photo to-do: portraits

Portrait photography seems to be a staple for most amateur-going-pro photographers to make a living. It is also something that, as a photographer in general, most people will expect you to be able to do. Friends and family will inevitably enlist your assistance at events and possibly even for real sessions if you’re up for it. That being said, taking good portraits is not as simple as it may seem. Which leads me to our next photo challenge…

Practice our skills in portrait photography!

Most of my knowledge on this subject comes from the great resource of CreativeLive. If you haven’t heard of it, check it out! There are workshops on everything from posing and lighting to sales and marketing yourself. And, if you are able to watch them live – they are free!

There are two main ideas that I have taken away and keep in the back of my mind whenever shooting photos of people.

Number 1: Light is key. Light is king. If you have good light, hardly anything else around you matters. And on the flip side, if you have bad light, the greatest location or cool element for your shoot will fall flat. Since I do my shooting with natural light, it is especially important for me to find the light. After learning this, I went out with a friend and looked for what I considered the most difficult lighting situations possible and started shooting. I wanted to see if I could manage through the tough lighting and still get okay shots… which would (in theory) give me confidence in good lighting. Well, what actually happened was I got great shots! Then, another day we headed out again in what I considered “good” light… and I was extremely disappointed with my performance. My photos were boring, the lighting didn’t end up great, and I was ready to give up. What happened? This leads me to…

Number 2: Move your feet; work! Getting a great portrait is work. I had gotten lazy since the lighting wasn’t challenging me, and my photos showed it. I learned from Jasmine Star’s workshop on wedding photography that it is important to be able to come up with multiple, unique shots at an efficient pace in a limited amount of space. One way she challenges you to practice this, is to get 10 different poses/photographs within a 5 foot by 5 foot space, all in just a minute (or two). This is achieved by moving your own feet! Move around the person, change the direction you’re holding the camera, find different lighting to work with, and also be prepared to direct your subject through subtle changes in pose (even just tilting their head or shifting their gaze) that give you unique shots while leaving them at ease. Now, there are entire workshops on poses and how to direct people from behind the camera, so I’m not going to get into all that. I try to embrace Jasmine’s happy confidence as my foundation. I know I myself get nervous in front of the camera, so as a photographer, I try to be a bit more vocal than I usually am in order to relax the person I am photographing. I find that babbling off and on about nothing is better than complete silence. :) Also, challenging myself to take different poses has pushed me to look for different ways to use whatever is at hand in order to improve my lighting. I’ve used anything from a rocky path to a silo for a “reflector” and that has greatly improved my photos.

All this leads me to say that portrait photography is something most of us can work on improving. It can be awkward, it can be boring, but it doesn’t have to be and I believe the more we do it, the better it will get. I’ve already learned that I need to challenge myself to look for unique light and move my own body around in order to get different photos. It’s easy to take 5 of the same pose that all look good, but that doesn’t give someone any variety to choose from and it’s not that interesting to do as a photographer either.

I know Kyle and I both have a few events and portraits that we’ve done in the past, so I’m hoping we can post some of our older work, and then show some newer photos as we focus on improving. No matter how much you read or study, photography is truly something you must put into practice to really learn. I hope this challenges me to get out there and shooting again, and I hope you enjoy this next focus of ours!


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