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Portrait photography tips

Tips, techniques, and setups
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              There are many styles of portrait photography.

                  I prefer a simple style that emphasizes the personality and expression of the subject.    I can do whatever a customer wishes, however.  

                   Portrait photography is challenging and you need to have a personality that is upbeat, lively, and sensitive.   Top models get paid so much because they know how to provide the expressions that sell products  and services.  The best technique and print quality, however, cannot guarantee a great expression.  Since many people are shy in front of a camera, a photographer's skill at establishing a rapport with the subject is crucial.   

                   Subjects need to participate in the portrait session by relaxing and having fun.
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Amish boy on his scooter

 Posing and behavior  
People photography is as much about human relation skills 
as it is about camera knowledge. To get good expressions, you must create rapport with the subject.  Many people are shy of being so intensely involved with being photographed and that sometimes creates problems.

Another very important thing:

       You can never FORCE anyone to make a natural smile, especially not a child.

       If you want a smile, either make a joke or catch the subject off-guard.  In school photography, many children simply don't want to smile.   In that case, have them say a word like "happy", or "turkey", or some other word that forces the mouth into a smile shape.   The word "chicken" works, too, but act fast.   You have to catch the expression with a quick finger on the shutter.

   Click Here!  to learn how to subject posing secrets -- tips from a pro

cozy home set

Prepare the set and camera BEFORE the subject arrives
so the subject doesn't have to stand around waiting and getting nervous.  Work quickly and very confidently.

to do this, a baby has to be about 3 months old or more

Eliminate distractions ---
this could include all the "observers"
A portrait is about the subject(s) ONLY, and observers often upset the mood.
Too often the presence of a family member, especially a sibling,
will disturb a child while it is getting photographed.


these old twin lens reflexes take great photos on 120 film

Cameras and lenses

    You can learn the hard way or the easy way:  
You'll waste your time and money with a bad camera or bad lens. 
The good news is that a good camera can be very inexpensive, if you know what to look for. 

Learn how to use the camera. 
Any great camera is a waste in the wrong hands.


Buy good film  It's very cheap if you buy it in quantity, and stick to something you like.  I often use Fuji, but also professional Konica for portraits, and many Kodak films.    Use the right rating of film.
At low light levels, for fast motion, or long lenses, you are wasting money if your film speed is too low.   Kodak 800 makes great prints under trying conditions.   Get it developed promptly.

Broncolor 440 WS strobe


Natural daylight is probably the best possible light for capturing the human personality.
The infinite variety of outdoor lighting conditions allows unlimited opportunities for expression.  Excellent effects can also be produced simply by sitting near a window.  

Natural light has one big drawback, however;  it's not consistently the same.  
Because of this, all portrait photographers must often use artificial light.   
To produce high volume with consistent results, studio flash units are a must.
camera reviews     see the photo setups page
a very simple shot with a very natural expression Backgrounds  --  A bad background can ruin a picture.

When framing your shot, pay attention to what's behind your subject. 
Use outdoor backgrounds to advantage, such as colorful leaves,
or broad expanses of color such as the sky or distant scenery.
Using a long lens and/or wide aperture can reduce the impact of a distracting background. 
Often you can shift your position or your subject's slightly to greatly improve your composition.  Sometimes, however, you do not have much choice. 
You must seize the opportunity or you will lose it.  There's always Photoshop....

You can use a grey or black cloth as a background, and with the use of simple "gels",or transparent colored plastic, over your flash units, you can make the gray background any color.
elizabeth8.jpg (53985 bytes) Costumes

Interesting costumes can greatly enhance a portrait and increase its value,
since it will be a rare photo of the subject.  Be creative.  Every outfit is a costume from another's point of view.  Sometimes all you need is a hint of a costume, such as a scarf, hat, or something in the hand.
girlpiano2.jpg (30108 bytes) Props
A simple prop often helps set a mood or natural pose.   
Too many props, or unrelated props, are not good.
There is a science to color and shape.
Keep the color tones harmonious and look for good geometry.
With a young child, it's wise to let them have a toy in their hands.
A clever choice of prop can keep a toddler's hands occupied and out of trouble.  Hats are often very effective, since they can immediately convey an image.  Young children, however, will often play with them.  Make a game of it.

evantree1.jpg (54428 bytes)

Framing the shot

Ultimately, only what's actually IN the photo matters,
 so with careful framing you can create the image you want.  
Although you can crop a photo later, it's best to "crop" while shooting.
This means taking an extra few seconds to check the image before firing the shutter.  Leave out everything that's not necessary, and use geometry to good effect.  When people look at each other, their eyes generally go first to the face and upper body, so a portrait should usually include those features.  Hands are also important, but not so necessary, since the mind fills in what is assumed.


 Click Here!   Learn how to produce great digital photos, tips from an expert

  Digital photography

     There are many things different about digital photography, some are better than film and some are not.    To get good digital photos, you need to remember that electronic sensors respond to light differently than film.    A cheap film photo will have much more detail than a low grade digital image.   However, a high quality digital image can be extremely rich in detail, with the added advantage of being able to edit it, copy it, and make use of digital printing so easily.    Most professional photographers now use digital cameras, but they buy very good cameras that are fast.     We'll be adding more about digital photography soon.

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