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.
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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. 

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Dramatic Portraits in The Garage

Dramatic Portraits in The Garage

Dramatic Portraits on The Road

On a recent road trip out west, to Alberta and British Columbia, I made sure I packed a light, a stand and large soft box.  The soft box being almost six feet but wraps up tightly and takes very little space. 

We spent the day with my wife’s son and doing a family BBQ.  He has a garage where he keeps his motorcycle, a shop where he makes all sorts of interesting tools and a large part that is a studio.  Drums, guitars and the works. 

We were enjoying a cigar I thought it a good opportunity to mix that up with some parts of his life.  We started with him on the bike and then moved to use the music as a backdrop.  I loved how the depth and detail helped tell stories.  Sometimes less in more. But sometimes more is better.

These were all shot with the large soft box behind me and off centre.  Camera Nikon Z6 with a Nikkor 50mm S 1.8 lens.  All very fast and sharp. 

My studio equipment, lights, modifiers all come from Strobepro in Calgary.  Can’t recommend them too highly. 

I did catch a few shots of Spencer’s nephews banging on the drums as well.  I’ll be posting a couple of these at Marty’s Road Trip Blog in the next few days. 

Processing was done with Lightroom Classic on my iMac.  With what this camera catches and Lightroom being such a great tool, gives me a lot to work with to get the photo I want. 

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Hannah – Old Hollywood Style

Hannah – Old Hollywood Style

Portraits with Hannah

These photos were taken New Years Day 1999.  Billy, another photographer and I had been shooting and processing our photos in a darkroom for some time and we were both at a party the night before.  Hannah was attending the event as well.  We approached her, asking if she would allow us to shoot her the next day at our studio.  We thought she had marvellous bone structure and would make for some great photos.

She showed up on time the next day on time and everything.  I told her what I needed as preparation, some simple makeup.  She told me that she’d never used make up!  Although she did have lot of bits and pieces of things that her friends kept giving her.  I’d had been studying some Kevin Aucoin books about the subject and although I’d never attempted it myself decided I would try some of the techniques out that I’d learned.  

Hannah had enough of these stashed away in her small purse allowing me to go to work. It was fairly minimal, some eye makeup and blush, but it worked well for what we were shooting. 

The portrait with the hands against the face is another tribute to the Hollywood photographers of the 1940s such as George Hurrell.

Old Negatives

The negatives have been in storage since that time and I scanned them in a couple of weeks ago.   Pretty messed up.  A lot of work in Lightroom fixing up the photos that you see here. 

Lighting and Film

I don’t remember but likely two lights and possibly a reflector.  I think Billy and I shot a roll of film each.  I would have shot these on an old Nikon FE camera with a marvellous Nikkor 105 mm lens.  Great lens for portraits.  Pretty sure the film was Ilford 400 ISO.

Some more Old Hollywood style photos


#oldhollywood #georgehurrell #nikonfe #portraits #blackandwhite

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1956 Packard Hardtop in Black and White

1956 Packard Hardtop in Black and White

1956 Packard

This is Chris with his 1956 Packard.  We were able to get some nice photos in spite of the rain. This was a luxury automobile in its time.  With a push-button transmission and torsion bar suspension, it was smooooth!  And nothing like a V8 engine when you have cheap gas.  Gas was $.23 (23 cents!!!) a gallon (a GALLON) in 1956.  I think when I started buying gas it was about $.35.  And we complained even then.   Pretty sure 1956 was the last year Packard built cars.  Or anything for that matter.

The camera

Photos were taken with a Nikon Z6 and 50mm 1.8 S series lens.  Great combination.  Fast, sharp focus for these old eyes.  I do have an adaptor and tried an old manual wide angle lens - that did not work out well at all.  I've used the adaptor with a Tamron 70-300 Zoom quite successfully.  But the autofocus works in that combination.  

Working with the time we had.  It started snowing about three minutes after we completed the photo shoot.  I used my 50mm 1.8 and took a few shots with the adapter with an old 28mm manual lens.  Great lens but my eyes are not what they were.  There is a new Nikon 28mm (Autofocus) that I really need.  Will be getting that as soon as is available.  Tamron has excellent lenses as well and are developing some for the mirrorless cameras.  But not sure I can wait, although they are great.  I have a Tamron 70-300mm  zoom that I use.  I've had it for years and is one of my favourite lenses.  I love it. I've used it with the adapter for the Nikon Z6 and works wonderfully.

the model

Chris was great.  Pretty sure he'd not done anything like this before.  Comfortable and took direction, what there was of it, very well. He is selling this car and getting another in the Spring, so we will likely shoot again.

For more portraits see my Portrait Section

#packardcar #1956packard #vintagecar #classiccar #moneypit #model #malemodel #blackandwhiteportraits

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