When the turn of the century ushered in the art of digital photography, critics were quick to point out some of its conspicuous flaws in comparison to traditional film photography. However, technological advancements have progressed so rapidly in the recent past to make sure that digital photography remains king as far as taking enviable shots is concerned. And this in turn gave birth to various niches of digital photography, and among them was portrait photography.
Far from what most people think, portrait photography is not all about expensive background studio lights or high-res prohibitively-priced cameras. As a matter of fact, you can shoot your own professional-like portrait photos at the comfort of your home or that of your clients. That said, here is a quick primer on some useful pointers concerning specific types of portrait shots that every budding photographer ought to be aware of.
1. Family Portraits
If it’s a family portrait, make sure that your background is a light absorbing canvas, a dark-coloured velvet cover or a solid cabinet/wall unit. This actually helps to prevent the undesirable washed-out effect that crops up during post-photography editing. Again, remember that unlike celebrity photography, which focuses on shedding light on the glamorous aspects of the individual, ordinary family portraits are about exuding a sense of togetherness, unity and warmth. So, don’t concern yourself so much with introducing fancy objects in the photo that could later prove to be a pain during editing.
If somehow a studio setting doesn’t bring out the desired homely atmosphere, try taking the photo at more personal points in their homes e.g., in front of the family SUV or standing on the patio, etc. This can also serve to be a good memorable nugget for the family several years from now.
Use medium shutter speed
Family portraits, unlike sports or wildlife photography, do not necessarily need ultra-fast shutter speeds especially considering that maximum light exposure goes hand-in-hand with stunning still images. Anything between 1/80 to 1/160 seconds at f/2.8 and ISO500 should suffice.
Use a tripod to get rid of unnecessary shakes – Even if the camera uses inbuilt optical image stabilisation, you will still need to hold the camera in a steady, stationary position as long as you need glamorous photos. Besides, getting a family to pose together in front of a tripod looks relatively professional.
The focal length
Portrait shots are best captured using 80-200mm lenses at f/2.8. And this is mostly because higher focal lengths ( within that bracket) often results in sharper indoor photos.
Lastly, family portraits are all about being replicating a cheerful, jovial aura. So, it’s important to get your subjects a little excited or playful (especially small kids) before you start the photo shoot. If that doesn’t work, you could also try including a pet or a family teddy bear in the photo to bring out a picture of a well-knit domestic setting.
2. Individual portraits and business head shots
As the world is getting more visually oriented, the need for professionally done portraits for our social media profiles has never been more important. So it’s obvious that if you can take some presentable individual portraits, clients, especially those looking to improve their social media presence will beat a path to your doorstep.
Otherwise, regarding individual portrait photography and head shots, here’s what you need to know.
Unlike family portraits, which can appear stunning with a minimal background, an individual or business head shot looks far much better with a more detailed background.
So avoid cliché backdrops such as empty skies, dull colours or a single isolated element. Instead, have a patterned wall, soft-cushioning or even a natural, picturesque backdrop to serve as the ideal background. While there is isn’t a single background that is guaranteed to provide stunning results all the time, the best is one that allows the head shot/portrait to pop.
The ideal lenses
The type of lens used in such a setting depends on a variety of factors with the background being one of the major ones. If the subject is in a crowded or busy environment, for instance, you will need telephoto zoom lenses to blur out the background.
The facial expression
When it comes to taking stunning portrait photos, confidence can go a long way in making sure that the photo ( or subject) looks good. So, in as much as they need to feign a slight smile it doesn’t have to be a grin, a duckface or a weird scowl. You can also get the subject to try out some facial expressions in a mirror to improve their chances of a good pose.
Position the camera slightly above their head to steer clear of the dreaded ‘double chin’ look.
The direction of their eyes
A rule of the thumb is that subject should always look directly (but not pointedly) at the camera, which is really very necessary for their composition.
Avoid the passport look
Contrary to what most photographers think, the best individual portraits are those that look nothing remotely close to ordinary passports. So, by all means, avoid symmetry in your photos by getting the subject to pose with one shoulder aligned a little closer towards the camera than the other one.
Remember that sometimes in individual portrait photography, the person behind the lens wields a lot of control over how the photos turn out to be. At the very least, there a few stances you can use to have your subject look alluring.
For starters, taking the image from a low angle will not only make the person appear taller but also authoritative, stronger and powerful. For the ladies, taking the photo from a side angle perspective can accentuate and flatter parts of their physique that they consider attractive.
Again, if the person chooses to look to one side (to avoid symmetry) make sure that the side they are looking towards has more virtual space/room than the other.
Lastly, it goes without saying that you should experiment with as many portrait shots as possible before picking out the best one or two.
While these tips can be valuable and very helpful, it takes a lot of practice and thousands of awful shots before morphing and blooming to a reputable portrait photographer. So appreciate each shot, whether it’s up to scratch or not.