A few weeks ago I promised one of my friends that I would write a blog post explaining how I approach portrait photography.
So I’m just gonna be honest here: I procrastinated in writing this article because there is just so much that goes into getting a great photograph and at this point I don’t think about it much, it has all just become second nature.
So I spent a few days contemplating my personal approach to taking portraits. There are plenty of comprehensive books out there, and no shortage of websites with tons of information. But here are a few of my personal techniques that have worked for me.
1) I always shoot in manual mode. Always. I cannot stress enough how important that is. It allows so much more creativity and the ability to play with your light.
2) I use fixed-length lenses when taking portraits. In fact, the only lens that I use for portraits is my Canon f/1.2 85 mm lens. It was expensive, but SO worth every penny that I paid for it.
3) Make sure your aperture is set so that your range of focus is not too narrow. On my f/1.2 85 mm I know that my aperture should be around 4 for one person, 7 for two people, and 9 to 11 for more. Of course you can play with this to get more creative shots, but you’ll want to be aware that if your range of focus is really narrow, it will be harder to get a sharp focus on everyone in the shot and you will have to make sure everyone’s face is on the same plane. You will also need to be sure you take many more shots than normal to ensure you get that perfectly focused shot.
4) I always take my time when doing portraits. Whenever possible, I take time to observe my subject before actually snapping the photo. What is it about this person that I really want to capture? My aim when taking a portrait of someone is to capture their spirit, their personality. So I view the first hour or so of shooting as the warm up, getting them to relax. Getting to know their spirit, making them laugh and feel comfortable. This can involve playing music that they will enjoy, encouraging them to talk amongst themselves, etc. I once shot some photos for a calendar and one of the men I was shooting brought along his girlfriend. The shoot was going pretty awkward and stiff until I asked the man to start talking to his girlfriend and continue laughing and joking with her, but I asked him to keep looking back at the camera while he did this. This allowed me to get some very “real” shots from someone I had just met.
5) Take a LOT of photos. In the beginning of the photo shoot I will just play around with shots, not really taking it seriously yet. But after playing around for a while, I will always find a certain angle or composition that I just LOVE. And that is when I take a TON of photos of just that one angle. Also, once I find the perfect angle and “frame”, I will ask them to shift their bodies and/or faces ever so slightly as I continue shooting, I will make jokes to lighten their expressions, etc.
So there you have it, a few ideas to help you get better portraits. I hope this helps!!