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Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Top Tips for Photographing People


Interacting with your subject
I'll start with what I think is the most important thing to think about. As a photographer of people my relationship with my customers is key. Not just because they pay me but also because I want to get the best from them. I spend a lot of time and effort getting to know my clients. I have spent all my life working with people and I use all of my skills to really understand what makes them tick. It can make the difference between some nicely shot couple photographs to some really beautiful images that really show the emotion between them.
To achieve this I not only get to know them but I let them get to know me, I share my personality with them. I build up a trust that means when I ask them to do something they do it, believing in me.
So that's what you need to do. You probably won't have time for three meetings and a pre-shoot before hand like I do with my Brides and Grooms but you can still achieve something. Do you know the subject at all? No? Then before you take any pictures spend some time getting to know them and letting them get to know you! Have a cuppa, have a chat. Relax in each other's company. If you already know them quite well still take some time to talk before you start. Tell them what you are going to do, what they should expect as you take their picture and you make their portrait. Ask them about the style of pictures they like. Calm their fears if they undoubtedly say, " I don't like having my picture taken". By the way 99% of people say that to me and my aim is to hear them say, "I really enjoyed that" after a photo shoot!
This time invested will pay fantastic dividends as you start to shoot and they are relaxed and trusting with you. I will talk about children in more detail in part two but getting to know your subject and explaining what you are doing is even more vital when you're photographing children.
This is the second most important thing to consider when you are making someone's portrait. The picture won't only show them it will show their surroundings and maybe other people or objects. Before you start think about what places would make a nice backdrop. Are you able to take the subject where you want or are you limited to say their garden or a room in their house? It doesn't matter you can still get some really good shots. If possible go to the location before hand and have a look around. Look for places that will make a good backdrop. Don't discard anything. It doesn't have to be a nice view either. One of my favourite places is a beach in Devon where there is a beautiful old stonewall!
So how do you choose a place? Keep uppermost in your mind that your picture will be about a person or persons, so wherever you choose it mustn't 'take-over' the picture. It mustn't be the focal point or be too distracting. What would make it distracting? The eye will tend towards areas that are bright or colorful. So look at your background (and foreground) carefully is there anything in it that will take the viewers eye away from your subject? You should consider carefully exactly where you place your subject against your chosen background. Make sure that they don't have a building, lamppost or other object growing out of their head! Move yourself or your subject! In part two I will explain how using a little technical know-how you can mask the effect of visual debris. If you are shooting inside someone's house don't be afraid to ask him or her to move (see below reference lighting) and ask to take down pictures etc. from the walls!
You need to decide weather you are going to shoot your subject at full length or weather you are going to 'crop' in close. What ever you do the rule is to avoid the joints. Don't end your picture at a joint such as the knee as it can make it look like the limb has been amputated. It is fine to crop a limb but just not at a joint. Lastly think about where you will place your subject in the frame? Dead centre is fine but can be a little boring. Placing the subject off centre (in the left or right third) looking into the unused space can look really nice and is pleasing to the eye. Put their head in the top third too.
My biggest piece of advice to improve your composition is to look at pictures in books and magazines. Look at how they are composed, where is the subject and how are they placed in the frame. Look at what you like and copy it!
You don't need to be an expert and have any sort of fancy gear to take a nice well-lit picture. The best light to use is natural light and the best natural light is overcast light. The main reason is the bigger the light source the softer the light, therefore what bigger light source could you get than an overcast sky? There are other advantages like the lack of harsh shadows; your subject won't be squinting and colours are not all bleached out, as they would be in bright sunlight.
If it's a sunny day and your only chance to photograph this person then don't despair. Move them into the open shade; make sure there is some light falling on them though. If there's no shade and it's bright sunlight you have to make a choice. The classic choice is to have the sun falling directly on the face. This will light them up but it will be hard for the subject. The other thing you could do is to have the sun directly behind them. This will necessitate the use of some fill in flash to light up their face. It works best if you can alter the amount of flash that is fired at the subject until it is just enough to give a nice natural look to the face. If you can't alter the amount of flash then be aware that it may look a little bit unnatural. You could always move back to lessen the amount and crop later in the computer back to what you originally wanted. If you can only shoot inside then use the natural light from an open door or a window. Place your subject so this light falls gently on their face, if the weather's bad it still work through glass! Try and avoid using direct flash in to their face wherever possible.
You could also use a reflective surface to throw light onto the subject. You don't need to pay out on expensive reflectors but if you do use white for older people as it's kinder on the skin and silver on the younger faces to give them more zing! Avoid gold reflectors unless you really want to give your subject a golden glow! So what can you use instead? A piece of white card or a white sheet will work well. The closer the card/sheet to the subject to more light that will fall on them. Experiment, more it around until you find the best spot. Remember to make sure it's not in the picture and you might need a helper to hold it for you! You could also use a mirror but the effect will be much more pronounced and it will have to be much further back.

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