by Andrew Mason.
Portrait photography is a fair bit more than asking your subject to say cheese and bouncing a little sunlight into your model’s face. It’s a set of skills that encompasses camera skills, relationship building, lighting knowledge and sometimes retouching.
Given that you’ll most likely be working with one subject in one location it’s wise to have a few tried and tested portrait photography techniques up your sleeve that you can rely on to lift your portrait photos out of the ordinary, and that will result in a set of portraits which are both strong and different.
Here we talk through three techniques you can use to deliver extraordinary portrait photos, illustrated by three very different shots taken by Benjamin Youd on our Portrait Photography Workshop.
1. Vary the background.
It’s a given in portrait photography that you remove distracting elements from the background, avoid tree branches sticking out of people’s heads and use narrow depth of field to blur the background. The next step up from that is to look for backgrounds that will actually enhance your image. Here Benjamin uses a dark background to make his subject stand out. Had he used a light background the image would be completely different. You could therefore have different shots just by changing the direction you’re shooting from and changing what appears in the background. Importantly, this shot has been very well exposed – note that the subject’s face is perfectly exposed and the background is pure black. This is achieved by spot metering on the subjects face and not relying on matrix metering which could have resulted in a grey background and over exposed subject.
2. Take a different viewpoint.
It’s easy to shoot a portrait standing up; it’s therefore been done a thousand times. Try looking at things differently like in this shot where the subject is lying down. Note how the photographer also gets down on the same level which creates the image’s unique perspective. He could also have shot from above for another different image. You can also try shooting a standing subject from a low angle to give that towering look, or have them look up at you from a seating position.
3. Use shadows.
Texture and shape are interesting to look at so use it in your portraits. In this photo we have our model sitting in a hanging basket seat which creates an interesting background. It has also been used to create that interesting shadow on the subject’s face. Try either placing something in front or your main light source to break up the light and create shadows – plants, branches, cut outs can all work. Your main light source may be natural or a flash, as either can be used to create a pattern. You can also create interesting shadows on a background by firing a flash, or shining a light, through something which breaks it up to give shadow – plants work for this, or even furniture.
So there you go, think creatively and you’ll create more interesting, and a greater variety of, portraits.
All images created by Benjamin Youd on our Portrait Photography Workshop.