The Concept of “Wow” Portraiture for Photographers

With cameras and digital formats and gizmos being “smarter,” are we all now professionals behind the fancy new digital cameras? The truth of the matter is that just because we have a fancy camera doesn’t mean we can shoot like the professionals. Yes, more and more cameras are getting smarter. And yes, more people are shooting more images, and a lot are going into post-processing software with some pretty amazing results. However, the true test is when the “WOW” factor comes in.

portrait photography

“Untitled” captured by Laura Matkutė (Click image to see more from Matkutė.)

Yes, the “WOW” factor.

It is when someone says “Wow!” at the images you have taken that makes the difference between the images that seasoned professionals produce compared to the snappy happy shooter.

Think about this for a minute. If you have an album of pictures with a whole lot of snaps, let’s say 300 shots in a wedding album, which shots are the ones people usually remember? It’s the ones with the funny moments, rarely captured moments, and the ones that are seemingly simple that make many say “WOW!”

wedding portrait

“Kesha & Irina” captured by Olga Filonova (Click image to see more from Filonova.)

So, do you get the point?

OK, so how do we work toward a “WOW” shot as compared to shots that get less than a second of attention?

Before we get to that, let’s go to the subject of portraiture; it is one of the oldest forms of photography of the human condition.

“The classic art of taking a moment in time; a moment captured with a sort of nostalgia or a peek into a soul, effectively through the lens.”

The most powerful tool in a photographer’s kit is the knowledge of light and shadow.

The understanding of the interplay of these two elements, which bring out the human “truth” or “soul” we have been trying to capture ever since the invention of the medium.

portrait lighting

“Yana” captured by Vavinov Alex (Click image to see more from Alex.)

First, understand what the camera can and cannot do.

Understand that the camera cannot take images; it can only capture what a user does when a shutter button is pressed. That means that we have to put some thought into planning what a shot should look like and execute it on camera—light, shadow, color, and balance of frame weight are all coming into play.

Second, a camera cannot compose a portrait; only the user can put together the elements in a frame. That means that we have to know the basics of aperture, shutter speed, depth of field, and other in-camera settings—as well as the rule of thirds with a properly “posed” subject—in order to take a frame.

portrait composition

“Untitled” captured by Laura Matkutė (Click image to see more from Matkutė.)

Third, a camera cannot capture light and color as effectively or beautifully as the human eye. It has to be crafted by the user with camera settings and light sources that bring out a shot, which then can be captured on camera. This means we have to know what can be done with lighting, the balance of shadows, and color.

colorful outdoor portrait

“Sweet Autumn” captured by Irina Oreshina (Click image to see more from Oreshina.)

Not as easy as it sounds, right? Wait, don’t worry. Relax. It does take time to un-learn and re-learn new things, so read on…

In a nutshell, if you want to take pictures with the “wow” factor…

  • Know what your camera does and what you can do to get around it.
  • Learn to “play” with the elements and take that shot.
  • Have an idea of the shot in your head, use the camera and all available elements you have, and take the shot.
  • Capture it with the best of your ability, whether it was a split-second decision or a shot you have been waiting for for hours.
  • Most of all… practice and practice and practice again.
  • And last, but not least, don’t forget to have fun doing it!

About the Author:
Article written by Sean Reutens.

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