Portrait photography is one of the most impressive and dynamic techniques. It has a tremendous power of conveying emotions, thus being widely used by most expert photographers. When done right, this technique can display the personality, the mood and the expression of the subject. Most such images focus on the person’s face, but there are lots of situations that involve the whole body or even parts of the background. Decades ago, portrait photography has become widely popular, as its main purpose was to replace painted portraiture. Its popularity was mainly due to the fact that it significantly reduced the required sitting time for the subject. Even the old daguerreotype technique was much faster than hand painting, so people were happy to have their portraits done this way instead of having to sit for long hours or even days in a painter’s workshop.
Portrait Photography: Artistic Expression
Today’s portrait photography serves a totally different purpose. It is an artistic expression, a slice of life captured on camera, a way of communicating values, moods and feelings. The photographer who wants to learn the basics of this art form has to be prepared to go the extra mile to get people pose for him at the right time and in the right setting. This is the real challenge of this trade, and very few professionals understand the importance of establishing rapport with their subject before proceeding to the photo session. A portrait can tell a story, but only if the individual behind the camera knows how to capture its essence.
The technical side of this skill is also quite challenging. Good portraits are the ones in which the subject is detached from the background. The focus has to be only on the important elements in the frame, everything else being blurred. The quality of this blur is also important. This is why you have to be very careful when you choose the best lenses for this photography style. Prime lenses are the best, as they enable a sharp focus on the subject, while creating nice bokeh effects in the background. A 50mm f/1.4 lens can enable a good artist create amazing portraits, impossible to replicate by amateurs. However, you have to be aware that such lenses may cost you many thousands of dollars. This is an investment not everyone can afford. Nonetheless, if you have a passion for learning portrait photography, you can start by purchasing cheaper f/1.8 lenses that are almost as good but cost only a fraction of the price. They aren’t cheap either, but they won’t break your bank. If you only have zoom lenses in your kit, you can try to use them for portraits. Zoom in as much as you can, and try to shoot subjects at a relatively small distance. This technique enables you obtain those blurred backgrounds that help detaching the subject from the other elements in your composition.
The intensity of light is another element you have to learn how to master, if you want to create stunning portraits. You have to understand the relationship between exposure, ISO and aperture and practice multiple settings until you manage to get the best one. Set your camera to operate in manual mode, as this is how you can set each parameter as you desire. If you repeatedly fail at finding the right settings, you can switch to the Aperture Mode. You set your f-stop value, and the camera is going to adjust the other parameters as needed for an optimal image. Download your images and study them in detail, in order to understand how the camera made those choices.
Such exercises are very time consuming, so you may want to use a doll or some still life composition for your tests, as human subjects may not have enough patience to sit still and keep their mouth shut until you’re done. Nonetheless, if you manage to keep your motivation up until the pint where you are gong to master your trade, you are gong to be able to capture awesome portraits in minutes. Always make sure to allocate some time for getting acquainted to the subject. Empathy is a must-have for a portrait photographer, as it is going to help you communicate with people and capture their real essence.