Your Portraits Should Tell A Story – How To Take Great Portrait Shots
The Afghan girl featured on the cover of National Geographic magazine in 1985 captured the attention of a generation. Her eyes in that portrait told a haunting story that photographer Steve McCurry admits was never actually premeditated. “I didn’t think the photograph of the girl would be different from anything else I shot that day,” he says in a follow up National Geographic article, a Life Revealed.
It is something about the strikingness of the eyes and the emotion of the subject that can really make a portrait stand out. Like McCurry, some of your portrait photography success will be attributed to luck, but you can also take on board these tips to capture poignant portraits:
Plan – for a portrait shoot, scour your surroundings and plan your shot before you set up your subject. Look for a plain background to shoot against for close-up head shots. Meanwhile, a simple setting with some interesting lines will be good for full length poses but be sure that the surroundings don’t detract from your subject matter.
Build Rapport – the most important part about photographing people is to make sure your subject feels comfortable. Establish good rapport, engage them in conversation – this will be especially important if you’re not working with a professional model as many individuals feel nervous about having their photograph taken. Always discuss the shots you’re planning and be prepared to alter your plans if he or she does not feel comfortable with the concept.
Personality – lighting, background, framing – while the photographer is in control of the elements of the shot, the subject is in control of the photo. You will need to work with your subject’s personality to create an engaging image. Remember that the definition of a portrait shot is an “artistic representation of a person” capturing the personality, emotion and mood of the subject. For example, environmental portraits that are taken in the subject’s natural surroundings such as the home can make a powerful composition and reveal a lot of depth about the person.
Posing – as a photographer, you’re expected to give stage directions to your model. You want the position to look natural and to present your subject in the best light. Look for any flaws in your subject and pose them in a way that hides these imperfections – for example, you can minimise the appearance of a large nose by raising the chin slightly. Meanwhile, make sure the shots look and feel natural – let kids be kids and make sure group shots convey the relationship between the individuals.
Equipment – not all digital cameras are built the same and you’ll need to ensure you have the right equipment for your portrait shot. Many experts recommend the rule of 3 point lighting for portrait photography (key light, fill light and rim light). Fast lenses and medium telephoto lenses are usually best for portrait shots as they can create a sense of depth and draw attention to the subject. Canon has its own line of portrait camera lenses that are specifically designed for portrait photography.