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Member Western Counties Photographic Federation   §  Affiliated to Photographic Alliance of GB

by Brian Tarling,  Nov 2011

SUBJECT: – Your subject is the most important part of portrait photography; if you don’t have a subject you will be shooting a blank wall. Your subject also needs to get something out of any session that they attend, otherwise why would they attend? Don’t forget to ask the subject, what, if anything, they want out of the photo shoot. Explain what you want to achieve and how. One of the main questions that they ask is ‘what do I wear’ to which you reply ‘whatever you want’, because if they are comfortable and relaxed this will show in the finished shots. Remember to ask your subject to bring several changes of clothes and don’t forget the all important accessories, eg. Hats, jewellery, sunglasses, scarves, didgeridoo etc.

You want your subject to be as relaxed as possible, and if they are not used to being formally photographed, start off by posing them in a relaxed seated position – this is much less intimidating than asking them to do a standing pose straight away. Asking them what they would like is a very good starting point for ideas. Give your subject several options for poses; demonstrate to them what you mean and get the subject to select the pose they will use. In this way, again, they will be more relaxed for you. If you “force” them into a pose they feel uncomfortable with, this will show in the end results. A good way to demonstrate and select poses is to take along example photographs (previous shots, books, magazines, etc) and encourage the subject to come armed with ideas as well. Use the ‘follow the hand’ trick if you want them to move their head first and then their eyes second.

Don’t forget to praise your subject during the shoot and keep talking to them. Maybe show them the results of the shot. It is always worth thinking of background music and drinks/breaks for your subject. A good portrait photographer will be able to hold an interesting conversation with the subject while still being able to take well crafted shots.

LIGHTING: – It is very easy to use too many lights and/or too much power to light your subject. Start by keeping it simple and use the ‘less is more’ rule of thumb. It is easily possible to take good portrait shots using just one light. This can be helped with a reflector if the light is to one side and is producing strong shadows on the other side. A small light source will produce hard lighting with crisp shadows, think of the midday sun on a clear day. A large light source will produce soft lighting with no shadows, think of an overcast day. When you use two lights then have one to the right and higher and the other to the left and lower, or vice versa. Have the higher light as your key/main light and your lower light as your fill in/secondary light source. Keeping the higher light as your main light is done as most of the time we are lit from above so this produces a more natural look. Don’t forget to try side/rim lighting the subject and or back lighting for a halo effect.

LIGHT SOURCES: – Light sources you can use include the sun, a candle, a table lamp, a strip light, a torch, a security flood light, a camera flood light, the camera’s flash or an external flash gun. You can then refine the light by adjusting the distance, the number of lights and or direction of light. You can use shields or a cone to direct the light to a specific area. You can diffuse the light with a net curtain. You can change the colour with coloured transparent film. You can use a surface to reflect the light including the ceiling, a mirror, a ‘lastolite’ reflector, a piece of kitchen foil or a piece of light card. Be wary of the light’s colour temperature and set your camera white balance accordingly. Use a higher temperature for a warmer shot and lower temperature for a cooler shot.

NATURAL LIGHTING: If you are using the sun then it is best to shoot when the sun is low in the sky. The light is normally warmer and it also helps to stop shadows appearing under their eyebrows, nose and chin. Again a reflector can be useful. Overcast sunlight is flattering. If it is noon on a sunny day then place your subject in the shade, or use flash. For inside shots a north facing window or a window with a net curtain will give you diffused light.

BACKGROUND: – This could either complement or contrast your subject. Black velvet is very good for a clean black background. If you want to produce a clean white background then use some extra lights shining only on your white surface to slightly overexpose it. This can be checked by taking exposure readings for the background and comparing them to the reading for your subject. You can use a flash meter for this or your own camera. The distance between your subject and the background is also something to consider. There is a balance to be played between the focal length you are using, the size of the background, and the distance between you, your subject and the background. Try and include an infinity curve in your background if you are shooting full length.

CAMERA SETTINGS FOR CONSTANT LIGHTING: – The focal length most commonly used is one of about 80-100 mm for a 35mm DSLR. Your shutter speed needs to be faster than the reciprocal of the lens being used to stop camera shake. Eg. 1/60th or faster for a 50mm lens and 1/125th or faster for a 100mm lens. The lower the ISO the better the quality but keep an eye on the resulting shutter speed. You also want to keep an eye on the aperture that is being used. Small aperture = big f number (f22) = big depth of field = background in focus. Big aperture = small f number (f4) = small depth of field = only (part of) the face in focus. Focus on the eyes. You might need to move backwards or forward to achieve the correct view.

FLASH METER: – I am using a Polaris flash meter for this which you can set up as follows:-

1. Turn it on pushing the red power button, and wait for battery check (bc) to finish.

2. Set the ISO you are using by pushing and holding down the ISO button and using the toggle button on the right hand side. Push the top to go up and the bottom to go down.

3. Push the mode button to select the correct mode of the four that are available on this flash meter. The modes available are as follows.

a. T for time and a flash symbol. This is for flash studio work.

b. T for time and a flash symbol with a ‘C’ in it. This is for corded flash studio work.

c. T for time and a sun symbol. This is for constant light work. This is the one you want.

d. EV for exposure value and a sun symbol. For obtaining the overall exposure value.

This can also be used to balance the light when you have more than one light source.

Or when you want to over expose the background to get a bright white background.

4. Set the time using the toggle button on the side. The time you set is as above.

5. Place the meter just in front of your subject and push the round button on the

right hand side, above the toggle button.

6. The flash meter should now display the F number in big numbers to the left. This F number is the aperture you can set on your camera.

7. Adjust lights, ISO, aperture and or shutter accordingly.

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