Becoming a Portrait Photographer
At some point in your journey as a photographer ? whether you remain an amateur photographer or make photography your career ? you’ll have to decide on a photography n?che. As the old adage goes, jack of all trades, master of none. To be taken seriously as a photographer, then, you need to specialise in a certain field ? whether its portrait photography, wedding photography or landscape photography really depends on your own unique talents and interests.
If you enjoy working closely with people, and find them interesting subjects for photographs, then portrait photography may be right up your alley?
What is Portrait Photography?
As the term suggests, it’s the composed photography of a person, or groups of people, mostly in a studio setting. The focus of portrait photography is often the subject’s face (or head and shoulders), although full-length portrait photography is also common.
There are various types of portrait photography, including corporate portrait photography, family portrait photography, and maternity and baby photography.
Working in a photographic studio is quite different from working on location, as wedding photographers, landscape photographers, or sports photographers do. For a run-down on what it takes to become a portrait photographer, read on?
What do I need to be a Portrait Photographer?
Along with the appropriate skill, desire and drive, you need the right equipment, including:
- A good 35mm digital SLR camera, with a lens which can cover a focal length of 85-105mm
- A cable release
- A stable tripod
- A plain background in a neutral colour
- An elevated chair ? bar stools work well A reflector and diffuser
- A studio of about four square metres
Lighting for Portrait Photography
Lighting is important in all photography, but no more so in portrait photography. The way in which a subject is lit will determine the quality of a portrait, so it’s essential to get it right. Portrait photographers make use of natural and artificial light, as well as digital flash photography. Successful portrait photographers understand how to control and use lighting correctly.
To control light, use diffusers and reflectors to increase or decrease the amount of light falling on your subject. Try these portrait photography lighting tips:
- When a portion of your subject is in shade ? the chin, or neck, for example ? use reflectors to project light onto the parts cast in shadow.
- To light the chin, place a reflector at waist height and reflect sunlight upwards to even out the lighting.
- If you find the light is too sharp, use a diffuser to soften it. If you’re shooting in sunlight, place a diffuser above your subject’s head to create a softer look.
The following exercises are helpful in developing your skill as a portrait photographer. Give them a go:
Exercise One: Butterfly or Glamour Lighting
Butterfly lighting, also known as glamour lighting, helps reduce textures to give a broad look to a narrow face. It’s called butterfly lighting because of the butterfly-shaped shadow which will appear under the subject’s nose.
What you will need:
- One studio soft box, or one remotely-placed flash operated via extension. With a soft box, you will be able to move the light’s position until you see the butterfly shadow mentioned above. With a flash, you’ll need to take a few pictures with the flash aimed at different angles, before you get the position exactly right.
- A tripod on which to mount your flash. Place it where the studio soft box is places, as illustrated in the picture above.
- A white reflector to project some light from your light source (i.e. the soft box or flash) onto your subject.
Exercise: 1 - Butterfly or Glamour Lighting
Here’s what you do:
- Set up your main light at an angle of around 45 degrees in relation to the camera ? not too low
- Position your camera approximately 2-2.3m from your subject
- Place the reflector and your soft box or flash approximately 1.5 metres from the subject.
- Ensure your subject is relaxed and comfortable, and has time to pose for a while - Experiment with distances and angles until you find the ideal result. Remember, good photographs take time to create, especially in a photographic studio.
Exercise: 2 - Rembrandt Lighting
This technique is named for the master painter, Rembrandt, who used this lighting pattern in his portraits. The idea is to create a small, inverted triangle on the cheek opposite to the light source. It’s a popular technique with people who have prominent cheek bones.
You don’t need to use a reflector in this exercise.
Here’s what you do:
Shine the main light into the eyes of the subject, taking care not to blind them or make them squint or blink. This will create a catch light effect. A diamond should form below the furthermost eye, as long as the nose and no wider than the eye. To get it right, experiment with angles between 45 and 60 degrees.
Posing for Portrait Photography
Capturing the perfect portrait is all in the pose! It’s a fulfilling feeling indeed when a client exclaims, ‘I didn’t know I could look like that!’ Happy clients mean recommendations and more business, so care should be taken to pose your subject carefully and sensitively. To become an ace portrait photography, follow these portrait photography tips:
- Take charge ? without leaving your camera position, demonstrate step-by-step to your subject what you wish to achieve from each shot. Instruct him or her firmly and concisely. The more confidence your subject has in your abilities and professionalism, the better the result you’ll achieve.
- Meticulous attention to detail can make or break a photograph ? check and double check the finer details; does your subject have any missing buttons, wrinkled clothes, bad makeup and so on. Once photographs have been blown up to A3 or A4 size, little errors become glaring?disasterous!