show some excitement, some enthusiasm, as you shoot. Periodically say aloud, "Oh, now THAT's a good one! You're doing great!" That is actually an old selling method I was taught years ago--building enthusiasm for the finished photographs, during the shoot. But it also builds confidence in the sitter's own mind. Today, we can literally SHOW the sitter a few frames on the rear LCD, and I think after the first 10 minutes, or even less, it's worth stopping and showing them the early take on the camera's LCD, and allowing that to build their faith in you, the lighting, their posing, and other similar things, as well as to allow them to literally see what their "look" is giving to the camera. Then, go back to shooting, but do not stop again until mid-shoot.

    At mid-shoot, or at first wardrobe change,quickly run thru the take and pause at a few frames, and zoom in quickly and show them how awesome they look. After that, don't review any more, don't show, just finish the shoot, and show some enthusiasm occasionally.
     
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  5. 407370

    407370 No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Thanks for the replies.
    Hmmm I was wondering about how long a session would take and that seems to be answered with your replies.
    I can see my teenage daughter and her friends being bribed to take part in a session. They already know that I am a naturally enthusiastic person and they like some of my abstract photos of tree fungus and such.
    I am going to plan this as soon as possible. Might rope in a few friends who have more lighting equipment and experience with hair and make up. Yes I can see a social event being made of it.
    I will post up some images into this thread for feedback.
     
  6. Solarflare

    Solarflare No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Tons and tons, actually.

    People are the most diverse subject to photograph. Probably more than half of all pictures ever made have people in them.

    So what you want to do depends upon which type of portrait. Beauty, fashion, glamor, social/street, candid, ...

    General ideas (but depending upon the actual shot, they might not apply):

    - The shared ability of famous portrait photographers is to put the subject at ease. Like, tell a joke. Make lighthearted conversation. In model-type shots, give clear instructions and good feedback. Possibly show them the pictures you've already taken so the model knows better whats going on.

    - To get more natural poses especially from non-models, tell people to take a certain pose, then photograph them while they are still changing towards that pose.

    - Get an external flash. Dont use it on the camera itself; thats ugly light, only for news reporters that need to get the shot. Use the camera builtin flash in comander mode (corresponds through light with the external flash), get a flash cable (best and most reliable method, actually, but only works with one flash), or even get pocket wizards for remote control.

    - Get a camera and external flash thats able to do fill flash even in bright sunlight, i.e. at flash speeds above flash sync speed (so-called "high speed flash sync"). For example, the cheapest current DSLR from Nikon that can do that is the D7200.

    - There is harsh light (small light source) and soft light (large light source). Harsh light is more dramatic, soft light more "beautiful".

    - Frame the body comfortably, i.e. do not "cut" the person out of the picture in places that look accidental and thus uncomfortable to the viewer. That means the body leaves the frame in place we are used to from clothing. Intentional cuts of arms are above the wrist (like a glove would) or elbow. Legs are the same. Cutting off parts of the forehead is also surprisingly comfortable to look at and can be tolerated even if large parts of the torso are still present. The torso can be cut anywhere. Cuts should also be symmetrical - if the right hand is out of the frame, the left hand should be out of the frame, too.

    - There is a near infinite way to pose a person. Try to find poses that make your subject look especially beautiful. You can simply ask people what they like and dislike about their body in order to know what to focus on and what rather to hide.

    - Get a dedicated prime lens (i.e. not a zoom) for portraiture, like a 85mm f1.4, for shallow depth of field, sharpness, and creamy bokeh. Absolutely brilliant 85mm f1.4 are currently cheaply (around 600€) available in the form of manual focus Zeiss Planar T* 1.4/85mm (ZE for Canon, ZF.2 for Nikon) because their successor line Milvus is out and people switch to that (but Milvus is not optically better than the previous, nameless line). Ironically apparently even Nikkor AI 85mm f1.4 lenses (which are btw also manual) are more expensive than these Zeiss lenses (aroudn 800$).
     
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2016
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  7. soufiej

    soufiej No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Only one tip IMO; know your own intentions before you begin.

    That "tip", of course, covers most of what you would do with your camera.
     
  8. 407370

    407370 No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    After a bit of negotiating my friend and I have agreed to do head and shoulder shots in my dining room. We will have enough space to set up lighting equipment and can screen off the large patio doors to control the light.
    The only other time I tried doing portraits it did not go so well:
    sf1.jpg
     
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  9. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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    Oh--I vividly recall that photo!!! :1247::1251::1398::allteeth:
     
  10. 407370

    407370 No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    I promise to ease up on the processing.
     
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  11. vato_loco

    vato_loco TPF Noob!

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    WHAT THE WHY THE HOW THE!!!

    Sorry, that was rather... unexpected.

    I'll add my small advices based on my (admittedly sparse) experience.

    - What they've already told you about communication, encouragement and showing the model the best pictures every once in a while is, or at least should be, a rule. Especially when working with non-models who are not sure if they're doing the right thing. It's amazing how much the subject feels at ease when you show them that they're doing great.

    - Sometimes the subject will have a bit of a problem doing what you're explaining them. In cases where words aren't enough, show them yourself. Do the pose, or the face. Maybe even add a bit of goofiness to the process, because that also helps ease tensions and is a good way to build rapport with the subject.

    - Have fun. This isn't said enough but it is incredibly important. Having fun eliminates tension, builds camaraderie, shows how much you love doing what you do, builds confidence and makes for a great time that people will want to have again.

    - Go with some ideas in mind about what kind of portraits you want to achieve, but be very open for new ideas coming from the subject. Sometimes they will also go with something on their mind and their idea could be something you didn't think about but would love to try.

    - Props are really good friends. A hat, some silk, a feather. They provide something special to the portraits and most of the times it will give the subject something to do with their hands.

    - Have a lightning setup ready before the model arrives if you're working with a paid model. Hell, have one ready even if you're working with your beautiful neighbor. It gives a sense of professionalism and saves a lot of time.

    - If you're stuck, have the model retouch their makeup and use that time to relax and think of new ideas. Don't be sitting there thinking "why isn't this working". Have them do something else or even change the mood entirely. Then go back when you've figured it out.

    - Have a list of lightning setups beforehand. Single Rembrandt, main + fill + hair, front main beauty dish with a reflector below, backlight, etc.

    That's all I can think of right now, but you've already got some great advices before, so you should be set!
     
  12. 407370

    407370 No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    Thanks, I need all the help I can get. The fun element will be high on the agenda as well as model fee of cooking them a meal. I am also thinking about getting someone to photograph the session.
    Looked through your portfolio and there is some pretty impressive photography going on there.

    BTW the shocking pic is a composite of several bits of head from different people mirrored left to right and processed to look a bit weird. It felt right at the time.
     
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