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The Art of Portraiture Part 1: Composition, Depth of Field & Background

The Art of Portraiture Part 1: Composition, Depth of Field & Background

Creating a portrait of a person isn’t always an easy task. A portrait should represent its subject, his or her character, likes and dislikes, feelings, mood and more. I love portraiture. I love to capture people with their raw, naked emotion and to show my subject an image of their true self.

An outdoor portrait of a model/actress – with a lucky tailwind to boot!

Model/Actress: Valery Lessard

 

They are always moved in what they see, when showing them the reflection of what I captured of who they are. I also like to manipulate emotions and get my subject to step outside of their comfort zones such as in the image below.

Good boy turned bad.

Model: Baron Jackson

 

It was really tough to get my subject above to play a bad boy as he was a sweet kid with a crazy positive attitude, but he was thrilled to see a different side of him that I was able to bring out with a little coaxing.

 

COMPOSITION

Composition can make or break an image. There are many techniques to gaining a great composition in portraiture. The first, most commonly known guideline is the Rule of Thirds.

 

Rule of Thirds

We’ve all heard of it: The Rule of Thirds. The term “rule”, though, sounds like there is no room for deviation. As an educator, I prefer to think of it as more like “guideline” for composition as it then becomes much less dreadful and a little more beneficial.  The Rule of Thirds is taking a frame and dividing it equally into three sections horizontally and equally into three sections vertically using two lines each resulting in nine equal-sized boxes (imagine a tic-tac-toe box…) Composing your frame so that your focus point of your subject falls on one or more of the four intersecting points, tends to make an image more naturally appealing for a viewer to engage.

The subject’s eye falls on one of the four intersecting points.

Model: Sietzka Wiersma

 

While you may not always get your subject perfectly on one of the four intersecting points, aligning your subject along any one of those four lines still makes for a more balanced image.

 

Alter Perspectives and Angles

I once had a mentor mention that if you want your images to be better than 80% of the rest of the images out there in the world, change your perspective! This means, get down low and shoot upward…

Self-portrait shot from below.

 

Or get up high and shoot downward…

Self-portrait shot from above.

 

Use Negative Space

The use of negative space can also be appealing when shooting a portrait. I’ve always been a huge fan of shooting my portraits and headshots horizontally when most people shoot them portrait-oriented… I never knew why it was more appealing to me until I realized that I was turned on by the use of negative space, which is also a big turn-on of famous photographer, Peter Hurley.

The use of negative space.

Model: Andy Mizerek

 

Framing Your Subject

You can also make your portraits more interesting by framing your subject, whether it is by using the nook of a tree, an arch of a doorway or even some faux leaves, as I have done in the image below.

Framing my subject’s face using vines.

Model: Kathryn Hopkins

 

Orientation

Sometimes the orientation of an image can make all the difference. Once upon a time, a very wise mentor once taught me, “What’s the first thing you do after you take a picture…? You turn the camera 90 degrees.” Basically meaning, if you take a landscape-oriented image to turn the camera and take the same image portrait-oriented directly after or vice-versa.

Here my model is tall and I captured much more of the scene in the image portrait-oriented.

Model: Daria Komarkova

 

This tip works well with ANY type of photograph that you capture as you may find after returning to your computer or laptop to process your images that an image worked better vertically than horizontally or vice-versa..

In this image, I was able to crop in closer to focus more on the model and her expression than on the scene.

Model: Daria Komarkova

 

DEPTH OF FIELD

 

Shallow Depth of Field

  • Move Closer. The closer you are to your subject when you shoot, the shallower the depth of field. If you want more of the image to be in focus, you’ll want to put more distance between you and the subject.

I got in close as at 70mm I could using a 70-200mm lens.

Model: Katie Buell

 

  • Large Aperture. There’s a reason for the attraction to a lens that has a large aperture (low number).  A larger aperture will allow for a shallower depth of field whereas a smaller aperture will put more into focus. I used an aperture of F/2 on the image below.

I used an aperture of F/2 here.

Model: Andy Mizerek

 

BACKGROUND

A background can make or break your image. Put your subject in front of a super busy scene and it takes the focus off of your subject – not to mention, it can sometimes create mergers. Your background should not have a bunch of distractions and should help focus attention on your subject. Other factors of a good background are that it helps give context to your subject and the scene and it can aid in telling a story in your image without saying a word.

 

Give Context

A good background will help give context and meaning to a portrait. A perfect example of what I mean by context is an environmental portrait. Photographing someone in their natural environment adds context and impact to an image.

The subject appears to be taking a break from working for an environmental portrait.

Model: Andy Mizerek

 

Tells a Story

An interesting portrait will also tell a story without a companion writer having to write a word. I love creating sets that tell stories, such as in the image below. I wanted to create the feel of capturing an artist in the midst of a high note as she was singing, so I lent my microphone, microphone stand, headphones and a pop filter for the set and I put her on a bright blue background for impact. Your eye is instantly attracted to the bold blue color and then the subject dressed in a contrasting bright white.

The addition of props and a bold background lend to the interest of this image.

Model: Maria Iodice

 

General Background Choices

 

  • Outdoor/Interior Choices. An indoor or outdoor location background can be a wonderful choice and can give context to editorial, fashion and environmental portrait work, however, sometimes the background can be a bit busy and distracting causing the need for some type of faux background.

An outdoor background in the busy Times Square area.

Model: Lisette Melendez

 

  • Seamless Paper. If you are looking a clean, crisp and simple background, seamless is definitely the way to go. Savage seamless paper alone comes in around 69 colors to choose from, making it an optimal choice if you are looking for a specific color. You can buy a 9-foot wide, 12-yard roll of Savage Pure White Seamless Paper for around $45.00 at Adorama.

Savage Smoke Gray seamless paper

Model: Daria Komarkova

 

My Auto Poles with Interfit Chain System for Seamless Paper

 

Seamless paper requires a few additional pieces for support than other backgrounds and these different pieces can be pricey unless you put your kit together yourself like I did. My kit consists of two (2) Manfrotto Auto Poles at $114.99 each, an Interfit Wall Bracket Kit at $79.25 which you can attach to your wall or to a couple of Auto Poles and a four (4) of Manfrotto 035 Super Clamps w/o Studs at $26.88 each.

Manfrotto Auto Pole

Image Courtesy of Adorama website.

 

Interfit Wall Bracket Kit

Image courtesy of Adorama website.

 

My Manfrotto 035 Super Clamps

 

  • Vinyl.  Another classic and preferred choice for photographers is vinyl. It gets a great reputation because it hangs flat whereas muslin tends to wrinkle easily and seamless tends to crinkle and get dirty more easily. Vinyl is easy to clean and takes up very little space to store as it can be stored straight up and down in a corner.

My versatile 6-foot roll of vinyl -black on one side and white on the other.

 

  • Portable. Portable backgrounds can be a great choice as they are versatile, convenient due to collapsibility and inexpensive. You can use them in the studio or take them with you on location. A 6-foot portable background can fold up into a circle as small as 24 inches. They typically have a border so may not be a great choice for a full-length shot, but they work perfectly for headshots, portraits and three-quarter body shots.

Portable Collapsible Background

 

The Savage Black & White 60”x72” Collapsible Background shown above is available at Adorama for $127.50.

 

  • Muslin. Muslin can be an excellent choice to shoot with since it’s not reflective at all, folds as small as you need and can be hung from a portable background support and costs a fraction of some of the other choices. This all-cotton option is a classic choice for these reasons. Imagine, before cameras, how the old masters’ portrait paintings sometimes had a drape of material in the background. They knew it worked then. We know it works now.

Collaged image by Dawn M. Wayand – original image pieces courtesy of the Adorama website.

 

  • Canvas. Canvas backdrops come in a variety of sizes, colors and designs. They are a good choice because they can be reused over and over again but they can also be a bit heavy to set up. You can use a canvas backdrop multiple times without your image looking the same by changing up your foreground elements and your subject’s wardrobe and accessories. Canvas backdrops, however, can be one of the most expensive choices of all of the choices I’ve listed but can be one of the most creative as well. A very small sample of canvas backdrops available at Adorama below include (clockwise from top left): Arctic Blue, Black, Seville and Classic Rembrandt.

Collaged image by Dawn M. Wayand – original image pieces courtesy of the Adorama website.

 

  • Floordrops. Floor drops are often used together with back drops to recreate a scene. They typically come in designs such as wood floors, brick walls, metal panels or tile as shown below. A rubber floor drop also makes for a great backdrop when going for a more edgy feel to an image. It’s simple enough to still keep the focus on your subject. A small sample of floor drops below include (clockwise from top-left): Industrial Grunge, Mosaic Pavers, Worn Planks and Red Brick.

Collaged image by Dawn M. Wayand – original image pieces courtesy of the Adorama website.

 

  • Other Creative Backgrounds. I’m all for thinking outside the box and making my backgrounds as interesting as possible. Some other great creative choices for backgrounds include materials such as wallpaper, sequin fabric and designer art paper which makes for a great headshot background that you can get at your local art store for between $4-10 each piece (as shown below), among numerous other options. Put your creative thinking cap on and figure out some other interesting backgrounds that might work for you.

Just a few of the creative art papers I’ve collected over time for headshot opportunities.

 

Here I used a black crocodile art paper as a background to add a little texture to this beauty shot.

Model: Daria Komarkova

 

COMPOSITION AND BACKGROUND CAN BE EVERYTHING…

As you can see, how you compose your image can make all the difference between a humdrum photo and a much more stunning portrait. It’s also important to choose your background wisely. There are so many options out there. If you choose an outdoor or interior background, be sure that your subject IS the subject of the image and that the background doesn’t take the show. Composition, depth of field and background are just a few elements to the Art of Portraiture. Stay tuned for the next article, The Art of Portraiture: Light.

Posted by Dawn Wayand in Workshop, 0 comments
Shooting The Model Portfolio Part II: The Shoot

Shooting The Model Portfolio Part II: The Shoot

Alright! Everyone has arrived. They have been briefed on the photo shoot ideas, goals and the wardrobe. The model is now in the chair getting his/her initial hair and makeup ready for the first set. In the first article, How to Plan a Model Portfolio Shoot, I went over all the preparations on my checklist that I perform whether it’s over the course of a few weeks or a few days. In the last article, Shooting the Model Portfolio: Part I, I covered everything I do the morning of a photo shoot. In this article, I’m going to tell you my checklist of what I look for during my shoot – as I am shooting.

Initial makeup being completed by my makeup artist, Gil Aldrin.

Model: Shoko Fujita

 

While hair and makeup are in process, my photo assistant(s) and I are putting together the sets and as we do so, I go over any lighting setups that I want to use for a particular set, and why, as I try to also educate my assistants throughout the course of a TFP model portfolio photo shoot as well.

On one of the fun sets I’ve shot, my assistant Yann,

steps in to help me determine lighting placement.

 

About an hour to an hour and a half later, depending on the detail of the hair and makeup I want, we are ready to shoot. Let’s go!

 

DURING THE PHOTO SHOOT

As a studio photographer, you are in control of everything during a shoot. From hair and makeup direction to having the last say on wardrobe placement and from set design and its lighting to actually shooting the images, there is plenty that I look for so as to not spend a lot of time in post-production fixing things that could have easily been avoided. Then there are those preventable mistakes that are so big the image is unsalvageable. Below is a checklist of many of the things I look for within my frame before pressing the shutter button.

 

The Model’s Hair/Makeup

Your model’s appearance is the point of the portfolio shoot. Analyzing every part of him/her prior to pressing the shutter is a must. I have a checklist of things that I’ve learned to look for before taking a shot. Some of these things are hard to prevent, but I do my best to avoid additional work in post.

 

Hair. Stray hair is difficult to avoid but not only do I look for unruly hairs, I usually have my hair/makeup artist constantly check during the shoot to make sure the hair is as it was originally styled. The big thing for me is making sure the hair is as I originally envisioned it to look.

Here we were outdoors and I loved how the wind naturally whisped through her hair.

Model/Actress: Valery Lessard

 

Makeup. I usually try to include a swatch of colors for my makeup artist that I’m interested in seeing for a set so I check to make sure the end result was also as I envisioned. I look for eyelashes out of place and when using face jewels, that they are placed as I wanted. Does the makeup work with the design of the hair?

On this nautical set, we were aiming for everything some tone of purple.

Model: Deeksha Chawla

 

The Model’s Wardrobe

 

Wrinkles. Wrinkles are an easy fix during a photoshoot, but kind of pain to work with in post-production. Be sure to press any wardrobe prior to the photo shoot and keep it guarded! There are products out there to take some wrinkles out in a pinch without an iron, but major wrinkles need to be ironed.

Missed ironing the dress before the shoot!

Model: Katie Buell

 

Tags. Scarves have these (as seen below) as do any wardrobe piece. They can be easy to miss but it’s good to do a quick once-over with each wardrobe change to make sure no tags are showing.

A missed tag on the scarf around her head blended in, yet it didn’t. Rookie mistake.

Model: Maria Iodice

 

Loose Strings. I once shot an entire set on one of my first few fashion portrait shoots and did not notice there was a stray clothing string on her sleeve until I was working on the images in post-production. It’s also good to do an initial once-over for loose strings stuck to the clothing.

Always check for random clothing strings attached to clothing, hair or shoes.

Model: Sietzka Wiersma

 

Clothing Fit. Does the wardrobe fit and hang right? On occasion wardrobe pieces might be a bit too big on a model and that’s where those nifty spring clamps, also called “A-Clamps”, come in handy. If the clothing is too big, just clamp the wardrobe piece wherever needed but out of the camera’s view.

Everything fit in this case and the scarf was draped as we wanted around her arms.

Model: Karen Ramos

 

Unintentional Bracelets.  This is a biggie. Models are known for coming onto a set with their hair tied up ready to be styled. They take the hair band off and put it on their wrist, and because it blended so well with her skin, you miss it, shoot a series of stunning images with the rubber band looking like a bracelet. In the case of the image below, the model was wearing a Hindu bracelet, which photographs as a rubber band on her wrist. Another rookie mistake. Be sure to check wrists to make sure only the intended wrist wear is present.

A missed bracelet looks like a rubberband in this image.

Model: Deeksha Chawla

 

Posing the Model

 

Dynamic Feet. I always try to make sure the model’s feet are not both posed facing the same direction. When you pose a model to have each foot in a different direction, up on the toe, one lifted slightly higher than the other, etc., the image seems to have a little more energy – it’s more dynamic.

Here I posed the model with one shoe on the rung of the stool and one on a toe on the floor.

Model: Sietzka Wiersma

 

Angles. The goal of many fashion photographers with beautiful, tall models is to angle their bodies to create geometric triangles. This is also something that creates a more powerful, dynamic looking image. I typically try to make a triangle with one, if not both arms, but if with both arms, not at the same level because it looks too sumo-wrestler-like. I will have her place one hand near her stomach and the other on her hip so that they an uneven. Triangles can be made with legs as well.

I made sure to include at least one triangle using the arm closest to the camera.

Model: Shoko Fujita

 

Neck. It’s also necessary when shooting anyone, to expose the neck by elongating it as shown in the image above. Failure to do so can sometimes lead to a short or “no-neck” model in the image. With the wrong lighting, the chin may blend in with the neck. In addition, elongating the neck also helps anyone with a slight double-chin.

 

Head Angle. It’s usually a good idea to angle the head of a model or actor for headshots, even if it is very slightly.

Here I had her tilt her head a little bit combined with a slight lean back.

Model: Daria Komarkova

 

Chin. Another big one is what I generally joke in the studio calling it the “chicken head”, number one, because it slightly resembles such and number two, it relaxes the model and we all end up having a good laugh. I have my model elongate their neck, pull their chin out and then pull it down. This helps to define the jawline.

Elongate the neck, chin out and down.

Model/Actress: Celeste Smith

 

Hands. Hands can be tricky. Nine times out of ten, your model or subject will have very stiff hands in an image. What to do with the hands! For men, it’s a bit easier because we typically portray them as the strong type and their hands should show the same, but a very “light beard grab” works well (as shown below). For ladies, I have them run their fingers through and down their hair lightly or down their body lightly.

The “light beard grab” help define the jawline of this model.

Model: James Karl Campbell

 

Facial Expression. Facial expression is really key and can really make or break a photo. This can also be a tricky thing to get right, especially getting what you want from the eyes. Sometimes you may get a model with a “deer in headlights” look, but an amazing thing I try to go for is to get a powerful stare, a look with meaning and lips slightly parted, such as in the image below.

The powerful stare with meaning gets the vote here.

Model: Daria Komarkova

 

The Frame Around the Model

What’s around your model can also be important and can sometimes cause a problem if it’s not caught right away.

 

Background/Foreground. A good part of the time when we’re photographing a subject or model, we want the focus to be only on the subject or model and not really on the background or foreground. In those cases, we would decide on depth of field to keep the focus on the subject of the image. In the image below, I needed to show the context of where my model was at, dressed up in his sharp suit, so I created a semi-shallower depth field so that you could still tell the context, but only the model was in focus.

I wanted to do a city shot with the background slightly out of focus for this model’s portfolio image.

Model: Andy Mizerek

 

Avoid Mergers. A “merger” is when something is directly in front of or behind your subject – one overlapping the other or when that element touches the side of a frame. One common example that comes to mind is when you photograph someone with a dead tree in the background and you have tree branches coming out of your subject’s head! Try to avoid those as much as possible.

 

Add Props. Props are those ingredients in the image that I’m always cooking up. Since I work in a home studio environment, I use a lot of my own things as props such as my guitars, flowers from my coffee table, my coffee table itself and the list is endless. Since I love giving my models characters to become, in the image below, I made my model a singer using my existing microphone from my own use, but adding more credibility to the image by putting it on a stand and buying a pop filter and headphones to make her look as though I am capturing her in high key at a recording studio. Blue seamless lends to the picture popping with color.

I like to create various creative sets using props I either own or buy.

Model: Maria Iodice

 

Capture!

That’s about it! At this point it’s time to shoot: whether you’re a slower, methodical shooter, like me, or you are a speed shooter popping off multiple images as your strobe recycling time allows – these steps have proven to help me create some pretty amazing photos for my models, as in the examples of my work and end result shown below.

Gelled backlighting, a little fog and a creative photographer takes the cake here.

Model: Deeksha Chawla

 

And one of the resulting images from this shoot set…

Final image after post-production.

Model: Deeksha Chawla

 

RINSE AND REPEAT

I typically like to shoot several different sets in one shoot so I’ll rinse and repeat the steps below for every set.

 

Change Up Sets or Locations. Sometimes you will be moving from studio to location or from location to studio or from location to location. You may be working completely in the studio and need to change up your set design.

 

Change Up Lighting Setups and Modifiers, as Needed. As the sets change, your lighting setups and modifiers may change too. I like to have variety in my lighting styles for a model portfolio shoot so that every image has a different mood/feel.

 

Change Up Hair / Makeup. I keep my hair/makeup guy on set for the entire shoot for not only touch-ups, but changeups too.

 

Change Up Wardrobe. I keep a rack ready for wardrobe and it’s typically fully stocked with my Model Closet wardrobe as well as essentials that I personally invest in for shooting – then reselling. For model portfolio work only, I’ve found it’s just a lot of easier for me to create ideas and concepts when I have a little bit of control over wardrobe. Plus, newer models get excited about what they will be wearing and I notice they get more confident when using clothes other than their own because it tends to make them feel like it’s more of a fashion shoot than just a portfolio shoot.

 

THAT’S A WRAP!

So these are my steps when shooting a model portfolio. You may find these great steps, you may have more steps or you may find some of these steps do not apply to your situation or style of shooting. In the next and last installment of this series, I will go over all the steps I go through after a model portfolio shoot, so stay tuned!

Posted by Dawn Wayand in Workshop, 0 comments
Shooting The Model Portfolio Part I: Day-of-The-Shoot Preparations

Shooting The Model Portfolio Part I: Day-of-The-Shoot Preparations

The day is finally here. For some of you, you’ve been planning this shoot for some time now. Everyone will arrive in a couple of hours and there are a few more things to be done before the photo shoot begins – then it’s showtime.

A photo shoot that took place on the outdoor High Line in  NYC.

Model: Valery Lessard

 

Continuing on from my previous article, How to Plan a Model Portfolio Shoot, for the second segment of this 4-part series, I’ll go over my checklist for day-of-the-shoot preparation before the photo shoot begins. Let’s go!

 

DAY OF SHOOT PREP

 

Receive and Set Up Catering for Photo Shoot. Since I typically like to start my shoots in the studio and then move outward, I get my food delivered around 6am for a 10am arrival time of my crew and the model. I usually put out nuts, granola bars, fresh berries as well as an assortment of coffee, tea and bottled water. This is definitely not mandatory, but I prefer to keep my model and team hydrated and semi-nourished with high-protein and natural foods to avoid energy drain during the shoot.

I’m trying not to prop a  company here, but Freshdirect always hits the spot for what I need.

 

Last Minute Floor Cleanup. Next, I usually save cleaning my floors (vacuum and mopping) until the day of the shoot so that they are pristine because I tend to get on the floor a lot to shoot my models.

 

Set Up a Private Dressing Area. Whether it’s a separate room, a bathroom, a room divider or in my case, a cloth draped over an open window above a door, it’s necessary to set up a private space for your model to change.

 

Set Up Tethering for the Shoot. I have a basic tethering setup. When I’m working out of my home studio, I move my iMac from my office to my work station in my studio area and connect my Tether Tools USB Tethering Cord from my Nikon D750 Camera into my 27” iMac Desktop Computer. When I’m traveling or out in the field, I connect it to my Dell PC laptop. Want to learn more on tethering? I’ve written a very informative article on tethering where you can learn about what is needed to tether, how to tether and much more: Preview While You Shoot: The What, Why, When, Who and How on Tethered Shooting.


Plugging in the tether cord into my camera.

Image courtesy of William Matthew Chamberlain

 

Set Up the First Set. Next, I typically start setting up my first set to get ahead of the game. I usually set up one of my harder sets first because it will take hair and makeup about 60-90 minutes to finish with the model for initial hair/makeup so this is when I will have the most time to build up a set.

 

  • Background. Whether you are using seamless paper, a fur, a faux floor or an outdoor background, I usually set this up first and build upon it.


In this case, I set up a faux wooden floor and a fur as the background for the model to lay on.

Model: Daria Komarkova

 

  • Props. Next, I will build props into my set. Some props, like the pillows and candles above, or the chairs and stools below, serve as props but become part of the set. Other times, props will be what your subject is holding, like the guitar above, the purse below, or, even what they are wearing (things such as sunglasses or hats might serve as props…)

I used every stool I had and dressed my model very elegantly for this “barfight fashion” set.

Model: Karen Ramos

 

Here, I placed a light behind my model as a rim light around her hair and shoulders, a beauty dish in front to capture her face.

Model: Deeksha Chawla

 

Team/Model Briefing. Once the model, my hair/makeup artist(s) and photo assistant(s) arrive for the photo shoot, I generally go through each of my visions: the set idea(s), the wardrobe, the feelings I want to evoke in the image and my goal for the outcome for each image. I communicate much of this through mood boards on my iMac along with presentation of the wardrobe and accessories, props, etc.

 

NOW WE’RE READY TO SHOOT…

These are the general items on my checklist the morning of a TFP model portfolio photo shoot. I’ve found these steps to be very effective for my photo shoots. Some of these steps may not apply to you or maybe you have other steps that are useful to you. We’d love to hear any additional day-of shoot prep steps! Feel free to share your suggestions and comments.

Posted by Dawn Wayand in Workshop, 0 comments