UK local hero Jacob James is a young and talented travel photographer who will be sharing with you a series of 8 weekly articles entitled ‘An Introduction to Photography’ – in this fourth article Jacob SHARES Ten Top tips on creating great portrait photographs!
1. Spend time with your subject – When it comes to portrait photography the term ‘taking’ a photo has an important meaning. When shooting many of my subjects, some who may be vulnerable, I find that photography has to be a two way street. Giving something back to your subject such as your time to listen to them or a print of themselves can help you produce a much more powerful bond with your subject and subsequently create better images!
2. Understand the light – You don’t need a huge amount of expensive gear to produce well lit photographs. A basic understanding of how light works will allow you to utilise the natural light around you to produce striking images. Mitchell Kanashkevich’s ‘Seeing the Light’ is one of the best books on the topic of lighting with minimal gear.
3. Focus on the eyes – Every time you look at an image of a human face, your brain will immediately look at the eyes of the subject. For this reason it is essential that the eyes are the sharpest part of the face. The easiest way to do this is by making sure you focus directly on the nearest eye in the portrait. This is even more essential when using wide apertures to get shallow depth of field.
4. Include some environment – Great photographs are ones which tell a story or at least hint at a story. The easiest way to achieve this when shooting portraits is to include the environment of your subject. This is a great technique for documentary/photojournalist photographers.
5. Get Close – Famed combat photojournalist Robert Capa once said: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” For me this has a multitude of meanings, each are equally as relevant. When photographing people I often get as close as possible to them literally and metaphorically. Making them comfortable around you will allow you to use short lenses and to get much more intimate shots that are just not achievable with a long zoom at distance.
6. Embrace Shadows – Shadows are often seen as something to completely avoid by newcomers to photography. However clever use of shadows can add emphasis and depth to the subject’s face. A rule of thumb is that older faces tend to suit deeper shadows more than younger faces.
7. Consider your viewpoint – Shooting portraits from above often gives the impression that the subject is more vulnerable whereas shooting from below gives a sense of empowerment to your subject.
8. Ditch the stereotypes – Many people only ever use a long lens to shoot portraits; in the same way that many landscape photographers only ever use wide-angle lenses – breaking lens stereotypes you can result in a unique perspective on your images.
9. Shoot in landscape – Traditionally portraits were all shot in portrait orientation but by shooting in landscape you can include more of the subject’s environment to give your image more substance.
10. Control aperture – Try alternating between shallow depth of field close-up portraits and environmental portraits where you want everything in the frame to be tack sharp.
Please post your feedback, questions and views on this article or related topics and we will do our very best to answer them for you! Look out for Jacob’s next article in the 8-part series: ‘Introduction to Lighting: 10 basic Steps to Good Lighting’.