unMonday: take portraits instead of snapshots

You don’t have to schedule an engagement session or take senior photos in order to get great portraits.  The vast majority of people photos that I take aren’t captured during official photo shoots.  They’re usually taken when I’m with friends and family as I’m traveling, eating, attending events, or just hanging out.  These everyday situations aren’t just for snapshots and your classic “cheese!” photo; they’re great impromptu opportunities to take very natural, interesting, memorable portraits.  And for us part-time photographers, since we may not have the time to schedule intensive photo sessions, we can take advantage of these opportunities to practice our photography, build our portfolios, and share our photography with the people around us.

The next time you’re hanging out with you friends, don’t just take “cheese” snapshots or leave your camera at home.  Try taking some natural, everyday portraits!

Some things to think about:

1. Taking portraits of your friends and family is often easier than taking official portraits; you already know your subject, they’re comfortable around you, and you’re with them when they’re in their natural element.  They can also give you honest feedback about your work.  Plus, you get free models for practicing photography and they get free portraits to share with their friends.

2. I agree with Shera – while the classic group photo has its purpose, we don’t want fake smiles! Instead of asking your friends to smile or say “cheese”, just chat with them as you normally would or sit with them while they’re chatting with someone else. While they’re speaking or listening, you’ll have the opportunity to capture their portrait as they naturally express their reaction to the conversation. But if you really need someone to smile, don’t ask for a smile; you or someone else needs to earn a real smile by saying or doing something that’s actually worth a smile or a laugh!

3. To help your friends and family become more comfortable with having their photo taken, here are some tips: regularly carry your camera with you and shoot often; NEVER post a photo that will embarrass someone (unless they explicitly permit you to post it for the sake of humor) or will make them feel bad about themselves; be confident when you’re shooting (if you’re awkward, they’ll be awkward); always encourage them to be comfortable with themselves, both through your words and by showing them how great they look in your photos.

4. Lens choice – I think it was Kai Wong of DigitalRev who said that a photographer’s creepiness factor is proportional to the zoom length of his or her lens.  Don’t use a 300mm stalker lens to photograph your friends from 20 yards away! Use a shorter lens – ideally around 35mm or 50mm – so that you can be WITH your friends as you photograph them.  The exceptions to this rule are lenses like Canon’s super-fast 85mm and 135mm lenses, which are specialized portrait lenses. Using a fast lens (f/1.4, f/2.0, etc.) can also be helpful, as it will allow you to avoid blur from unanticipated motion of your subject and a shallow depth of field will help single out the main subject in your portrait.

A big, huge “Thank you!” to all my friends and family whom I have photographed over the years.  Your photos make up the vast majority my best photographs.  You’ve been so incredibly patient and encouraging, and you’ve made photography fun, enjoyable, and worth the time and effort.  Thank you!

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