Saturday, January 09, 2010

Portraitures: A self-learning process

In a typical Malaysian camera forum, a newbie comes along, uploads a few supposedly beautiful pictures of a model, elicits some 'oohs' and 'aahs' from fellow members and hopes for some comments / criticisms. I was that newbie once, but then after sometime, it gets pretty mundane because I wasn't learning as much as I'd like to.

About a month ago, I decided that I required some 'accelerated learning', hence my foray into some casual model photo shoots. After a few sessions, you start to get a hang of things, and here are some stuff which I've picked up so far.

1. How to use your gear to their utmost potential for shooting portraits in different light conditions and environments. DSLR cameras are complicated things with a whole load of buttons that are customizable for a whole lot of aspects, eg.  ISO, aperture, shutter speed, white balance, live view. If you don't know your camera well and what specific functions do they cater for, how will you be able get the images that you want ?

Then there are lenses. I'm not a very big fan of ultra wide angle lenses in shoots, so I usually stick to a standard zoom (24-70mm)  or telephoto zoom (70-200).

A standard zoom, like the Zuiko 14-35mm f2 SWD lens does a wonderful job in capturing environmental portraits and showing the context in which the model is in. In some ways, the lens flare here adds to the 'liveliness' of the image, though in some circumstances people generally try to avoid them at all costs.

The Zuiko 35-100mm f2 lens does a wonderful job at eliminating various distractions from the background, while its large f2 aperture creates shallow depth of field and evokes a 'dreamy' look. The longer focal length will also make your model's faces appear slimmer, and they'll thank you for it ;)

Then there comes the issue of lighting. Although I am at heart a person who likes to utilise ambient light, a good knowledge of strobes is indispensable. I used a 'voice activated light stand' without having a single softbox at my disposal. Of course, the lighting is a little crude, but it has been good to experiment with ;)

2. How to best utilise your current enviroment and incorporate models into them. It can be a garden, a piece of sculpture or a room. Shaded areas are very good for avoiding harsh shadows.

This corridor in Melbourne University is usually flooded with people when the semester resumes, but for the moment, its a good thing that not many people are around, so we can continue our portraiture session in relative peace.

Shooting underneath tree cover is one of my favourite spots, though one has to be aware of a greenish tint may appear as a result of light reflecting off the leaves.

Large windows or shiny surfaces work well to experiment with reflections. The intended moodiness of this image wouldn't have worked so well if it was a bright and sunny day.

3. How to post process your images. What use is a good portrait session when the photographer decides to be 'overly creative' and apply various effects like cross process, heavy vignetting, and heaps of other junk that detract from the beauty of the image in the first place. OK, I'm not Scott Kelby or Matt Kloskowski by any means, but I get a little irked when I see any of those overly-creative examples. I'm usually quite light-handed on my processing, and prefer to render the image as beautifully as I saw it in person during the photo session.

Although the model's skin is very good, I just apply a teeny bit of skin smoothening in Lightroom just for good measure. Natural light coming in from the window with a tiny ounce of direct flash to lift up the detail from the shadows.

4. How to interact with models. Although our photos will inevitably be shown as bits of data on the Internet, models are people too. Treat them with respect while at the same time build rapport with them throughout the shoot, and you'll get the best expressions possible. You don't want to be known as the grumpy old photographer, do you? Help to carry her bags that contain her clothes change, buy her some lunch, and compliment her how sexy she looks when a pose suits her very well.

In our club, most newbies usually just ask the model to do a pose in whatever fashion they'd like. That's not a very good way to start a shoot unfortunately. We photographers also have to be familiar with some model poses so that we can direct them efficiently and save time for both yourself and the model.

Sometimes, it would be nice to entertain the models' request for some specific shots for their portfolio, such as the above. Otherwise, you can pretty much request them to pose in whatever fashion that they'd like.

This shot which highlights the models legs requires you to direct the model if they're not that familiar with posing techniques. Of course, the models' clothes and stilettos help to support the overall image.

4. How to interact with other photographers. Unless you're single handedly shooting the model, most likely you'll be shooting the model in a group which I advise to be no larger than 3 or 4 photographers per model. I've seen a group of 10 photographers trying to get a decent shot of a single model, but its highly unlikely that anything fruitful will arise if you have a group that large. Don't be a pain in the ass and get in the way of the shoot. If some strobes need to be held up, do your part and become the set instead of wondering idly around getting some cheap shots.

So what if people don't like your images? You can't possibly please everyone, can you?

What matters in the end is that the more photos you shoot, the more experience you'll have, while lazy bums who don't shoot and just offer uninspiring comments that wouldn't necessarily improve your photography aren't learning as much as you are and don't have any business in mucking around with your learning process. So what the heck are you waiting for? Get out there and shoot, now !



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