The old cliché that says: "smile and look at the camera" is not always the best way to take a portrait. In fact, many informal or candid portraits do not have the subject looking at the camera at all. The idea behind taking a portrait versa just another snap shot is to clarify, intensify, or otherwise enlarge our experience of life. Your goal is to capture the emotional statement that your subject or subjects are projecting.
Here then are a few of the more common problems or creative obstacles that are likely to encounter when starting to take people pictures on a regular basis.
Section One – Features
A) Wrinkled Face – – – Use diffused lighting like an umbrella or a reflector. Lower the main light. Use a 3/4's pose instead of close-up.
B) Long Nose – – – Use low camera angle. Use side lighting, preferably defused. Add makeup to tip of nose to eliminate shine.
C) Baldness – – – Use low camera angle. Use little or no hair light. Blend head with background on purpose.
D) Large Ears – – – Turn head so camera only sees one ear. Place exposed ear in the shadows, if at all possible.
E) Glasses – – – Tilt head down slightly. Raise ear piece slightly to angle the lens down. The camera will flatten the overall image making it look more natural than it feels.
Posing can represent a very challenging issue when it comes to making your photo as well. There are many different types of poses out there, but certain ideas apply to all of them regardless if you are posing individuals or groups.
Section Two – Individuals
A) The Angle – – – The reason most photographers turn their subject at a slight angle to the camera, is that lighting becomes much more flattering to the subject. A lot of the special features mentioned above require a unique angle to take the photo effectively.
B) 3/4 Pose – – – Untyyou are kindly trying to show the outfit the person is wearing, the 3/4 pose will eliminate several problems. This pose starts about 3 to 5 inches above the hips and goes up. This eliminates wide hips or bulging stomachs and tends to simplify what to do with arms or hands.
C) Over the Shoulder – – – This popular pose is best used with women who have long hair. The subject is actually facing away from the camera and turning back to look over the shoulder. The problem to be aware of is the stress lines created in the neck. Long hair or a turtle neck sweater helps hide the lines that can be very distracting.
D) Shooting Hands – – – If the hands must show, always cuff the hands gently and turn them at a slight angle so they do not look overly large. This works with both men and women. Do not ever allow the entire back of the hand to face the camera; it will look unnatural and bulky.
Section Three – Groups
A) Avoid Straight Lines – – – Subjects side by side or direct behind each other is: A) boring and static, B) creates negative space that becomes distracting and draws attention away from the main subject or subjects.
B) Head Distance – – – If one subject is 6'4 "and one is 5'2" having them both standing at the same level is NOT acceptable. Either one subject sets and one kneels, or one stands and one stands on something else. The ideal portrait has every subjects head within one head length of another. (If you have small heads and big heads use an average length.)
C) Build Triangles – – – Keep in mind the head distance rule, no matter how many subjects are involved. Once you have two that are offset by one head distance, add your third subjects (also within one head length) to form a visual triangle. Continue to do the same with fourth, fifth, and sixth subjects as well. By building visual triangles, no one person is blocking another.
D) Clothing and Meters – – – If your camera uses a center weighed meter and the person in the center of the group is wearing all black or all white, you could have a problem. Why? Because your meter wants to average the light it sees. Best solution; have the person wearing the most neutral color stand where your meter reads the light from.
Obviously; these are not all the things you need to think about, but it is a great place to start. If you master these problems AND capture a great expression, your portraits will be remembered for years to come. Of course all these rules are in addition to the rules of composition and design. Just so you do not get over whelmed; think of every rule as an individual piece of the creative puzzle you are trying to design. Take one step at a time and eventually your efforts will be something you're proud to show the world.