Photographs of people often elicit a greater response from the viewer than any other kind of subject. A good portrait photograph does not just show you the appearance of the subject. It should also be a visual biography, capturing a sitter’s character and revealing their unique personality.
A portrait can be a photograph taken without the subject’s knowledge, or it may be a more formal affair where the photographer has been commissioned to follow a specific assignment. As with all areas of photography, there are technical decisions to be made. Different types of camera and lens are needed for different conditions; lights must be arranged to achieve specific effects; and the camera viewpoint has to be positioned to suit the subject’s face, or to enhance some aspect of the setting.
What makes a good portrait?
Portraits are not limited to posed shots of immobile subjects. Capturing moving subjects on film with flash can make lively, expressive portraits, and giving subjects an activity can have unexpected results. The latter approach works well with children, who become bored quickly. Do not underestimate the importance of background and setting in your portraits. Photographing people outdoors or in their own environment can add a dimension otherwise missing from a portrait in a studio setting.
Drawing out a subject
Another important aspect of portrait work is overcoming a subject’s natural apprehension of the camera and lights. Try to put your model at ease by having all the camera equipment and lights set up well in advance of the photo session. This will leave you free to get to know and reassure the model before you start to take any photographs. Talking may help the sitter relax and allow you to achieve the desired result – a revealing, natural-looking portrait. The best photographs move beyond this to capture expressions that give an insight into a person’s character and mood, resulting in wonderful and exciting portraits.
Focus on the eyes
For any subject be it landscape, architecture or a candid shot, you need a strong visual focal point for the viewer to look at and further hold the attention. In case of portraits this is usually the eyes.
Direct eye contact is a good way of making someone look at the picture. Make sure that the eyes in this case are absolutely sharp. Which is why it is important to always focus on the eyes so that even when you are shooting with very shallow depth of field you are sure that at least your eyes are in sharp focus. Eyes convey a lot about the character and the mood of the person. Whatever are the expressions, these are conveyed from the eyes. If you are shooting portraits you may activate the appropriate focusing point in the camera which overlaps the eyes.
Depth of field is shallow but the eyes have been kept in focus. When you focus at the yes you are sure that the eyes will be in focus irrespective of the aperture or focal length which may lead to a shallow depth of field.
Direct eye contact always has the holding power in a portrait.
Its just the eyes and the area around which is in sharp focus in this glamour shot where the model is looking right into the camera.The photograph would not have had the same impact if the eyes were not in focus.
Fill the Frame
You can achieve a close-up simply by moving the camera position closer to your subject to concentrate attention on facial features and expression. By excluding other details from the picture, the impact of the image can be dramatic if the model is well chosen. With a normal lens you may have to move very close to your subject to fill the frame with the model’s head and shoulders. Alternatively, you can use a longer lens or have the central portion of the picture enlarged during printing.
The correct lighting is essential for close-up portraits. Gentle, soft lighting, such as from a window or a diffused flash, is more flattering than harsh, directional light, which tends to emphasize every fine line or misplaced hair.
Choose the Ideal focal length for the portraits.
85mm has generally been considered as one of the best focal lengths for portraits as it gives very flattering perspective and allows the photographer to be at a good shooting distance from the subject. Although you may use longer focal lengths but do not use wide angles to shoot portraits as it causes a lot of distortion throwing the nose, eyes, ears and shoulder out of proportion with each other. You may consider investing in a good 85mm or 135mm prime portrait lens if you do a lot of portrait work. Prime lenses are always better than zooms as far as sharp optics and maximum apertures are concerned which is usually desirable to keep a the background out of focus in portraits. 200mm
The right viewpoint for portraits
How the subject appears in your photograph depends on your viewpoint which could be at the eye level, lower or higher. There is no right or wrong but it all depends on the split second decision which you take as you look at your subject’s face through the viewfinder. Shoot from where the person looks at his or her best or you may shoot from the viewpoint which reveals the persons characteristics you are trying to portray through your photograph. For example to avoid a double chin, you may shoot from a higher viewpoint and to make a long nose less prominent you may choose a lower viewpoint. However it all depends on your personal judgment and observation. Also shooting from a higher viewpoint may show your subject as a submissive character and a lower viewpoint shows the same subject as dominant.
The subject is not looking into the camera and has been shot from a lower viewpoint to o along with the mood of the shot.
Are the surroundings right?
Everything that shows in a picture counts and adds to your efforts or works against the shot. So do kep an eye on the background and the surroundings of your subject. A common man may not be able to make out but the ambiance and the surroundings adds to his liking or disliking for the picture at the subconscious level. Besides the surroundings it is also important to use appropriate jewellery, accesories, settings, location, which go well with the mood and character of the portrait.
Bold colours almost never go wrong. We do get attracted by a bold red, blue or any other colour for that matter. This could be a part of the subjects outfit or the background and the surroundings. However, be careful that strong colors can add to the photograph and if not rightly positioned might end up as a distraction from your main visual, overpowering what you intended to convey through your picture. Colors should work together. A red outfit may look attractive but a little red spot in the background may look as a distraction. Although you may make the picture as colourfull as you want but at times too many strong colors may end up in a conflict for attention. Experiment to see which all colours work well together
Include elements to convey the subjects character.
Include what characterises the subject in your portrait. It may be a hat, a cigar, a car, knitting kit, golf stick or a book. This reveals a lot about the character of the person and also makes him/her comfortable as he or she poses for the picture. It is the environment which further adds to the picture and the subject has something to do with his hands. Also enables you to suggest poses which are natural for the subject and to his taste and style.
Be ready for the candid shots.
As mentioned earlier, keep it simple. Rather than fiddling with too many technicalities concentrate on your subject and look out for opportunities to shoot at the right moment when the subject is what he or she is and at its naturally best. The results can be most unpredictable, spontaneous, surprising and outstanding. This is generally possible if you are always ready to shoot and keep an eye on the subject even in between shots when the subject is not expecting you to click.
When photographing kids, be always ready as you never know when you get something interesting.
Although not a a portrait but the photograph was shot at just the right moment.
Where are the hands?
When being photographed we generally do not know what to do with our hands. A good photographer should be able to suggest how to pose the hands which adds to the overall effect. A flat hand facing the camera may look too prominant and aukward where as a slight curve and side may add elegance but keep in mind if you are shooting man or a woman. Hands can look ugly as well as beautiful depending on the way you position them. A womans hands should be posed in a manner that they look delicate where as a mans hands should add strength to his persona. Study various ways people keep their hands and suggest your subject accordingly
Isolate the subject
A good portrait should stand out and by opting for a shallow depth of field you can achieve that best. At times you may have a foreground as well in a photograph besides the background. The foreground may lead the eye to the main subject or may frame the main subject. However, it should not overpower the subject. Keep it out of focus r relatively less sharp so that only your subject stands out.
Imagine this photograph with all the crowd in sharp focus visible in the background. That would have made it too distracting as the background is very busy.
Although the background is the green foliage but due to long lens and opened aperture is rendered in a nice bokeh giving more emphasise on the subject.
Do not restrict your portraits just to the face.
Include more than just the face in a portrait. generally people think of portrait to be a head and shoulder shot. however portrait is something which portrays. it certainly can be a wider shot with more elements which add on to the portrayal of the subject.
Shoot more, not to miss out on anything. Small variations can make a huge difference to the mood of the photograph
Shot within seconds of each other, both the photographs convey a different feel. the only difference being in the eyes.
Change the camera angle
By altering the viewpoint of the camera, you can bring about a variety of interesting and subtle effects. A high camera position, for example, shooting down on the model’s face, tends to emphasize the forehead and the tops of the cheek bones. Moving to the opposite extreme, and taking the shot from below up toward the face, draws attention to the chin and lower jawline. This approach often results in the face taking on a slightly square appearance. The camera angle may also imply something about personality: shooting from above suggests vulnerability; while a model shot from below may appear aloof.
Be Dramatic with your pictures. If your subject is game go ahead and shoot your ideas which go well with the personality of the subject. people do not alwas want to see staright boring shots but look out for something inetersting and different. Also shoot a lot of variations as you may want to choose later the best option.