mergers

7 Mistakes to Avoid When Shooting a Portrait

7 Mistakes to Avoid When Shooting a Portrait

You have a portrait shoot coming up. It’s possible you spent the last week preparing for the photo shoot to the point you feel confident you’ve got this and that nothing is going to go wrong. Excitement is in the air as you cannot wait to test your skill and creativity. While you think the shoot went brilliantly, after reviewing the images, you realize so many mistakes you made that could’ve been avoided that have now either cost you additional time in post production or they have made your images completely unusable.

A simple studio portrait.

 

It’s sort of a relief to know that even professionals make mistakes on portrait shoots too and that you should consider them learning experiences. However, here are seven common mistakes to be aware of and how to avoid them on your future portrait shoots to create a more pleasant experience for both you and your client.

MISTAKE #1 – HINDERING BACKGROUNDS & MERGERS

Sometimes we neglect to look at what is behind our subjects when photographing outdoors and even in more controlled environments like a photography studio. A merger is the appearance that an object behind your subject is merged with your subject, such as a light pole or tree branch sticking out of your subject’s head. This can also happen in a studio environment too depending on the set that you build. Sure, these mistakes can be removed with Adobe Photoshop – potentially hours later – but why waste the time when you can get it right upon capture?

An example of a merger is the tree branches appearing to stick out of my subject’s head.

 

A more common mistake is a distracting background. A few things can distract a viewer’s eye in an image: a sharp background, brightness, bold colors or high contrast. Since you want the attention to fall on your subject instead of the background, the idea here is to be aware of your subject’s surroundings including the background and foreground.

The image of me above looks quite busy and not very appealing.

Image courtesy of John Ritchie

 

Since you want your subject to be sharp, the best way to combat a busy background is to leave it slightly out of focus and you can do this in one of three ways: 1) shoot with a larger aperture, which creates a shallow depth of field; 2) use a long lens; or 3) pull your subject away from the background altogether. The goal here is to separate your subject from the background.

This image is much more pleasing than the previous image as the shallow depth of field separates me from the background.

Image courtesy of John Ritchie

 

MISTAKE #2 – INCORRECT FOCUS

The sharpest point in a photograph is where your viewer’s eyes will go first. The most important feature when capturing a portrait is your subject’s eyes, specifically, the one closest to the camera if your subject is even slightly turned to the side. Without the eye being in focus, your subject in your portrait can appear lifeless. The autofocus feature on many cameras can cause the mistake of incorrect focus, so it’s important to be aware of this and to set your focus to a single point on the eyes and not the nose or ear.

Her eyes look sharp and vibrant. His eyes look lifeless and out of focus.

Models: Valery Lessard and Bryan Fitzgerald

 

On the example above, you can see the difference in how it appears as the female model’s eyes are sharp and vibrant whereas the male model’s eyes are out of focus and appear dead and lifeless.

 

MISTAKE #3 – SHOOTING WITH THE WRONG LENS

Shooting with the wrong lens can cause very unflattering results in portraiture as distortion tends to occur on both ends of the spectrum. Below is a very extreme example but when you shoot a subject close up with a wide angle lens, their face becomes stretched and hardly recognizable, which can be a fun shot in some instances, but not for a professional portrait.

OK, so this is an exaggerated example, but this is distortion caused by using a Canon 8-15mm fisheye lens.

 

To avoid this distortion, an 85mm-150mm lens on full frame or a 50mm-105mm lens on cropped sensor is the choice lenses to use for shooting people. Around the equivalent of an 85mm focal length is generally the sweet spot for shooting portraits as the wider the angle of lens, the larger features like the nose and chin become.

Minor distortion with a 50mm F/1.4 lens used close up.

Model: Sietzka Wiersma

 

Stepping back with an 85mm lens hits the sweet spot.

Model: Andy Mizerek

 

Stepping further back with a 100mm lens offers no distortion here.

Model/Actor: Bryan Fitzgerald

 

A telephoto zoom lens like the 70-200mm F/2.8 also creates little to no distortion.

Model: Bonnie Byrnes

 

A wide angle lens can work well for people photography typically when shooting an environmental portrait.

 

MISTAKE #4 – FORGETTING THE DETAILS

Sometimes we get into a groove. The music is playing, your subject is moving – we are snap, snap, snapping! However, when you forget to pay attention to the details, you might be capturing a bunch of images that you’ll either end up finding completely useless or spending hours fixing in post-production.

Missed wrinkles in a dress.

Model: Katie Buell

 

Save time by taking your time and being diligent. Does your subject have a hair band that they took off and left on their wrist? Do they have a flyaway hair on their forehead? A string on their sweater? Wrinkles in their dress?

Missed tag on the scarf and stray hairs on the neck.

Model: Maria Iodice

 

Correct the issues before capture to yield more useable images to choose from otherwise you may end up shooting a half of a day worth of useless images because you did not notice and fix what was wrong before capture.

String on the sweater.

Model: Sietzka Wiersma

 

MISTAKE #5 – SHOOTING AT THE WRONG ANGLE

A common mistake in portraiture can be shooting your subject from the wrong angle. A typical guideline for a flattering portrait is to shoot them just above eye level.

Shooting at eye level.

Model: Sietzka Wiersma

 

Shooting a subject from above may be an interesting point of view, but it will make your subject look smaller than they are and/or for balding men, it can expose a receding hairline.

Shooting too high makes a person appear smaller than they are.

Model: Sietzka Wiersma

 

When you shoot a subject from below, you may make them look taller, but if you’re not careful to position them the right way, you may lose their neck to a shoulder, be looking up their nose and/or you may expose a double chin or even cause the appearance of a double chin they didn’t have to begin with!

Shooting too low can be unflattering, hides the neck and shows things like a double chin.

Model: Bonnie Byrnes

 

MISTAKE #6 – HARSH SHADOWS

Harsh shadows can appropriately be the result of an interesting choice of lighting for male subjects creating mystery and allure and for women, it can create a particular mood or add drama in a portrait.

An example of good, soft, flattering shadows.

Model: Shoko Fujita

 

 

However, very harsh shadows produced by a poor choice of lighting or from undiffused light from the sun, can be unflattering and very distracting.

The shadows in her face are too harsh.

Model: Daria Komarkova

 

 

You can create softer shadows by using a diffuser in between your light source and your subject, by using a reflector and filling in harsh shadows by bouncing light from the key light back onto the subject, and by proper placement of your subject in relation to your light source.

By using a reflector and bouncing light onto the shadow side of her face, the shadows are much softer.

Model: Daria Komarkova

 

 

MISTAKE #7  – STATIC POSING

Posing can be one of the harder elements of a portrait to master just after lighting. The goal is to create an extraordinary portrait rather than a boring, lifeless photograph. So good direction to your subject is in order as it not only relaxes your subject a bit, but most of us do not really know how to pose in a flattering manner in front of a camera so you must be their guide.

For a reclining position, this image exhibits good angles and dynamic feet.

Model: Daria Komarkova

 

Have your subject place their feet in different directions or positions from one another. This creates a dynamic stance. When the feet face the same direction, the image looks flatter than if each foot were positioned in a different way such as kicking one foot up on a tow, popping the hip out and placing one foot facing out to the side while the other is straightforward.

The pose here is a bit stiff. While there is a nice angle in the arms, the feet face the same direction losing the depth in the image.

Model: Shoko Fujita

 

In the similar image below, the subject’s feet are pointed in different directions, her hips are uneven and there are many angles to her arms and legs creating a better pose.

Many angles and more dynamic feet.

Model: Shoko Fujita

 

Good posture is important in a portrait. A slumped over look can create make the stomach appear larger than it is whereas straight posture can actually pull it in. A sculpted face is typically also desired. By having your subject pull their head up, as if the top of their head is attached to puppet strings, pushing their face out (which will accentuate the clavicle), and pulling the chin down – all of which may feel a little unnatural – will create a slimmer, more sculpted look in the face.

Here her posture is straight and her head is pulled high, face out and chin slightly down to create a more sculpted face.

Model: Shoko Fujita

 

A good portrait will exhibit a more defined three dimensional look which is achieved by proper feet placement; good posture; angled arms and legs; and head placement that accentuates the face and exposes the neck as much as possible.

A good angled, dynamic pose.

Model: Shoko Fujita

 

LEARNING FROM YOUR MISTAKES

You can never know everything there is to know about photography so you will make mistakes as you go along. Even professionals still make mistakes as photography is a constant learning process. Don’t look at a mistake as the end of the world and hang up your camera. Look at them as a learning experience, something necessary to get even better at your craft. The seven tips above are just a few of many mistakes which can be learned and avoided. What are some mistakes you’ve made in the past? Feel free to share your mistakes and what you’ve learned from them in the comment section below.

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