Flash, bang, wallop, what a picture!
Photographs can be truly stunning to look at. Some show sweeping landscapes, others intricate details of flowers and wildlife. But personally, I love nothing more than seeing a portrait which captures the true beauty and emotion of a person.
Conversely, there’s nothing worse than looking at a portrait shot you’ve taken and realising that you’ve chopped off the tip of their head, or they’re slightly out of focus, or that the image is just too dark or distorted to be of any use. Any one of these pitfalls can ruin your masterpiece, so here’s a few tips to avoid them.
Framing your shot
Framing and composition are key in any type of photography, and with pictures of people in particular, it boils down to where you place your subject in the photo.
To begin with, try to frame your photograph so your picture is of the person's head and some of their shoulders, while leaving a small amount of background surrounding your subject.
Remember that you're taking a picture of a person and the most interesting part is their face - don't worry about showing that designer logo on the shirt they’re wearing!
Light and flash
Ensuring that you have enough light is vital. Making sure that the sun is behind you and not your subject ensures you have plenty of natural light to work with, and will eliminate any nasty silhouetting effects. Don’t be afraid to use the flash though, even on a bright sunny day. Using a flash will get rid of any awkward shadows on your subject, such as ones cast from their chin downwards - if ignored these can be particularly unflattering.
Of course, using a flash in dimly lit conditions indoors or at night time will be necessary regardless, but just be careful that your flash doesn’t make your subject looked washed out, pale and even featureless. Take a few steps back so that the light isn’t bouncing exclusively off their face, and has room to spread.
The majority of digital SLRs have an option to control the intensity of the integral or external flash brightness too, which will help greatly if you’re having difficulty finding a good balance between distance and available light.
Now, depending on whether you want to go a little arty or not, you could consider blurring the background out, which is something I absolutely love to do. All digital SLR cameras allow you to focus manually on a particular spot in your picture, but all modern cameras have very effective auto focus to ensure your subject in the centre of your portrait is crystal clear.
Now you can open up the aperture of the lens to retain the pin-sharp detail of your subject’s features while the background stays blurred out completely. In this case, I find getting a little up close and personal is key, so be mindful of light levels as I mentioned earlier. The closer to your subject you are, the more intimate the feature detail you’ll be able to capture - which is what portrait photography is all about.
Having a blurred background not only looks artistically fabulous, especially when printed in high quality, but it also means anybody viewing your newest work of art won’t be distracted by objects around or behind your subject.
For a really sharp image of this type, you may need an additional lens for your camera other than the one it came with, and we sell a good range to help you gain that artistic control.
Of course, each portrait needs character and to be truly individual - and that’s where you come in, not only as the photographer but also the director! Directing your subject will play a vital part once have learned the basics and gained some confidence. Why not play around with the angle? Not all portraits need to be taken at eye level and ‘face to face’; in fact some of the best ones I’ve ever taken were from a slightly elevated position at an angle.
Another tip is to take your picture in colour initially but then convert it to black and white on your computer. I’ve always loved monochrome photography and you can truly instill some magic into a portrait with it. Compare a full colour portrait to and monochrome one and see which you prefer.
One more thing to consider is what kind of mood you’re trying to capture. Smiling is brilliant and really captures the highlights in your subject’s face and mouth, but if the smile is fake it can ruin the shot completely as it won’t look natural. You could always try telling a joke, but often having a portrait with a bit of mood to it can really enhance its atmosphere.
Playing around with all these factors, you’ll soon see that being creative with your camera can create some fantastic and unique portrait shots, so don’t be afraid to experiment!
And if you want some extra tips and tricks, you’ll often find Partners in our camera departments, like me, are keen amateur photographers too and will be happy to share their experience.