Technology changes with time, but the fundamentals and recipes in photography remains. This article was first published in 2006, revised in 2018
Portraiture photography had come a long way dating back to the days when photography first started in the mid of the 19th century. Defined by some as the ability to capture the likeness of a person or a group of people, it is an inexpensive way to get the portrait done in the early days of photography as compared to commissioning an artist to paint. As time goes by, portraiture photography goes beyond just capturing the likeness; it also captures the person’s mood at that moment in time.
So much on the very brief history of portraiture photography. Conventional articles on portraiture photography often dwell on the various lighting and posing techniques. Lighting fundamentals include Rembrandt lighting, butterfly lighting, side lighting, backlighting, etc. One can easily retrieve such articles from the internet. In this article, I approach a different angle where I shall focus more on the common problems and tips of getting some portraiture shots.
Photographers take portraits for different reasons. Some photographers shoot candid portrait shots of their loved ones especially shots of their children; some like to shoot posed shots of models while some capture the fleeting candid moments of the people on the street. Regardless of the intention, common problems faced by the photographers include:
- Camera or subject shake
- Messy background
- Unsure of which angle to adopt
- Exposure on the face
- Very dark background for night portrait with flash
Poor lighting condition which results in slow shutter speed is the main culprit for camera and subject shake. If the subject is stationary, a good tripod will be useful in preventing camera shake. However, if the subject is moving, it is important to use a higher ISO and a bigger aperture to ensure that you will have a faster shutter speed to minimize camera shake and at the same time, freeze the motion of the subject.
Many photographers often overlook the distracting objects in the background which can make the background look unpleasantly messy. This can be a lamp post, a long pipe, a tree which will make the portrait shot a disaster especially if the lamp post appears to “grow” on the subject’s head. One quick way to solve this problem is either to move yourself or you move the subject to another place without much background clutter.
Another common problem faced by photographers is the lack of ideas as to what angle and composition to use to shoot the portrait. Whether to shoot whole body, half body, and whether to zoom in to tighten the angle or a wider angle to include more things, these often leave photographers with so many options to choose from. One approach is to spend some time exploring the various angles. No harm trying to experiment with the various angles and shoot more. If the results are unsatisfactory, you can always delete the images later.
When we are photographing people against a brighter background, we would often see the face or the body being under exposed. This is due to the contrast in exposure. This can be rectified by using the Shadow/Hightlight feature in Photoshop or the Light EQ in ACDSee. You may like to switch on the light optimiser or Active D-Light in the camera setting but I would say that adjusting the shadow brightness is better done on the computer.
As for shooting portraits with flashlight at night, the most common problem is having the subject lit up with flash but the background is too dark. There is no way the flashlight can lit up that building in the background which is easily 50 meters away and beyond the reach of the flash. The quick way to solve this problem is to activate the Night Portrait Vari-Program mode or the Slow Sync flash. However, activating either one of these modes will result in slow shutter speed. Hence, it is important that a tripod is available and ask your subject not to move.
Lastly, the eyes are the windows to the soul. You like to have the eyes of the subject as sharp as possible. If the face is facing you directly, both eyes should be technically sharp. However, if the face of the portrait is at an angle to you, you may end up having one eye sharp and another eye blur due to the depth of field. You may consider setting to Aperture Priority mode, set the aperture to f11 and it should solve the depth of field issue. But do take note of the Shutter Speed which should get a bit slower due to the smaller Aperture and you should decide whether there is a need to use a higher ISO to compensate.
- Try various angles (top, low, eye level).
- Any lens can shoot portrait (how about a fisheye lens?).
- Avoid clutter in the background. Keep it simple.
- Use of lighting to create visual impact.
- Play with depth of field with aperture priority mode.
- Candid moment.
- Communicating with the subject.
- Night portrait flash or slow sync for portrait shots at night.
- If need be, increase ISO to minimize camera shake.
- Make sure the eyes are sharp. It tells the story.
- Catch light add life to the face.
With the tips above in mind as well as the case studies below, you should be embarking on your new journey in portraiture photography.Views: 198