Portraits - Page 2
As I said in the flash tutorial the worst type of lighting is direct frontal light, such as light from a built in flashgun. So whatever you use as a light source, it could be a flashgun a lamp or a window, the important thing is to make sure that the light is coming from the side and not from the camera position.
The ideal position for the main light source is 45 degrees from the camera. There is a sort of arc that runs from beside the camera, but not too close, round to nearly 90 degrees. As you push the light further round you will see the shadows on the face becoming more defined. The same applies to height, aim the light at an angle of about 45 degrees to the floor and push it up until it shines where you want it. If your subject is wearing glasses you will need to push the light round to the side to avoid getting a reflection of it in the lenses. For more on studio lighting see my Studio Lighting Tutorial.
In the picture on the right the main light is at a 45 degree angle to the left of the camera. There is also a second light on the right of the camera. The second light is pointing away from the subject towards a white wall, giving a softer and less powerful 'fill in' light. The relative strength of these two lights is quite important as that is what determines how dense the shadows are. It's quite easy to adjust the strength of each light just by moving them nearer or further from the subject. (See my tutorial on the inverse square law for an explanation.) If you only have one light to use you can create the same effect by sitting your subject as close as possible to a white wall. I often use large sheets of white paper to reflect light back onto the subject as this gives a more subtle effect.
As with the lighting a pose that is square on to the camera is rarely the best solution. It can work quite well if you want the feel of the picture to be confrontational but generally speaking an angle to the camera is better. The first position I usually try is having the sitter facing towards the light then I get them to turn their head back towards the camera a bit at a time as I take pictures. Different faces work better at different angles, some work better fully facing the camera but still with their shoulders at an angle. Whatever you do it's important, as I said on the previous page, to work quickly an be ready to take a picture as soon as you have adjusted the pose.
Here are a couple of outdoor portraits to illustrate the importance of viewpoint to the mood of the picture. Looking up at the woman on the right reinforces the effect of the stern posture and the formality of the occasion. The child on the left also benefits from being at eye level, when I photograph children I always try to get down on the ground to photograph them.
These pictures also illustrate one of the main dangers with outdoor portraiture and that is the cluttered background. Even though the background of the photo on the left is out of focus the red shirt is still very intrusive, whereas the photo on the right not only has a very out of focus background but it is also washed out and over exposed. We have just about enough information to see that it is a street scene but there is no intrusion into the main subject. If you're taking pictures in a crowd be bold and set the camera up to use a wide aperture then be careful where your point of focus is, you can get some stunning effects where everything is out of focus except your main subject. You will, of course, get some out of focus failures as well but that's life.
Fill the Frame
Finally a quick word about filling the frame. I see so many pictures of people with a massive amount of empty space above their heads. Make sure you crop the picture so that the top of the subject's head is near the top of the frame. Leaving space above a person's head just makes them look shorter than they really are. Also notice that all the photos on these pages are in upright format. Turn your camera on it's side to fill the frame with your subject.
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Other tutorials in this section
A few tips for the budding wildlife photographer.
Lighting and perspective.
What you need and what to watch out for.
All the settings you need.
Photograph flowers like a professional, what you need to know.
For when you need extra depth of field.
How to get those ultra close-ups in focus.
Shooting a panned sequence of shots and stitching them together to make a panorama.
Techniques to help you capture those golden moments.
Getting the exposure right in all that white.
Tips on how to capture fast action.
Take better holiday photos without losing your sanity.
A complete 'how to' for weddings, with an accent on crowd control.
Bribing people to sit for you.