Portraits: Prepare First

portrait_preparation2The golden rule when taking pictures of people is to always think about what you are doing before you press the shutter release. What do you hope to achieve? Is the image being taken for record purposes (that would make it a formal shot) or is it to display the personality of the sitter?

Pressing the shutter release in a haphazard manner will lead to uninteresting and poorly thought out shots. Neither you nor your subject will be pleased with the results.

Think about a number of issues first:

– What makes the subject interesting? – does your subject have a part of their personality that you wish to show – are they relaxed, happy, serious, austere, cheeky and so on. Or are they being snapped to depict a trait or a connection – for example a picture detailing their occupation, sport or interests?

– Is the arrangement appropriate? – there’s no point having an interesting subject with a competing background. Clear clutter and make your background and environment suit the sitter.

A teacher would look at home behind (or sitting on) a desk or surrounded by books. A basketball player wouldn’t. A child would be best placed near to toys, games and bright colors but your grandmother would wish a more mature and homely environment around her.

You could always choose a large aperture to blur out the background or place a white sheet behind the sitter to make the background neutral.

portrait_preparation1– Can you use props? – a pen, a book, a chair, a flower – something to make the subject feel more relaxed and to give the viewer a connection with the subject. Props can be very useful ways of enhancing a portrait.

– Is the lighting correct? – shots of females and children often look best with diffused light. Watch out for harsh shadows cast by angled lighting and always have a reflector ready to bring light into shadow areas.

Rugged faces look startling with harder and angled lighting whereas smoother faces look better with softer more flattering light.

Prepare yourself before the shooting begins.

Eric Hartwell is an enthusiastic photographer. He owns and runs the photography resource site http://www.theshutter.co.uk and the associated discussion forums http://www.theshutter.co.uk/forums.

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