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Improvised portrait shoot, trials and tribulations

Discussion in 'Portrait' started by nianys, Dec 6, 2012.

  1. nianys

    nianys TalkEmount All-Pro

    Aug 23, 2012
    France
    I had a photoshoot of sorts this morning, with a friend's friend. She's seen pictures I've made of others folks (and pets) and asked if I could make a few portraits. She's a pretty 30ish lady, who's put on a little weight recently, but an overall very attractive young woman.

    I brought the NEX 6, Rokkor 50/1.4 MC, FL 55/1.2, PEN 38/1.8, and my new (quirky and capricious) Oly FL-36 flash.
    Arrived at the shoot, I realized I had packed the FL... Without the NEX adapter. Dang. I ended up doing the whole shoot with the Rookor, stopped down to F2 and 2.8 (mostly the latter). I used window light exclusively, I wanted gentle light on her face and that didn't call for flash. I used ISO 400 the whole time and shutter as low as 1/40th. Maybe the slow shutter was the reason I seemed not to get optimal sharpness.
    I will post photos later tonight, but wanted to ask for some feedback and opinions from you guys already. How do you go about your portrait shoots ? Do you give a lot of direction ? My approach is very little directing and posing, but a lot of small talk. It worked well for me so far, but this particular subject seemed to be a little disoriented by the lack of direction.
     
  2. nianys

    nianys TalkEmount All-Pro

    Aug 23, 2012
    France
    It was like she was waiting for posing orders to actually feel the shoot had "started". I was chatting and directing her lightly (like asking to sit in this direction, or turn the face this way, but without requesting very specific poses), and clicking away. She did relax, smile a lot (she has a gorgeous and contagious smile), laughed a bit, but I could feel she was "incomplete" in the idea that she had of how things should go. I did invite her at one point to "act as a model", but as I feared it turned out overkill and unnatural.
    I'm pleased with the captures (roughly 150 shots to work with) and I hope when she sees the final product she will agree with my approach, albeit after the fact.
    I'm also happy I was able to take charge of a few important things like the location/light source in the house, demand that she got a little made up (by our common friend), etc. in the past I've always tended to merely have a PJ's approach of documenting things and people "as is", but today I did take control more.
    How would you guys gone about it ? Any feedback, previous experiences, opinions ?
     
  3. Dioptrick

    Dioptrick TalkEmount All-Pro

    Feb 4, 2012
    New Zealand
    I've never thought about it before, but I suppose I do give a lot of precise instructions, but only in formal or official portrait sessions.

    I always begin with a simple model stance rule (I've been doing it for so long I don't even know what it's called). I instruct the person to stand or sit with at a 45° angle to either side of me, then I ask them to rotate only their head and face the camera. This is a very 'un-natural' position for most people and I often have to reassure them that it looks very natural from the camera view. This is important because that pose literally sheds pounds off the persons weight. It doesn't matter if the model is upright and regal, or slouched in a couch - I seldom shoot torsos straight-on for portraits, especially with women. Some people also need to be reminded that they need to look directly into the lens and not at me. Once they are posed, they know that the session is about to begin.

    Then I give further instructions to explore their face's full potential. I always give positive (but truthful) reinforcement after they hear the shutter go off. Don't smile (click) good. Ok smile a little (click) nice. OK now, big smile (click, click, click) great. If it looks like the person's face is more flattering when not smiling, I'll go back the other way again - a little less smile (click) yep. Now don't smile (click, click, click) great! Look away to my left please (click) nice... and so on. Extroverted and experienced people excel at this and the session is often done and dusted at this point (10 to 20 shots should yield 1 or 2 portraits and I biff the rest. Not a good idea to show the client the bad ones).

    With really camera-shy people, all of those early shots are seldom usable. I consider them sacrificial photos just to help them be at ease. That's when I switch to small talk and even humour, but I keep up the positive reinforcement every time they hear the shutter go off. This builds their confidence because they begin to believe that you are getting better and better results and that they are doing well. When I switch from being instructive to small talk, I can often see their nervousness leave. Ahhh, there you are... the camera has been looking for you all this time (laughter, click, click, click) fantastic.

    The lens choice affects the face. A skinny face/person may look more flattering with a standard to moderate tele (50mm to 85mm SLR). A person with more weight may look more flattering with a longish telephoto (100mm to 135mm SLR).

    But the lens choice also affects the dynamic of the session. A standard to moderate lens will place you closer to the subject. Extroverts feel connected with you and respond better, whereas a shy person will feel more intimidated by your close proximity. A longish tele will keep you stand-off-ish at 4 to 6 meters away for a heads and shoulders shot which is more comfortable for some because you're not standing in their 'space.'
     
  4. teefin1

    teefin1 TalkEmount Top Veteran

    618
    Sep 7, 2012
    Sounds fantastic Dioptrick, look forward to the pics Nianys!
     
  5. LouisJohnD

    LouisJohnD TalkEmount Regular

    33
    Dec 2, 2012
    Thats great advice Dioptrick, and thank you for sharing your experience Nianys :] I've recently become my Community College's Marketing Department photographer so I'm doing formal portraits left and right, and that's something I've not had much practice in. The advice and experience in this thread is very valuable to me, the standard model pose Dioptrick mentioned and the small talk Nianys mentioned make perfect sense to me but previously have not even crossed my mind when shooting a portrait. Thank you both for sharing!
     
  6. nianys

    nianys TalkEmount All-Pro

    Aug 23, 2012
    France
    Dioptrick, your tips are absolutely priceless !
     
  7. nianys

    nianys TalkEmount All-Pro

    Aug 23, 2012
    France
    And here is my gorgeous model

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  8. nianys

    nianys TalkEmount All-Pro

    Aug 23, 2012
    France
    8e72e77a567e6f86f9859c7fa5e8326c_6ad.

    She mostly wanted B&W portraits, so until a specific shot didn't work well that way, that's what I did.
     
  9. nianys

    nianys TalkEmount All-Pro

    Aug 23, 2012
    France
  10. nianys

    nianys TalkEmount All-Pro

    Aug 23, 2012
    France
  11. nianys

    nianys TalkEmount All-Pro

    Aug 23, 2012
    France
  12. nianys

    nianys TalkEmount All-Pro

    Aug 23, 2012
    France
    25e7c1b29ca1e83420d5d9038a919e05_6ad.

    And with our common friend.
     
  13. LouisJohnD

    LouisJohnD TalkEmount Regular

    33
    Dec 2, 2012
    These are great! And they look quite sharp too. Great poses and lighting, and real smiles - that's a tough thing to get!
     
  14. Dioptrick

    Dioptrick TalkEmount All-Pro

    Feb 4, 2012
    New Zealand
    She's gorgeous!... and you have captured her personality extremely well. They are all excellent shots, Nianys!

    This is my favourite out of the lot... beautiful, beautiful portrait!

     
  15. Dioptrick

    Dioptrick TalkEmount All-Pro

    Feb 4, 2012
    New Zealand
    Congratulations on your new assignment! And I'm glad you're getting something from these posts.

    The pose is vital in setting the mood of the portrait. Body language is nearly half of a person's perceived character. The 45° headturn pose is a good generic stance but don't hesitate to break this rule if it's not working for someone. No doubt it's important to help the person 'connect' with the camera, especially for those who do struggle with it because of lack of confidence. The emotional state of your subject will project into the portrait so you need to read how they're feeling... some people find it very difficult. Watch out for unintentional frowning which is a sign of tension. If I sense that the person is getting all worked-up, I'll back off... sometimes I'll distract them by rearranging some props or equipment, just so that they can collect themselves afresh. Like you said, real smiles - they can be a tough thing to get!


    All that aside, there's another basic but often neglected aspect in portraiture - and that is the quality of the catchlight render (the gleams of light that reflect off the person's eyes). If you look closely at Nianys' portraits, you will notice that she has mastered where to position her subject in order to acquire some really beautiful catchlights.

    When I'm scoping an unfamiliar place to do portraits or setting-up a temporary improvised portrait booth (with natural lighting or with flash equipment), I try to do some test shots first and check the quality of the catchlights I'm gonna get. Where the light source is coming from is the key. I just do a quick check that there's good ones coming though, then I forget about it.

    They say the eyes are the windows of the soul, and if you've ever seen a portrait with dim catchlights (or none at all) the effect can be uncanny. Make sure you're getting reflections from both eyes, because a catchlight coming only from one eye can sometimes look peculiar. I always focus on the catchlights, it will work even if everything else is out of focus. Eyes that are out of focus will ruin a portrait every time even if the rest of the face is tack sharp.
     
  16. teefin1

    teefin1 TalkEmount Top Veteran

    618
    Sep 7, 2012
    I think they're wonderful, especially the last one even though it's not B & W, which I generally prefer. Really natural. :)