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capturing a portrait that reveals more than a person’s physical likeness is
easier if you know the person you’re photographing. However, you can still
create a great portrait of a relative stranger if you take your time and establish
rapport with the person. Creating a compelling portrait is more than just
taking a picture. Talking with your subjects will reveal things they’re interested
in. When you see the person’s expression change after talking about
something they’re interested in, ask a couple of questions about the topic,
and then start photographing.
After you engage your subject to bring out her best, another task you must
tackle is getting your subject to relax. Unless your subject is a professional
model, she’s going to be shy in front of the camera. The smiles may end up
looking forced, the facial expressions phony, and so on. It’s like trying to get
someone to smile after they’ve received a letter from the IRS telling them to
report for a tax audit. Unless you’re shooting candid portraits of people at
work or play, a portrait photography session takes time. As a portrait photographer,
you must slow down, relax, and take your time. Give your subject
the time she deserves. If your subject can’t seem to relax and is preoccupied
with other thoughts, reschedule the shoot at a time that’s convenient for
Your job as a portrait photography is twofold: getting your subject to put on
a happy face and knowing how to capture that happy face digitally for posterity.
To do those things, you must get to know your equipment — know how to
light your subject, choose the right camera settings, and so on.
Your first foray into portrait photography may be an outright disaster. If you’re
not familiar with your equipment, you won’t be able to devote time to your
subject. If you spend too much time fiddling with your equipment, your subject
will quickly lose interest, and you won’t be able to capture a natural portrait.
Let’s face it, some people need to be the center of attention, and this is especially
true when you’re capturing a portrait of a person. Be prepared ahead of
time, and your photo shoot will flow.
If you’re shooting a formal portrait, always set up your equipment and backdrop
before your subject arrives.
Photographing Friends and Family
Photographing people you know and love may seem like a piece of cake, but
sometimes knowing the people you’re photographing makes the job harder.
They may trivialize your interest in photography. They may look at you and
think, “There he is with the camera again.” This is when you need to take control
and let your subjects know that you’re a serious photographer, and your
goal is to make them look their best. In these situations, you end up being
coach, cheerleader, and task master.Anybody can take a picture of a person. All you need to do is grab a camera,
point it at the person, click the shutter, and you’ve got the shot. (Hmmm . . .
guess that’s why some digital cameras are called point-and-shoot.) The way to
get a good portrait is to find a great location, use the proper equipment with
the right settings, and work with your subject(s). You’re the artist. You’ll have
to tell your subject how to pose, tilt her head, and get her to put her best face
forward. Natural smiles are a good thing. Forced grimaces do not make good
portraits. When you’re shooting a portrait of a person on location, you need
to pick the best area based on the scenery and available lighting. This may
involve taking lots of pictures to get a few good ones. But that’s the beauty
of digital photography. You can see what you’ve got on the LCD monitor and
know whether you’ve captured the quintessential portrait of your subject or
a picture that’s a candidate for the trash bin.
If you’re shooting a formal portrait of someone you know, you need to set
up the shot, arrange the lighting, and choose the proper camera settings.
In addition, you need to tell your subject what to do, pose him in a pleasing
manner, and then put him at ease. Yes, it is a daunting task. That’s why the
pros get big bucks for creating professional portraits.
Relax your subject and get her to laugh by telling her that the area in front of
your camera is a “No Blink” zone.
When you decide to pursue portrait photography seriously, let your friends
and family know your goals. They’ll be more supportive and won’t think
you’re being a nuisance when you ask to take their pictures. In exchange for
a portrait session, tell your subject he’ll get an 8 x 10 print of his favorite
picture from the shoot. You can get quality prints from online printing companies
such as Mpix and Shutterfly. Another good idea is to create a small
photo book of your best shots. Then when a photogenic family moves into
the neighborhood, you can introduce yourself as the neighborhood portrait
photographer. You can also use your brag book at parties and social functions.
When you show people a photo book of your best work, they’ll know
you’re a serious photographer. Sweeten the deal with a free print and you’ve
got another subject. I carry a 4-x-4-inch book of my portrait work with me at
all times. Showing it to friends and colleagues has resulted in many interesting
photo opportunities. For online printing and photo book resources, see
Your best shots generally come at the end of a session. Let your subject know
ahead of time how long your session will run. As the session moves to a conclusion,
your subject will become more comfortable in front of the camera.
Creating candid portraits
Candid portraits are wonderful. You capture people doing what they do
best, having fun or just being themselves. When you shoot candid portraits,you’re like a fly on the wall. You’ve got the camera ready to go with all the
right settings dialed in. Then when you see your subject doing something
interesting, compose your picture, click the shutter button, and you’ve got
an interesting photo.
You can create a candid portrait anywhere. If it’s your nephew’s first birthday
party, make sure you’ve got your camera ready when he gets a piece of his
birthday cake. You’ll end up with wonderful portraits of a laughing child with
a mouthful of cake, frosting-streaked hair, and gooey fingers. Remember to
capture a photo of the tyke’s parents hosing him off after the party. When the
child grows older, his parents will appreciate the portrait, and the now-grown
child may be interested in it — or embarrassed beyond belief.
To capture good candid portraits, take your camera with you wherever
you go. In time, your family and friends will get used to the fact that you’ve
always got a camera tethered to your neck, so they won’t always be on
guard, which makes it much easier to catch them in the act of being
If you have a digital SLR (single-lens reflex) with a zoom lens that looks like
a bazooka, you’ll have a hard time being the fly on the wall. If you fall into
this category, I suggest getting a good point-and-shoot camera as a second
camera. My Canon digital SLR looks quite intimidating with a telephoto
zoom attached, so I have a small Canon point-and-shoot that I take with me
when I’m running errands, or visiting friends. The point-and-shoot is relatively
innocuous, so I carry it with me wherever I go, even into restaurants.
You never know when something interesting will happen. When I see something
that piques my curiosity, I capture it digitally with my trusty pointand-
shoot. I show you all you need to know about buying a second camera
in Chapter 3.
Creating formal portraits
Formal portraits are used for many things. Sometimes your subject wants a
formal portrait to hang on the wall. At other times, a formal portrait is used
for business purposes, such as a company brochure or business card. If one
of your friends or relatives needs a portrait for business purposes, you can
get the job done. A head shot or head-and-shoulders shot is the accepted
format for formal business pictures. You can create formal portraits using a
makeshift studio in your home, on location, or in your subject’s office. (See
When you photograph any portrait, it’s important to light your subject correctly.
An on-camera flash is never a good option for formal portraits. If you
must use a flash, it’s best to bounce the flash off a white surface such as a
nearby wall or the ceiling. You can also use a bounce card. Better yet, use two
light sources. Portrait lighting is covered in detail in Chapter 7.
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