As you all know from looking at our websites and reading our blogs, we have said nothing about portraits. It is not that we never make photos of people, it’s just that portraits are not our expertise. However, we do make photos of friends and family and I do have some key tips for making your photos better, especially this time of year with all of the family visits and holiday parties. Here’s how:
I usually have my Canon G12 with me when I am with family and friends. Sure, we all have cell-phone cameras now, but no matter what you think, nothing replaces a dedicated camera for producing quality photographs. If your point and shoot camera has a “portraits” setting, use it. If you have “face recognition,” turn that on, too. These settings will create bokeh, which is the blurry background you see in better portraits. If you have a DSLR, use the widest aperture you can f/2.8 – f/4.0 to create bokeh.
I almost always use flash, even in the middle of the day. You can always decrease the exposure afterward, but you can never just add “light.” If your flash is too bright, do what I do and cut a “clear” band-aid and put the sticky part over the flash. It acts as a diffuser.
Here is my most important tip – ZOOM IN. The beginning lens position of your point and shoot camera is a wide angle of 24-35 mm. This is great for landscapes, but is very unflattering for portraits. It makes our faces wide and our nose and ears look big. Zoom in to about 100 mm or just zoom in all the way. Yes, this will cause you to back away from your subject, but it will also increase the distance of the flash which helps mitigate the brightness. Try it. I guarantee that you will like the telephoto portraits better.
Fill the frame! I see many photos of people that are way too far away and with little-to-no interesting subjects around them. For what ever reason, we don’t get close enough to our intended subjects. Again, I think this has to do with shooting wide angle. Using your zoom and remembering to fill the frame, will yield a better composition. The rule-of-thirds (see our blog) still holds true for portraits as well as landscapes. Try to position your subjects eyes in one of the four power-spots.
Also, watch out for cluttered backgrounds and shadows from the flash. It is amazing what you can do by just getting people to move a little bit to block a cluttered or distracting background. Also, people love to stand near walls. Get them to step away from the wall so you will not get a flash shadow behind them which is very distracting. Lastly, be deliberate about whether you are making a portrait or making a portrait “in the setting.” It completely changes the composition. Above, Mary deliberately put more of the Pasadena City Hall into the portrait because it was interesting and fairly clean looking.
Lastly, there is a reason they call the orientation “portrait” versus “landscape.” Try both. I have to say, when I photograph people singly, I use portrait orientation more and when I photograph pairs or more, I use landscape orientation..
You should try not to photograph your subject straight on. You should angle them to one side or the other. Ask them which is their best side – they will know. Remember to always focus on the eyes. If the eyes are not in focus, throw the image out. I am not into complicated poses as I am not a portrait photographer, but I do like a little variety. Download a basic posing app to give you ideas. We like Posing App.
There is a right way and and a wrong way to cut off limbs – figuratively. You almost always want to do it at the thighs or the upper arm. Cutting off hands and feet looks terrible and cutting off at the forearm and calf looks only slightly better. Hands should be in or out.
I do not do too much processing with portraits. If I have not filled the frame or have a distracting background, I crop the photo. I will also adjust the exposure. One of the best things you can do is darken the edges and lighten the face or faces. We use Darken/Lighten Center in Nik’s ColorEffects Pro plug-in for PhotoShop. If you want to or need to do some heavy processing, like smooth out wrinkles and fix blemishes, we like to use Portrait Professional.
Having fun with Portraits
Not every portrait has people in it. I use the same principles above to make “still life portraits” of wines that we drink.
At every family gathering, Mary will make some portraits – some traditional and some fun. Here are a few samples.
To see more of our photographs (but no portraits), please go to www.pamphotography.com.