How Can I take Great Portrait Photographs?

How Can I take Great Portrait Photographs?

Learning to Take Good Portraits

Learn The Rules

First of all, learn the rules really really well, then, and only then, allow yourself to break them. 

There are technical aspects and then the artistic.  The ‘technical’ part will take you a long way, if not most of the way.  By 'rules' I mean there is lots to learn, your camera, your lighting, posing and it helps to know people a bit, as well.  Learn as you do. 

  1. Learn a few basic operations with your camera.  Practice on inanimate objects around you while varying the speed and aperture.  If you are very new to

    Window light front and back

    this part, check out this article on Basics

  2. Imitate others.  Start with some simple portraits.  Find some people photos that you like on Pinterest or somewhere.  Again, keep it simple to start.  Simple outdoor portraits. Walk before you fly.  Find a friend that is a willing guinea pig.  Find a shady spot outside.  You want soft light.  But you want enough light, so do this outside. Try and duplicate the pose, lighting etc of one or two of the photos that you found on Pinterest.  (Make sure that you are not trying to emulate fancy studio lighting.)  Pick simple outdoor photos to copy. 
  3. Focus. Focus on the eyes.  One or the other.  Something about the eyes and the soul  Focus, then reframe.  Set your ISO for the ambient light and as you are shooting photos of your friend, vary your aperture and speed.  Try different poses.  Photograph them from different heights and angle.  Take these photos back and go look at them on your computer and compare to each other and the ones you were trying to emulate.  Oh yeah, try and have a little fun while you are doing it.
  4. Review your photos.
  5. Read through any materials that you have studied to see if you missed anything.  Watch a couple videos.  Try this one. Keep it simple.  If you get the basics down really, really well, you will be able to do pretty much anything with a camera.
  6. The better you are technically, the better you will be artistically. 
  7. Pick another friend and go through this again.
  8. And again.  If you don’t have enough friends, go make some more.  There are tons of people who like having their photos taken. 
  9. Some simple rules.  Watch your background. Best not to have telephone poles sticking out of the top of the subject’s head.  Try and keep backgrounds simple, not noisy.  This leads to the next: You will likely want your subject to fill most of the frame.  Having Aunt Millie fairly unrecognizable in front of Niagara

    Mid Afternoon Sun in the Shade

    Falls because she is so small in comparison, is not a portrait that is going to communicate. 

  10. Watch some videos by Peter Hurley: “Turtling the Head - The Jaw” and the “Squinch”. You can watch here on my website or find him on Youtube.  This will help hugely with simple posing for headshots.
  11. Survey.  Constantly ask people what they want or need the photos for.  Or what they want out of the photos.  An image for LinkedIn or another social media platform?  Just to have some nice photos.  Is their agency requesting a portrait/headshot?  If so, what does the agency look for in an image?
  12. Take a LOT of photos.  Make sure you are consistently shooting.  Between shoots, always work on learning.  Whether it be more about your camera or posing or …
  13. Lightroom.  This is very important.  Knowing some basics in Lightroom will take your photos up several notches.  Again start simple.  There is a ton to learn in this application but the basics are pretty straightforward.
  14. Don’t spend all your time learning.  The important thing is to shoot, shoot, shoot.  Fit the learning in between times.  Not the other way around.  The more you photograph people the more comfortable and confident you will become. 
  15. Make sure you are photographing someone, somewhere regularly.
  16. Once you’ve got a handle on your camera basics, try varying the light that lands on your subject.  Partial shade on the face.  Shoot with majority of the light behind the subject, to the side, etc.
  17. Once you have practiced the above, try using a reflector.  You can get a round Westcott reflector for around $50.  Black, white, silver and gold.  Gives you a number of ways to modify light without a great deal of expense.  You can use this quite effectively with window light inside as well.
  18. Art has a whole lot to do with communication.  In an aesthetic way.  That’s where eliciting emotion from your subject can come in.  I’ll often get someone

    Late Afternoon Sun in Tree Shade

    to try different emotions, fear, anger, boredom and others.  Gets them to loosen up and can create some more interesting photos.

  19. Tricks.  There are hundreds of tricks to get one or a bunch of people to look or be a little less stiff. Outside with a family or a group, they are all standing stiff at attention.  I’ll get them all to crouch down.  This usually gets them all off balance and they pay more attention and look way more relaxed in the photograph. 
  20. Learn the basics and keep it simple to start. Some of the best photographers that you will ever find use very simple poses and lighting:  Yousuf Karsh, George Hurrell, Arnold Newman, Richard Avedon, Herb Ritts, Annie Leibovitz and Peter Lindbergh to name a few.
  21. Never stop learning and never stop having fun.
Posted by Martin in Blog, 0 comments
Binbrook, Ontario RAM Rodeo – 2023

Binbrook, Ontario RAM Rodeo – 2023

Binbrook, Ontario Rodeo 2023

I’ve photographed numerous small and medium sized rodeos in Southern Alberta.  Nice access at these for a photographer.  And I can roam around and take some nice shots of the cowboys and their horses.  Usually three or four photographers maximum.  Lots more at this rodeo.

Binbrook rodeo is part of a series called the RAM Rodeo Tour.

These cowboys are tough dudes.  It's fun watching them do their 'yoga' stretches to get warmed up.  The bull riding: the goal is to last 8 seconds.  Not many do.  Those bulls are a whole lotta muscle and meanness.  I'm truly amazed that anyone can stay up on one of them for even eight seconds.  

Was a pretty harsh sun for decent photos but occasionally the odd cloud covered to help out. 

Odd layout as well. Very narrow arena for the events.  Not sure how the girls pulled off the barrel racing in such a tight space.

I’ll have to try and get to a few more of these next season.

Posted by Martin in Blog, 0 comments
Portraits From The Last Few Months

Portraits From The Last Few Months

Here are portraits that I’ve done over the last few months.  Some with studio lighting, some natural or window light.  Some posed, some casual or candid. 

I love this part of photography - People. 

All about light and shadow.  Getting the right and most flattering balance.  Oft times, one is trying to duplicate in the studio the simple lighting of a cloudy day.  That nice soft light. 

Some think that a bright sunny day is the best for portraits, or any photo for that matter.  Not necessarily true.  That strong, harsh sunlight doesn’t allow for any subtleties.  No gradients of light. 

If you can get the perfect light then much less work in processing. 

Posted by Martin in Blog, 0 comments
Put Your Camera’s ISO Setting on Auto

Put Your Camera’s ISO Setting on Auto

Auto ISO*: Make your job easier with this simple setting.

I learned this recently.  I used to think that if I shot a portrait a bit dark because of a lower ISO* setting that I could crank the exposure in Lightroom as there is so much data captured with digital cameras these days. 

One is essentially playing with three things to get a proper exposure: Speed, Aperture and ISO (sensitivity setting). 

With your ISO setting set to auto, your photos will be sharper even at a high setting like 1200 or even 2000.  I assure you that you will get more detail in your photos doing it this way.  Try it and see.  Or test it both ways in some low light scenarios. 

The only time I’ve had an issue with it is when a dark skinned person was wearing a white shirt.  The camera couldn’t figure out the proper sensitivity and the photos were a bit dark.  Which is what I would have had to work with anyway if I had been setting ISO manually. 

I’m shooting currently, with a Nikon Z6 Mirrorless camera.  This function is available.  I’m assuming it is the same situation with most if not all mirrorless cameras.  I have no idea if one can use this setting on DSLR (pre mirrorless) cameras.  If you own one, it would be pretty quick to figure that out. 

The biggest issue with advancement in technology, not only with cameras, is keeping up with all the features.  It can be a full time job.

I’ve been using the camera this way for a couple of weeks and has been really effective.  The portrait here was shot impromptu recently of a friend.  I didn’t have to mess with ISO for an inside shot in his living/dining room. 

Below I’ve added some images of the menu steps for my Nikon Z6 to switch the Auto ISO on or off. 

*ISO: (International Standard for Standardization) - refers to the sensitivity of a camera’s sensor or film to light. This can be adjusted in cameras to make an image lighter or darker.  A higher number will allow more light

Posted by Martin in Blog, 0 comments
Peter Hurley – More about the ‘Squinch’

Peter Hurley – More about the ‘Squinch’

What the hell is a 'squinch'?  

I posted a video of Peter Hurley talking about the 'squinch' some time back.  You can see it here:

I recently came across some updated information by him on this.  He shows some comparison photos of people with relaxed eyes and slightly 'squinched' eyes.   Using this, whether it be for actors headshots, or family photos, this techniques will make your subject look much more natural.

It is a really excellent video; watch it below:


Posted by Martin in Blog, 0 comments