Creating the perfect setting for Portrait PhotographyMay 26, 2014

 All photographers are faced with challenges regarding the setting of a photoshoot especially if it is a portrait shoot. Paying attention to detail is of utmost importance and one has so much to take into consideration including lighting, posing and composition.

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Lighting is one of the most important things photographers have to take into account when planning a shoot. Natural light is always best. It makes for a natural looking image and is tricky to recreate artificially. However you need to become aware of the light, its direction, intensity and colour. When shooting outside photographers need to avoid the time of day when the sun is high up in the sky. This creates harsh shadows and high contrasts. Make use of the golden hour, just before and until just after sunrise/sunset. This is the time when the light is soft and warm and the direction is low.  Try to plan your shoot as much as possible, draw up a lighting plan and control your environment (location, light). A shooting plan will give you an idea of how to proceed on location, where to setup your lighting in relation to your subject, as well as help you adapt and deal with unforeseen circumstances. Be prepared yet flexible.

If you are going to shoot portraits outdoors during the day, the best weather to have is a cloudy, hazy sky as this makes for soft light with soft shadows and less contrast. Fog can also create an interesting and mysterious background. However this all depends on the type of mood you are looking to create in your portrait. Backgrounds can also impact your perfect picture. If you want a corporate looking portrait photoshoot, choose a clean background with colour to suit the feel you want to bring out, e.g. white or light colours for someone who is upbeat and energetic, toned down and darker colours for a serious feel. Portrait photographers can also use a background that shows the environment e.g. a bookcase full of books. Apart from the physical background, you can also manipulate the background by blurring it. Blurring the background prevents the background from becoming a distraction and keeps the focus on the portrait subject. To achieve this, use a large aperture (i.e. low f-stop number), though be aware of your lenses limitation. You might have a lens with an aperture of f/1,2, which creates a strongly blurred background but an unpleasant looking bokeh (the aesthetic quality of the blurred background).

Besides the actual location and setting, there are other important things to take into account such as the way in which to shoot. For portraits, long lenses (70-100mm) are ideal to use. They keep the focus on the subject and capture less of the surroundings. If however you want to bring in the environment, a wide angle lens can be used. When using a wide angle, keep in mind that edges will be distorted and possibly soft (depending on the quality of your lens). Therefore don’t place your subject right on the side of the image.

Using a flash to create good looking images can be really tricky. The worst light to use is an on-camera flash. It makes the image look flat and uninteresting with unflattering highlights on faces. If you are going to use a flash, use one where the lens can be rotated in order to bounce the flash off surrounding walls and ceilings. Better still get a cable with which you can connect the Speedlite to the camera but move it physically away from the camera. You do not want the flash to come from the same direction as from which the camera is looking.

Now that you have your setting and camera nailed down, what about your subjects? Sometimes a portrait photographer can create the perfect environment for the shoot but the subject may be a bit stiff or unprepared. Ask your subjects to remain as relaxed and calm as possible and this will be visible in the photos. Their body language will play a pivotal role in creating the perfect portrait photo. Subjects should keep their hands as natural as possible but you as a portrait photographer need to be aware of extending hands towards the camera or being too much in the foreground. For portraits, let hands rest on the leg or tucked into pocket or folded arms. Stage a shoot if you want control of what you want to bring across. You can then direct facial expressions, body posture and emotion (to a certain extent). Natural, photojournalistic shots are much more rewarding if you want to capture real emotion and depth. Stand back, use a long lens and be alert and ready to capture that certain moment that tells a story.

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