Better Portraits Part 2

In this 2nd installment about portraiture, let’s discuss equipment.
If you haven’t figured that out by now, photography like other creative endeavors has a technical side as well as a creative side.

Before you can get predictable results with your camera, you need to master or at least understand your equipments’ limitations. Without this mastery, your vision will not materialize as a successful still picture.

  1. Camera and lenses. You should use equipment that you are familiar with. Never experiment with new untested equipment especially on an important shoot.
      Here is a typical example:

      Camera Data

      Make Canon

      Model: Canon EOS 20D

      Date Time: 2007-07-25T08:00:03-07:00

      Shutter Speed: 1.3 sec

      Exposure Program: Manual

      F-Stop: f/8.0

      Aperture Value: f/8

      ISO Speed Ratings 100

      Focal Length: 17.0 mm

      Flash: Did not fire

      No strobe return detected

      Metering Mode: Average

  2. Test new lenses, lights especially flash units thoroughly before shooting the all important portrait session.

    Always take good notes so you may learn from your successes and failures.With digital photography, if you have access to Adobe’s Photoshop software, you can pull up the meta data under File Info and learn all sorts of details about a picture.

  3. Lighting. Simplicity is the key when you don’t have a big budget or if you want to work fast without much fuss. Study carefully how light falls on faces during different times of the day in different parts of your home.
  4. If you don’t have a willing subject, it might not be a bad idea to get a bust or life-size mannequin and place it in different places around your house at different times to study how the light falls.

    The idea here is for you to take note of what lighting conditions work and what camera angles on the face flatters your subject. Once you’ve broken down the lighting and camera angles, take note of the time of the day and in which room of your house you see the quality of light that you like.

    So supplementing available light with a simple reflector is a natural choice because it allows you to see the effect of your fill-light immediately. Those shiny silvery foil-like shades you use in your car to shield the interior of your car from aging prematurely is an excellent choice.

    Giving that car shade some “body” by taping it a large piece of foamcore or cardboard gives you a way to aim the reflected light especially if you can enlist the help of an assistant.

    If you have a tripod, consider using it especially if your lens is not a “fast lens.” A fast lens is just one which has a wide aperture allowing more light into your camera so that you can shoot with a faster shutter speed. Camera shake resulting from using a shutter speed that is too low is probably one of the leading causes of failed portraits by beginners.

    Bear in mind also, just because the camera is not shaking during the exposure, doesn’t mean your subject is not flinching or blinking.

    Also don’t forget that most digital cameras have a magnification factor of 1.6x. If you were previously able to hand hold a lens at a lower shutter speed when shooting with a film camera, this doesn’t hold true anymore. Every slight movement on your part or on the part of your subject is magnified accordingly.

  5. Spend time getting to know your subject. If you’re too pre-occupied with all the technical aspects like lights and lenses, and ignoring your subject in your preparations, when it comes down to the serious business of shooting pictures, your subject will be tensed and it will show. Engage your subject in conversation while you’re setting up. That can go a long way in ensuring a successful session.
  6. Above all, shoot a lot. In this day and age of digital cameras, there is no excuse not to. There is no waste. You maximize your chances by shooting a lot.
  7. If you are a digital photographer, just because you can “chimp,” or steal a glance of your pictures after you take them, doesn’t mean you should. “Chimping” is a term often used by photojournalist for this practise of “cheat imaging.” Concentrate on picture-taking and trust in your techniques and learn not to rely on that little LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) monitor.

    Besides, if you “chimp” too much, you might miss a special moment. Best thing to do is to shoot a lot if you’re shooting digital and leave the editing for later. By all means, check your exposures whenever you change the lighting in a scene, but don’t let that little monitor on the back of the camera become your crutch.