What makes for a good portrait? How much technical skill is required? This is my 6 step insights to some of the basic aspects to what I have learnt so far during my photographic journey.
Taking a good portrait is one of those areas that might seem rather simple at first glance but once you get into the actual process of it becomes quite daunting.
There are so many variables and an endless sea of possibilities in which direction you want to take your portrait so I will try to outline some small insights and thoughts of what I have found to be important along the way.
1. Find interesting looking people
I believe every person on this planet have their own fortes and it is my job to try and identify what they are. Sometimes it is in the actual facial features but it can also be in creating the right atmosphere to bring out a specific personality trait. At times you have a specific mood you want to create in mind beforehand but with portraits it comes down to a lot of improvisation during the shoot as people will always be affected by their surroundings.
2. Less is more most of the time
Trying to create simplicity in something like portraits can be much harder than you might expect. When I say simplicity I am talking about a simple and non cluttered background focusing more on just showcasing the pure features of the face. Shooting at very open apertures gives you that blurry background that becomes more of a complement to the atmosphere of your shot and not something that takes away focus from your subject. Do not forget that faces have the ability to do all the talking on their own and that is whats so powerful about the genre of portrait photography.
3. Composition is what location is for real estate.
I am not saying that you should be a slave under already established rules of composition but they are talked about for a reason, that they work. Try out different ones and get a feel for what pleases your eyes. One important aspect in coming up with a good composition is that it makes the photo dynamic and that is one of the most important aspects for me. Making the face come alive because creating a flat portrait is never too far away if you are not careful.
In my opinion one of the most underestimated aspects for creating a dynamic portrait. Of course, much of your cropping should be done in camera composing the image on the actual shoot but with the wonderful world of digital photography of today many of the existing post editing tools have fantastic cropping capabilities. Get familiar with it and play around with it and see what an incredible difference it can make to the dynamic aspect of your portraits. The possibilities are endless and you will find immense help in the area of cropping as it also makes you learn and improve from every shot. Go back and crop older pictures you have taken gives you a perfect opportunity to practise this.
5. Black and White
Not all faces work great in B & W but when it does it really gives a completely different feel and power to a portrait. Never be afraid to explore it as much as you possibly can. Giving yourself the best opportunity to create a strong black and white photo can be facilitated by you thinking about it already during the shoot. Thinking about creating an image where the whites are very white and the blacks are very black to try and explain it somehow. But never stop playing with it in post production, test yourself by looking at your pictures and try to decide which ones would make for good black and whites and go at it and slowly that way you will refine your skills in finding what works and what doesnt.
6. Post production
You have two schools of thought in this world. The people that embrace the tools of post production and they ones who dont. I am firm in my believes that whatever it takes to make your photo pleasing to your eyes you should do it. I think post production tools play a very important role in creativity and it expands your mind in ways very few things can. Find yourself some good tools that you are comfortable with and immerse yourself as much as you possibly can.
Portrait photography as mentioned earlier can be quite complex but an incredibly rewarding area of photography. Making people feel good about themselves is a beautiful thing and all of you out there have the ability to do that. The world is full of people with fantastic features and all you have to do is go out there and find them.
Have a lovely day and until next time