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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
The Art of Portraiture Part 3: Your Subject

The Art of Portraiture Part 3: Your Subject

The most important element of a portrait is your subject. Yes, composition and depth of field adds to a portrait, and backgrounds and lighting can make or break one, but without a subject, there is no portrait.

The biggest key to a great portrait is your subject.

Model: Kathryn Hopkins

 

We started off this series discussing Composition, Depth of Field and Background and in our last article, we covered Light. In this article, I’m going to go over the feature of a portrait: your subject.

 

GETTING TO KNOW YOUR SUBJECT

The best thing you can do before a portrait shoot is to sit down with your subject for at the very least: 10 minutes – and talk with your subject. Get to know them a little better. Where are they from and in some cases, what country are they originally from? What’s their favorite color? What kind of music do they enjoy? (This can often help by using a service such as Spotify or even Apple Music to play the music your client likes during a portrait shoot to get them to relax, which we will get into later…) Do they have hobbies? What do they do for fun?

Using your subject’s unique qualities expresses who they are in a portrait.

Model: Maria Iodice

 

The list of potential questions is endless, and the benefit to getting these types of questions answered is this: the more you know about your subject, the more your can bring your subject into their portrait. For the image above, my client above told me about her ethnic background so we played around with some scarves to capture more of the essence of who she is and where she’s from.

 

THEIR CHARACTER

Sometimes you might have a quiet, reserved teen to photograph and other times you might have to capture a more extroverted, animated subject. Getting to know their character when you have that initial chat before you pick up your camera will prepare you for what you want to capture about that person. You wouldn’t want to force a smile on someone who rarely smiles just as much as you wouldn’t want to force a serious expression on someone who is always smiling and laughing.

A portrait should express a person’s character.

Model: Chelsea Jackson

 

The idea is to capture your subject as the person he or she actually is rather than portraying them as someone they are not. In the image above, my subject was a carefree, extroverted girl and she naturally gave me this expression which completely shows the fun, carefree woman she truly is.

 

GETTING A SUBJECT TO RELAX

Getting a subject to relax can be a tough one, but it doesn’t have to be if you have a few tricks up your sleeve. Again, getting to know your client before a photoshoot will not only only give your client better images in the long run, but it will help you to actually capture those images! Learn what kind of music they like and then play their favorite singer or band’s music very subtly in the background during a shoot.

Getting a subject to relax can be hard – or not – once you learn how to do it.

Model: Lizbeth Sawyers

 

Sometimes giving a subject something to do with their hands relaxes them. The common cause a subject might have for not being able to relax is just not knowing what to do in front of a camera. Use a soft, friendly voice. Be very specific with your direction. Talk to your subject. Remember all those questions you asked in the beginning? Ask away as they more you are interacting with your subject, the more relaxed they become in front of your lens and you with your subject.

 

POSING

 

Facial Expressions

A facial expression can be one of those things that makes a breaks a portrait. If your subject is not relaxed in front of your lens, it will show in their face, whether it’s tension in the forehead or around the mouth or a deer in headlights look in their eyes. Even when you are shooting models, a problem can arise with getting a good facial expression in an image.

Facial expressions are key.

Model: Alexandra Rosner

 

Knowing how to relax your subject and getting them to connect with you personally (directly behind the lens) rather than just connecting with that long black thing in their face (your lens) can make all the difference. As you can see in the image above, my subject has no tension in her forehead, her eyes are soft and her mouth is relaxed.

 

Body Language

Posing the body to express what you want to express in a portrait is probably one of the more easier tasks than dealing with facial expressions. A person can be feeling a certain way on the day of their shoot and it’s more difficult to get a good facial expression out of them that is more natural to their usual personality. Getting a subject to pose their body is a bit easier sans posture. A person having a bad day may have a more slouched look or poor posture. You’ll want to make sure to observe and correct this before pressing the shutter. You can tell a subject how to pose, or even more effective: mimic a pose to a subject and then walk over to adjust them as necessary.

Body language can tell a story in and of itself in a portrait.

Model: Baron Jackson

 

In the image above, I was looking for a bad boy, musician type look, so I needed a more serious expression. I used a hand in the pocket and the other hand posed upward grabbing his shoulder to exude a more confident look.

 

Hands

Hands can be a little difficult to work with sometimes, but again, if you know a few tricks, they do not have to be. For women, the idea is for a woman to look feminine: soft, gentle, light, beautiful and graceful. So let’s create graceful hands! A good trick for this is to have them start with their hands at the top of their head and have them lightly sweep their fingers very lightly, gently and SLOWLY downward “like a feather”, across and/or in any other direction. Keep clicking the shutter while their fingers are in motion, or tell them to “hold” once their hands/fingers get to a place where you want to create the capture.

The use of hands.

Actor: Patrick Walsh

 

For men, it become a little bit easier. Men can use their hands to engage with their facial hair, their hands can be placed in their jean pockets and/or they can even tuck their hands under their arms when you have them cross their arms. (When they do that, sometimes a good trick is to have them push their hands forward a little as it can bulge the biceps a little more…)

 

Eye Contact

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying, “the eyes are the window to a person’s soul”. Capturing your subject with direct eye contact can be very engaging to a viewer looking at a finished image. For this reason, the eyes should be the sharpest part of a portrait.

Direct eye contact.

Model: Daria Komarkova

 

However, sometimes catching your subject with their eyes focused on something off-camera, can be just as engaging. It makes you wonder, what they are looking at? What are they thinking? Typically a candid portrait will usually have eyes focused on something else off-camera because they are engaged with something else, making the image “candid”.

Eyes directed off-camera.

Model: James Karl Campbell

 

CANDID PORTRAITS

Many people will opt for nabbing a candid portrait. A candid portrait is one where your subject is not really in an intentionally posed position. Some photographers like this because they feel a subject is more at ease and being themselves during a candid moment. Others like the feel of a look into someone’s everyday life. Whether I’m shooting fashion or portraits in a studio or outdoor setting, I keep shooting whether I’m posing a subject or not. It’s only then I will capture a moment of laughter, or a deep moment like in the image below.

Catching someone off guard sometimes makes for an interesting portrait.

Model: James Karl Campbell

 

In the image above, after shooting a long day with my model, we took a break for a few moments and I managed to catch him staring into the light. I have to admit a “candid” portrait wasn’t the first thought on my mind when I captured this portrait. It was more his expression of being deep in thought during a period of silence and the reflection of the light in his eyes.

 

MOTION & MOVEMENT

Introducing motion or movement into a portrait can add vibrancy and flair to a portrait. You might be shooting an athlete or a dancer or even a moving child. Having a hint of motion in the image adds a dynamic element to a portrait that help differentiate your portrait from other portraits.

Introducing movement into an image can make a portrait breathtaking.

Model/Dancer: Shoko Fujita

 

In the portrait of the dancer above, the dancer was moving slowly, however, I was also shooting her through a piece of Plexiglas covered with folded Saran wrap to get an added effect of motion, creating a more soft, elegant and whimsical ballerina portrait.

 

INTRODUCING PROPS

Props can be key in not only getting your subject to relax or adding in a talent of your subject, but they can also help to tell a story with your subject as the main character. Sports equipment, musical instruments and more can lend to adding an interesting storyline to the life of your subject through an image.

A little rug, a few pillows, lighting some candles and giving a girl a guitar gets you right at home with the artist.

Model: Daria Komarkova

 

In the image above, I wanted to go for an “at-home-with-the-artist” feel so I rolled out a faux wooden floor, laid down a comfortable rug, threw down a few warm-colored pillows, lit a few candles, and gave my rock-n-roll subject a guitar to strum while shooting her from above.

 

IT’S ALL ABOUT WHAT’S RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU….

So really, a good part of a good portrait relies a lot on your subject and how you interact and place them in a frame. You now know how important talking to a subject is prior to a portrait shoot as it affects so many subsequent parts of that shoot. Posing is important and catching your subject off-guard in a candid moment can be just as wonderful. Mix in a prop here and there to speak a volume about your subject’s talents and/or to tell their story and you have an amazing portrait!

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
Getting More Creative With Professional Self-Portraits

Getting More Creative With Professional Self-Portraits

Self-portraits have been a form of portraying oneself that goes very far back in time through not only photography, but sculpture and paintings as well. It has only been recently that it has morphed into an arms-length version called a “selfie”. The more classic version of a self-portrait, allows endless possibilities of how you tell your own story. In general, a self-portrait should be a reflection of you, your ideas, your tastes, your interests and your personality. How you communicate these things is where the fun begins.

A simple pensive self-portrait.

 

Why Self-Portraits?

 

It fuels creativity. When you have all the time in the world to create a portrait without the pressure inconveniencing someone else’s time to create it, and no boundaries set by a subject other than yourself the possibilities are endless with how creative you can get with your self-portraits. The less pressures that inhibit you, the more creative you can become.

 

Perspective In Front of the Camera. Self-portraits gives you a sense of feeling of what it’s like to be in front of a camera – rather than behind it – making you more aware of how your subjects feel in front of your lens.

Self-portraits give you perspective in front of the camera.

Behind the scenes image courtesy of Gil Aldrin

 

Giving Direction and Posing. This form of photography can also help you learn how to direct your next subject or model as oftentimes you need to mimic the pose to translate to the subject/model what you want them to do.

Giving direction for posing.

Behind the scenes image courtesy of Rachel Endoso

 

Self-expression.   Self portraits are also a good form of personal self-expression. Yes, we can put a personal touch on a portrait of someone else, but using yourself as a subject adds a whole new level personal expression.

 

Ideas & Experimentation.  It’s difficult to find friends and family who are patient enough to sit for you when you are only beginning learn lighting techniques or you want to experiment with a new idea. I resorted to using a mannequin when learning lighting but I found that using myself as a subject also worked and improved my photography tenfold.

 

You Can’t Find a Model. You know what they often say, “you can only depend on yourself…”. Sometimes you fall short of time and end up without a model and sometimes your model is late or just doesn’t show up at all. No one is more available than you.

 

Coming Up With Ideas

Inspiration for self-portraits is all around you, you just have to open your eyes, be aware and seek it out. It’s also important to reach deep within for inspiration that is unique to only you. Some things that can be considered to inspire ideas are:

 

Hobbies

You are a photographer, so there is a theme right there! Let your hobby be expressed in your self-portrait through the use of locations and props. For example, as a photographer, be sure to include your camera as a prop for a self-portrait.

A quick self-portrait of me in my home studio using a remote.

 

Profession

What you do for a living can also be expressed in a self-portrait. It is usually successfully portrayed only if it is something you love and enjoy doing for a living. For some, your hobby and your profession might be one in the same. In my case, while photography has only more recently become a profession for me, my long-time career has always been as a paralegal. For this, I might shoot a self-portrait of myself researching and writing in a library or maybe just a classic headshot in front of law books.

 

Location

Tripods will always be your best friend when shooting self-portraits. They are mandatory. They are also a portable tool to take with you to shoot yourself on location. Including your favorite hangouts and/or quiet spots in your self-portraits can sometimes add to the ambiance of the photograph and reflect part of your personality.

My favorite graffiti location.

 

Physical Abilities

Play sports or a musical instrument? Including something you are able to do in your self-portrait is a great way to convey your personal interests and extracurricular activities.

I don’t play enough, but when I have time, I love to play guitar.

 

Your Actual Physical Features

If there’s a part of you that you favor more than the rest or perhaps have been the topic of others’ conversations (in my case, it’s my long hair), focusing on this can make for an interesting self-portrait.

I consider my long hair one of my prominent features.

 

Wardrobe

If you a fashionable person, photographing yourself in your best rags can also reflect your tastes – especially in fashion.

 

Objects of Your Affection

We’re taught as portrait photographers that the best way to get a great personal image of a disinterested teenager is to include an object of their affection in the picture. You are no different. For me, not much comes before my cat and my guitars.

My other dream, as a rockstar.

 

Theme

Like any photoshoot, sometimes it is good to conjure up a theme and let it go from there. Have a favorite color? Create a monochromatic image using only that color around you. Maybe you are into cosplay? Dress up in your favorite costume, find a good location, set up your tripod, grab your remote and shoot. If you can create a theme for a party, you can certainly create and shoot a theme for you.

 

Capturing “You”

 

The Classic Headshot. We’ve already discussed how to create a classic headshot in my last article, 4 Ways to Create a Professional Self-Portrait (Not a “Selfie”) – Part I, so we’ll move onto other fun ways to get more creative with your professional self-portrait.

Here is a classic headshot I took as a self-portrait using the Lightroom capture button.

 

Your Reflection. You’ve probably tried this before in your own bathroom, in museums where there are mirrors present or even in Chicago at “The Bean” statue, but since you are a photographer, using a mirror to shoot your reflection showcases you engaging in your personal hobby or profession.

Shooting yourself in front of a mirror is an easy way to create a self-portrait.

Just make sure you don’t have your flash on and watch your borders!

 

A good tip for a better self-portrait using a mirror: be mindful of your background. Check out every inch of your frame before taking the shot to make sure anything unwanted is not in the image. Also, if desired, be sure to flip your camera’s logo in post. 🙂

 

A creative tip: place a mirror behind you to add a repeating effect.

 

Without a Face. Shoot only part of you – instead of all of you – and I don’t mean a headshot only. I’m sure you’ve seen images of expectant mothers that creative photographers shoot that include only the chest and down to emphasize the beauty in a mother’s body during pregnancy. We might not all be able to be pregnant right now (if at all) so try shooting only your feet, only your waist-down or only your neck to waist.

Most people know I am a world traveler and love this image entitled “I am here” taken in Madrid, Spain.

 

Location! Location! Location! Switch it up and take your shoot outdoors, to a garden, to a zoo, to a library – anywhere but the plain four walls of your home.

Under train tracks right down the street from my apartment.

 

Capture Your Dark Side. Create a silhouette of yourself by using backlighting without any front or side lighting.

Here I’ve created a quick silhouette example in the studio using red background paper.

 

Get a Move On! Incorporate motion into your self-portrait. Dance around, shadowbox – get into a groove and set your camera’s shutter speed on a slightly slower speed to capture a range of motion.

While I can’t say that I can really dance anymore, this self-portrait of me twirling in song did turn out pretty cool.

 

Don’t Be Afraid of Your Own Shadow. Your shadow in the morning and midday sun can make for an interesting, unique image. Shadows can also elongate your body depending on the position of the sun.

Shot around 3pm.

Behind the scenes image courtesy of Gil Aldrin

 

Work Your Angles. Shoot yourself from different angles. Set your tripod low and shoot up. Stick your camera on a lightstand via your tripod ballhead and position it up above you and shoot down on yourself.


Shot from below. I love the shadows on one of my favorite shooting backgrounds in my neighborhood.

 

I secured my camera to a light stand and used a remote to shoot from above.

 

Creating a Mirage. So this may take a little bit of Photoshop skills, but combining two images into a double exposure can make for a pretty spectacular image. Here, I took the initial profile image in this article and combined it with an image of one of two of my favorite flowers – cherry blossoms.


Here I combined a self-portrait with one of two of my favorite flowers – the cherry blossom.

 

Create Enough of You to Go Around. A fun self-portrait to create, which also takes a little bit of Photoshopping skills, is to composite several images of you together to create a “multiple-you” image. Here, I took advantage of my most used space in my home (aka. my “woman cave”) and created four separate images leaving the tripod in the exact same place for each shot. Each image was of things I pretty much do daily, creating a pretty accurate representation of me.

Here is a composite image of everything I like to do in my woman-cave.

 

The Honest Truth. Capture yourself doing an everyday task around the house or outdoors. You don’t even have to be looking at the camera. In this image, I captured a natural image of myself on my front doorstep in the industrial area of the SE Bronx.


Just be yourself.

 

Equipment Needed for Self-Portraiture

The Basics

 

  • Camera (DSLR preferred). I prefer a DSLR camera because I can generate RAW images to work with, I can tether to a computer or laptop, I have a lot more lens choices and because if I shot with film – this project could get very expensive! I have a few suggestions on DSLR cameras in my article: Building the Home Studio Part 1: Space and Essential Shooting Gear.

 

  • Tripod. A tripod is a must for self-portraits otherwise you will be very limited by using any available level surfaces. Imagine, if you had a tripod (with a ballhead), you have a choice of all available surfaces plus a decent height and just about any angle. I have several suggestions for choosing the right tripods in my article: Tripods: Choosing the Right Support for Your Investment.

A tripod is pretty much vital to creating a self-portrait.

 

  • Camera Remote. It just makes things much more simpler than running back and forth to the camera to set the timer over and over again…

A simple remote for my Nikon D750.

Image courtesy of Yann Bizeul

 

 

  • Light Source. A light source can consist of available light, a speedlight, a continuous light, a monolight or strobe. You can really get by with any of these, though you can create an endless variety of results and achieve them much faster with the use of some sort of flash light source (speedlight/monolight/strobe) due to positioning, brightness and modifier used.

 

To start, a speedlight can work just fine. This is my old Nikon SB-700 Speedlight.

Image courtesy of Yann Bizeul

 

The Flashpoint Rapid 600 HSS Monolight is a good choice for a monolight.

 

  • Light Stand(s). If you are using any light source other than available light, you’ll need light stands for your lights. Don’t skimp on these. They are what are supporting your $300-500 flash or $500-3,000 monolight or strobe. I have a few recommendations for light stands in my article: Building the Home Studio Part 2: Continuous Lights and Light Stands.

Light stand(s) and sandbag(s) for support.

 

The Superstar Setup

 

  • Laptop or Desktop. The bare essentials are completely fine for creating self-portraits, but you’ll eventually need a laptop or computer to edit those images. One or the other is also key if you plan to tether while you shoot. I do have an old 27” iMac but if you are considering going the iMac route (which I highly recommend for any graphics or photography-related use), don’t skimp here – like I did, or you’ll be sorry – like I am. If you can’t afford what you really want – wait and save for it, otherwise you’ll be stuck with a computer that doesn’t run fast enough or have enough memory for your needs. For photography-related work – especially if you shoot RAW (which you should!), be sure to choose an iMac with the latest processor (currently the Intel Core i7), at least 1TB of memory, but more if you can swing it, and at least 8GB of RAM. My heart is currently set on upgrading to the Apple 27″ iMac with Retina 5K Display, 5120×2880, Intel Core i7 Quad-Core 4.0GHz, 16GB RAM, 3TB Fusion Drive + 128GB Flash, AMD Radeon M295X which is currently available at Adorama for $2,900.

My iMac and my Dell 17” XPS Inspiron laptop.

 

  • Tethering Cable. If you choose to use a computer and tether, you’ll need a good tethering cable – one that does not lose connection a lot or fall out of your camera port more times than the number of frames you’ve shot thus far. The Tether Tools Starter Kit is a pretty useful and reliable tool for tethering.

Tether Tools makes a great line of custom tether cords.

Image courtesy of Tether Tools

 

I wrote a pretty lengthy article on tethering a little while back called: Preview While You Shoot: The What, Why, When, Who and How on Tethered Shooting that you might find useful on this topic.

 

  • Adobe Lightroom or Other Tether-N-Edit Software. Using software that allows you to tether so that you can review and edit your images as you shoot on the big screen saves a lot of time and incorrect assumptions that might happen if you rely only on the LCD screen on the back of your camera. Adobe Lightroom is probably one of the best all-inclusive tools out there for both tethering and editing and is the first tool I use before exporting it for fine tuning to anything else, if even needed. If you plan to use it for tethering, be sure to check to see if your camera is compatible for tethering to the software first. If for anything, it is “magic” and easy to use for organizing and editing your images during and after a shoot. You can get in on the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan, which includes both Adobe Lightroom AND Adobe Photoshop for one low annual price of $119 and you will always be up to date on the version you use.

There are several programs available out there for tethering, some of which also allow you to edit in post.

 

  • Adobe Photoshop. You may need Adobe Photoshop to do some finer adjustments or to just do some completely creative edits to your images. Again, you can get in on the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography Plan, which includes both Adobe Lightroom AND Adobe Photoshop for one low annual price of $119 and you will always be up to date on the version you use.

 

Other Stuff

The number of things you can use to help create your self-portrait is endless, but here are a few obvious choices.

 

  • Background. Whether it’s seamless, your living room, your backyard or down the street in the park, you will need some sort of non-distracting background to put yourself in front of.

I sometimes use creative art papers for backgrounds.

Image courtesy of Yann Bizeul

 

  • Unique Wardrobe. What you’re wearing, or not, can sometimes be the center of the intention for the image.

It helps to have some unique pieces in your closet.

Image courtesy of Yann Bizeul

 

  • Props. Adding in a wig, facial hair, a baseball bat, baton, bicycle, car or other prop can only lend to telling the viewer more about you and things that interest you.

Just a small fraction of the props I’ve collected over the last few years.

Image courtesy of Yann Bizeul

 

  • Additional Light Sources and Stands. You can do a lot with one light source but your options can open up even more with added monolights, strobes or speedlights to create multiple light setups.

 

  • Patience. If you are aiming for things like your eyes to be perfectly sharp, you will be shooting the same shot, let’s just say… A LOT, before you get it just right.

 

Creating a Picture Perfect You

Creating a self-portrait, whether for business purposes and/or for fun can be a great release of self-expression and showcasing the real (or not so real) you. Creating self-portraits of ANY kind will take a lot of time and practice, even for a skilled photographer. The images in this article took a great deal of time and effort to create. Whatever you do, don’t get frustrated if you are shooting and not getting exactly what you want. Number one, your frustration show in your images and number two, it will happen – just keep shooting and shooting and shooting until you get exactly what you are looking for. Using some of the ideas and tools above, you can come up with an endless number of ways to reinvent yourself digitally, and most ideas without the need for heavy photo editing.

 

Posted by Dawn Wayand in Workshop, 0 comments