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Posts Tagged ‘portraiture’

The key to making portraits that capture the “real” person is to make that person relaxed during the portrait session. This is the reason why most candid portraits trump those taken with elaborate studio lighting setups. Candid expressions have a certain “realness” that’s hard to capture in a studio or location shoot filled with lights and assistants. You’ve gotta relax your subject in order for magic to happen.
I’ve found that the easiest and best way to do this is to mount your camera on a tripod, use a cable release or, as they’re called in the digital age, electronic camera release, and get out from behind the camera. Doing this allows you to carry on a conversation with your subject without having a camera partially blocking your face. Casually standing beside the camera with release in hand allows you to chat, joke and interact in a way that’s less strained will allowing you to fire off a shot when your subject is relaxed and has forgotten that you’ve got a camera aimed at her. This connection with the person you’re shooting makes all the difference. 
Case in point is this photo of my daughter Erin. Yeah, she’s cute. She hates having her photo taken — especially by her Dad! During past photo shoots, she would get stressed by all the gear and attention, I’d get stressed and the photos would suffer accordingly. This time I locked my camera down on a tripod and used the technique described above. The result was a much more enjoyable shoot for both of us… and this beautiful photo. 

 

Erin relaxed

Erin relaxed

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The title says it all. When working with people, your photos will improve substantially if you spend the time to get to know your subject before taking your gear out of the camera bag. I recently photographed the head of the local Red Cross and surprised her when I showed up with no camera in hand. Instead, I talked with her for 2-3 minutes, got a quick tour of her office (on her insistence) to check out the available lighting and built up a rapport with her. THEN I went to the car, grabbed my gear, a couple light stands and went to work. Her stress level was much lower after the initial meeting, we had an easier time chatting during the shoot and the results were worth the extra effort. This is the reason why the best portraits are often shot by friends and family. Photographing a relaxed subject makes a difference. Try it the next time you have a portrait assignment. 

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There are very few books about the craft of photography on my bookshelves. This is because I’ve found that most books about photo technique are boring, repetitive and poorly written. Basically, they’re not worth much more than a quick skim-through and definitely not worth taking up valuable shelf space.  That said, Kirk Tuck’s book, Minimalist Lighting is a welcome exception.

Minimalist Lighting coverI picked up this book on the recommendation of David Hobby’s Strobist.com web site and found it to be both worth the money and inspiring. Tuck makes a living shooting executive portraits and this book shows how he goes about producing high quality portraits with a minimum of equipment. At first glance, the book seems to be awfuly Nikon-centric but upon further reading the information given works with any flash system, not just the big N. The book is a great starting point for advanced amateurs wanting to improve their multi-flash technique and take their photography to the next level. As a pro with over 25 years of experience, it served as a great refresher course in using the new generation of small handheld strobes to do the same work I used to do with larger, high powered studio strobes. It was also motivation for me to take my strobes out of their cases and apply his lessons to my shooting style. Tuck provides shopping lists of recommended gear as well as plenty of examples of the portraits he made using his techniques. Of course, he includes lighting diagrams for every shoot to explain how he lit his subjects. It’s not a thick book (128 pages) but it’s written in a conversational style that’s easy to read and digest. If you’ve always wanted to become more comfortable using multiple flashes, this book is a perfect first step

Here’s an example of the lighting you can do with three Canon strobes and a patient spouse: 

Diane portrait

Is it any wonder my copy’s dog-eared already?

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