Secrets of great portrait photo
Let me share my story about the difference between a professional-looking portrait and an average photo.
During the beauty makeover and private photo portfolio projects in Budapest we are dedicated to finding the best camera settings, lighting, composition, framing and most flattering poses. I was always wondering about the secrets of great portrait photography and how a magain look photo is achievable. In this way we let the inherent beauty of the model shine, dressed in glamorous outfits suggested by a stylist with fabulous make-up and stunning hair style. See how my skills improved in the matter through my references.
Just like we do in the beauty makeover outside the studio, you can achieve a magazine portrait look. It took a long time for me to understand that all details matter, hope you can save time in this learning process with reading this article. It was a step by step learning process in my end, and finally I understand that secrets of great portrait photography are less mysterious than many courses and photographers claim it. Actually you do not need extremely expensive studio equipment, just a tiny bit of playfulness and an attitude to create. So, here are some tips you can easily use when making photos in everyday circumstances.
1. Camera setup – technical issues matter. These are the grounding bases.
a. If you are lucky enough to have Digital SRL camera, use it in natural light with low ISO (e.g. 100 or 200), white balance auto (or play with “cloudy” and “shade” resulting in warmer colours), cc. 50m-85mm focus length and an aperture of 2,8-5,6. Set the speed to automatic so that the optimal amount of light is captured. The background will be softly blurred in this way. Alternatively, you can use your DSLR camera in portrait mode (then there is less room to focus on the eyes and play with how much you wish to blur the background). If you happen to have a fix objective (50mm or 85mm) you might seek for more advanced tips.
b. With a compact or coolpix camera or any other type, do your best to use the built in options, e.g. red-eye fix, face priority. “D-lighting” is especially useful in rescuing underexposed images or excessive backlight. Some cameras have automated “skin softening” functions as well as built-in face detection technology. Portrait photography is not that much about technical advances. If you have a cool camera AND you can use it, fine. If not, awesome photos could still be taken, focus on the points below.
2. Lighting – Look for consistent and diffused lighting. This is done by all professional photographers in case of a photo shoot outdoors. Do your best not to have any harsh or direct lights, otherwise there will be some deep shadows under the nose and eyes. Overcast days are great any time as clouds diffuse the sunlight. Early in the morning (until 10 am) or later afternoon (after 4 pm) would be the best. Anyway, if the sun is shining, look for a shadowed place and shoot there. If this is not possible, shoot in such a way that the sun is in front of the camera and use a flash or use a white card (held by a helpful assistant).
3. Framing and composition – this part is highly individual and artistic. You can experiment a lot in this field. However, if you follow some basic guidelines, your portrait will be balanced and exciting at the same time, probably judged as a great photo by most of the viewers.
4. Posing – Help the model find a comfortable and relaxed pose, talk to her/him gently and patiently and get them in front of a camera. Take some test photos and play around to see which pose is the most flattering. If it works for you, show the test photos to your model to see what she/he likes. Giving a small object to play with or hold might help them to feel less awkward. Here are some poses which are most often used by professional photographers.
a. portrait in a natural context – showing people in action, you might bring in some motion effect as well as playing around with the shutter speed. e.g. use 1/60 or 1/30 shutter speed when the model is in a static position and there are moving objects in the background. Alternatively, focus on a moving model and make an exposure following her in focus. The aim is to look natural.
b. body shoot
c. head and shoulders shot
d. play around with framing, zooming and angles
5. Look – it makes a difference whether the model is making an eye contact with, looking away or looking at something outside the photo. If the model is looking somewhere else (e.g. an interesting point), it is suggested to include that focal point within the composition. If this is not the case, leave more room within the composition in that direction where she/he is looking. Otherwise it might suggest the model is not inside the world shown by the photo.
6. Focus and shoot – the best place to focus is on the eyes of the model, where the white part meets the iris. If your camera allows, focus on the eyes manually, lock, reframe and shoot. We are seeking sharp details in a photo and our brain judges a photo as easily processable and sharp if the eyes, the eyebrows and the mouth of the model is sharp.
7. Retouch – among other things you can correct the color balance and remove any haziness as well as unnecessary and destructive parts from the composition during the retouch. With free software or Photoshop, you can improve your photo after shooting. The most common retouch steps include adjusting exposure and color balance, removing red-eyes, improving harshly lit parts, lightening overshadowed parts, removing unnecessary details and spots, smoothing skin, whitening teeth and eye-whites.
Apart from all the technical details, a great team is a basic ingredient. Each team member is talented and professional expert, all ideas are valuable. The more diversified the team is, the more fun and excitement.
All in all, view portrait photographing as a journey where you can experiment, play and express how you see beauty in the person in front of your camera.