Simple Tips to Improve Your Travel Portraits

Vietnamese_Woman_KavDadfar

Photographing people is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding parts of photography. Besides the great photos that you can acquire, for me it also means building a connection with a country and its many different kinds of people. Taking portraits of people means you need to get up close, and sometimes communicate with them, so you need to get over your shyness. Whether it’s a smile and pointing to your camera, or simply getting by with limited language, it’s incredible how receptive people are when you put in the effort.

Here are some simple tips once you’re ready to start photographing travel portraits:

Keep the Eyes Sharp

It doesn’t matter if the other features of their face are not in focus; if the eyes are not sharp your image will look blurred and won’t work. The ideal focal-length lens for photographing portrait is 80mm-105mm (hence why these lenses are often called portrait lenses). Aim to set your shutter speed to at least 1/125th of a second (faster if you can) to ensure there is no camera shake. A wide aperture of f/2-5.6 will ensure you have a nice blurred background, to draw the viewer to the face of your subject.

Venice_Man_Carnival_KavDadfar

Ensure that the eyes of your subject are sharp.

Think About the Light

In any form of photography, light is one of the most important elements of the photo. Overcast days are ideal for portraits outdoors as it offers a soft, even light, whereas strong sun on the person’s face will cause harsh shadows to appear. Of course there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking portraits in this light, but you may need to think more about your composition. For example, you may want to show more of the person’s clothing to distract the viewer from their face, or you could use a flash to fill in the shadows. Sometimes the harsh shadows could actually enhance the photo by making it feel grittier.

Woman_Outside_KavDadfar

Cloudy and overcast days help ensure you get even lighting.

What’s in the Background

The most important element of head and shoulder portraits is a person’s face, so the viewer shouldn’t be distracted by elements around, or behind it. Avoid bright colours or strong patterns and designs in the background. Also, by having a wide aperture you can ensure the background is blurred which highlights the sharp parts of the photo even more (i.e. the eyes).

UAE_Man_KavDadfar

Clean backgrounds help make your subject stand out.

Art Direct Your Subject

Sometimes the difference between a portrait that works, and one that doesn’t, is just a few steps to the left or right, or it could be just stepping back into the shade rather than in direct sun. Sometimes simply moving a hand toward, or away from the face, can make a huge difference to the photo. So don’t be afraid to direct your model as to where, and how you want them to stand. Don’t worry if you don’t speak their language, a simple smile and pointing usually does the trick.

Venice_Woman_KavDadfar

This woman was standing in the sun so I simply moved her back a few steps so that I wasn’t getting harsh shadows on her face.

Keep Your Model Relaxed

Unless your model is a professional, chances are they are nervous and self-conscious about having their photo taken. So try to get them to relax if they look tense. Simply making them laugh can make a huge difference, and you’ll see that in your photos.

Thailand_Woman_KavDadfar

This woman was really nervous so I waited until she was distracted before taking the photo.

What is wonderful about portraits is that they can feel incredibly intimate and personal, and a great portrait will look fantastic in any portfolio. But the other great thing about portraits is that it is incredibly easy to practice. Friends, family and even colleagues, if willing, are all you need to practice so that you are ready for when you are on location or travelling.

Now it’s your turn. Share your photos, thoughts and tips below. 

The post Simple Tips to Improve Your Travel Portraits by Kav Dadfar appeared first on Digital Photography School.

How to Find Great Backgrounds for Portraits

Portraits and backgrounds

I used a short telephoto lens at a wide aperture to throw the cliff in the background out of focus in this photo. With this technique, the background itself isn’t so important as no-one can tell what it is, but it must still complement the subject.

Finding great backgrounds that complement the subject is an essential part of the process of creating beautiful portraits. My article How to Plan the Perfect Portrait Shoot will help you with the other aspects of putting together a portrait shoot, but today I thought it would be interesting to delve deeper into the subject of backgrounds for portraits. Here are some things to think about in your search for the perfect background for your portraits.

Do you want your background to be sharp or blurred?

This is an important question because the answer dictates your entire approach to the portrait shoot.

If you want the background to be in focus, then this suggests that the background is in some way relevant to your subject. For instance, if you are taking a portrait of a performing musician, then perhaps it would be nice to take a photo in a venue where they perform, including the background to show the environment.

On the other hand, if your aim is simply to take a pretty portrait of somebody, then the background may not be so relevant, but it must be complementary. A good example of this is taking a portrait of somebody on a beach, where the environment becomes an important part of the composition.

The easiest way to take a portrait with the background in focus is to use a wide-angle lens with a smallish aperture (f/8 is ideal). You should be careful not to get too close to the subject (avoiding distortion) and to include lots of background.

Portraits and backgrounds

I used a 24mm lens at f/4 for this portrait. With such a wide-angle lens f/4 was sufficient to ensure the entire background was relatively sharp.

If you want to take photos with a completely blurred background, then the background itself isn’t so important. It will be out of focus, so nobody will be able to tell what it is. The important thing is that you need to be able to position your model some distance from the background. Then all you need to do is to use a short telephoto lens with a wide aperture, and if the model is far enough from the background it will go out of focus.

This technique works best with prime lenses because of their wider maximum apertures. But you can still make it work, even with an 18-55mm kit lens (which typically have maximum aperture settings of f/5.6). You’ll just need to move your model further away from the background, and get as close to her as you can (try taking a simple head and shoulders shot) to make it work.

Don’t forget there’s a middle ground between these two extremes. You may want to render the background slightly out of focus, so it is still recognizable but not so sharp it competes with the model for attention.

Portraits and backgrounds

The background of this portrait is out of focus, but still sharp enough for the viewer to tell what it is.

Are you going to take your photos indoors or outside?

The answer to this question is important because it leads to the question of how you are going to light your photo.

For example, indoor locations can be great for shoots that take place in the winter time, or even at night, when you can’t rely on the weather to be good enough to take photos outdoors. While you may be able to use your house as a location, another idea is to keep an eye out for interesting indoor locations in your local area that you may be able to use. Examples are cafes, bars and hotels. Once you’ve found a photogenic location, it’s a simple matter of finding the right person to ask for permission to use that location for a shoot.

Once you’ve found the location, you need to decide how to light the portrait. You might be fine with natural light, especially if there are large windows or your camera works well at high ISOs. You’ll probably need an assistant with a reflector to help out.

If you decide to use flash to light your portrait, things may be a little more complex. You’ll need room for lighting stands, and you may need to run power cords across the floor. If you intend to use flash, make sure you mention this when you ask permission to use the location.

Portraits and backgrounds

I took this portrait in a cafe, using natural light from the windows.

If you are going to take your photos outside then the question of lighting still applies. Do you intend to use natural light? Again, an assistant with a reflector may be useful. If you intend to use flash to supplement or even overpower the natural light, then you need to consider if you have enough room in your chosen location to set them up? Will you need someone to help you? Thinking through the practicalities will help your shoot run smoothly.

Background ideas

Finally, here are some of my favourite locations for taking portraits. You may find these suggestions useful in your search for great backgrounds.

Beaches: I especially like rocky beaches as rocks make great backgrounds. The key to getting the best from a beach location is to take the portraits close to the sunset and utilize the beautiful quality of light during the golden hour.

Gardens or parks: Public gardens can be a great place to take portraits. They are normally quite beautiful and may contain a variety of plants and trees that you can’t find elsewhere in your area.

Urban or suburban areas: I like to wander around interesting parts of the city I live in with my model looking for good backgrounds. It’s amazing how many times a wall or doorway can make a simple yet effective background for a portrait.

Portraits and backgrounds

This portrait was taken using an ivy covered wall (that I found on a street near my house) as a background.

Woodlands: These can be tricky as the light tends to come from above, between the trees, almost like a spotlight. The result is harsh shadows under your model’s eyes and nose, even on an overcast day. The solution is to use a reflector or flash to fill in the shadows. While the lighting isn’t always easy in woodlands, the results can be worth the effort.

Children’s playgrounds: Use a playground at a quiet time and your model can have lots of fun on the rides, adding a sense of movement and vitality to your portraits.

Portraits and backgrounds

We went to a children’s playground in the late afternoon (no kids to disturb) to take this portrait. My model enjoyed playing around on the rides.

Your turn

These are my suggestions, now it’s your turn. Can you suggest any locations or types of background that are suitable for portraits? Please let us know in the comments.


The Natural Portrait photography ebookThe Natural Portrait

My ebook The Natural Portrait teaches you how to take beautiful portraits in natural light. This 240 page ebook, published by Craft & Vision, takes you through the entire process of natural light portrait photography through from finding a model, deciding where to shoot, working with natural light and post-processing your images. Click the link to learn more or buy.

The post How to Find Great Backgrounds for Portraits by Andrew S. Gibson appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Step by Step Portrait Processing in Lightroom

Andrew’s ebook Mastering Lightroom: Book Four – The Photos is available now at a special price of 40% off for a limited time from Snapndeals. It’s an advanced guide to processing photos in Lightroom’s Develop module, explaining how to use Lightroom’s powerful processing engine plus Develop Presets and plug-ins to create beautiful images. This photo is one of ten case studies from the book.

Portrait processing in Lightroom

The story

When you are photographing someone who enjoys being in front of the camera, take advantage of it. This was a simple portrait to take and its strength comes from the model’s spirit, not fancy technique. I’ve worked with her before and know that she is good at creating different facial expressions. I asked her to give me a series and every time she changed her expression I took another photo. Experienced models will pose, pause until you take the photo, and then move onto the next one, making your job as a portrait photographer much easier.

You can’t see it in this photo but the model was holding a silver reflector slightly beneath her shoulders. The reflected daylight created a wonderful clean lighting effect that made processing the portrait much easier.

First steps

Here’s the original portrait as it appeared straight out of the camera. It was taken with an 85mm lens set to f/1.8, throwing the background out of focus.

Portrait processing in Lightroom

I knew from the start that I wanted the model’s expression to be the focal point of the portrait. The use of a short telephoto lens and a wide aperture has partly achieved that, but the photo required more work. The first task was to tackle the background. Although out of focus, its brightness was a big distraction. My main job here was to make the background darker so the viewer’s eye goes straight to the model.

My hope today is that by following this tutorial and applying the techniques I used to your own photos, you will learn how to create better portraits in Lightroom.

Step 1: Basic adjustments

I prepared the photo by going to the Camera Calibration panel and setting Profile to Camera Portrait. Next I went to the Lens Corrections panel and enabled Chromatic Aberration removal and Profile Corrections, setting Vignetting to zero.

I wanted clean, neutral skin tones, so I went to the Basic panel and moved the Temp slider slightly (from 4850 to 4520) to remove the warm tint.

Step 2: Add a vignette using the Radial Filter

Next I used the Radial Filter tool to make the background darker. I placed the filter so that the top half surrounded the model’s face and shoulders. In this position the Radial Filter can be used to make the area either side and above the model darker, without affecting the bottom part of the portrait. I set Exposure to -4.0 to see the area affected by the adjustment.

Portrait processing in Lightroom

When I was happy with the position of the Radial Filter I reset Exposure to zero, then reduced it until the background went quite dark. I also set Saturation to -70 to remove colour from the background. How much you push the Exposure slider in this situation is always subjective. Some of you will want to retain a fair amount of detail in the background, others will be content to make it go completely black.

Portrait processing in Lightroom

Note: Radial filters are new to Lightroom 5. In earlier versions the best way to achieve a similar effect would be to place a Graduated Filter on either side of the model, and use Adjustment Brush adjustments to fill in the gaps. An alternative technique is to use the Post-Crop Vignetting tool, and lighten any areas that are too dark (such as the model’s shoulders in this example) with the Adjustment Brush tool.

Step 3: Refine the vignette with the Adjustment Brush

While the Radial Filter is an excellent tool for making backgrounds darker, it’s not perfect. The feathering required for a gradual transition may leave some areas of the background close to the subject too light. In this case there were still areas around the hood that were a little bright.

So I used the Adjustment Brush tool to select those areas and reduced Exposure (to -0.65) to make them darker. I didn’t have to be precise with the placement of the Adjustment Brush as the background was already quite dark and out of focus.

Portrait processing in Lightroom

Tip: If you find that the use of the Adjustment Brush is obvious, try setting Feather to 100 and Flow to 50%. This lets you build up the effect little by little instead of doing it all in one brush stroke.

Step 4: Retouching with the Adjustment Brush

This portrait didn’t need much retouching, but there were still a couple of things I wanted to do. The first was to minimize the lines under the model’s eyes. Note that I didn’t want to get rid of them completely, as they are a natural part of her expression. The lines were created by her smile and winking action, and removing them would look unnatural.

I used the Adjustment Brush tool (zoomed in), and carefully painted over the lines under her eyes. I kept the brush size small so as not to affect the neighbouring areas.

Then I selected the Soften Skin preset from the Effect menu. Lightroom applied the skin smoothing effect at full strength by setting Clarity to -100 and Sharpness to +25. This was too strong. To reduce it, I clicked on the pin that marked the Adjustment Brush, held the left mouse button down and dragged the mouse left. Lightroom reduced the intensity of the effect by moving the Clarity and Sharpness sliders in proportion (this technique works with any setting from the Effect menu). I stopped when it looked right (Clarity -45, Sharpness +11).

Portrait processing in Lightroom

I created a new Adjustment Brush to cover the model’s eyes, mouth and eyebrows. I pushed the Clarity slider to +40 to bring a bit of extra sharpness and contrast to those areas. The screen shot shows the areas covered by the Adjustment Brush.

Portrait processing in Lightroom

Step 5: Framing the portrait

The model’s hood creates a natural frame for her face and is an essential part of the composition. I decided to emphasize it by using Clarity to bring out the texture of the fur.

I created another selection using the Adjustment Brush tool and increased Clarity (to 56), Contrast (to 22) and Exposure (to 0.26). The hood is a frame that draw the viewer’s eye to the centre of the frame, and these adjustments help to emphasize it. I needed to find the balance between emphasis and distraction; highlighting the beautiful texture of the fur lined hood without pulling too much attention away from the model’s expression. This screen shot shows the area covered by the Adjustment Brush.

Portrait processing in Lightroom

Next I went to the Basic panel and reduced Vibrance to -14 to de-emphasize the colours a little more. Finally, I used a small Adjustment Brush to lighten the edge of the model’s right shoulder, which had been darkened by the Radial Filter adjustment earlier. The area covered by the Adjustment Brush is shown in the screen shot.

Portrait processing in Lightroom

Comparing before and after results

Here are the original and final versions together so you can compare them.

Portrait processing in Lightroom

What do you think of these processing techniques? There’s more than one way to process most photos – do you have any suggestions for an alternative interpretation of the original Raw file? Please let me know in the comments.

Mastering Lightroom: Book Four – The PhotosAndrew’s ebook Mastering Lightroom: Book Four – The Photos is available now at a special price of 40% off for a limited time from Snapndeals. It’s an advanced guide to processing photos in Lightroom’s Develop module, explaining how to use Lightroom’s powerful processing engine plus Develop Presets and plug-ins to create beautiful images. This photo is one of ten case studies from the book.

The post Step by Step Portrait Processing in Lightroom by Andrew S. Gibson appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Step by Step Portrait Processing in Lightroom

Andrew’s ebook Mastering Lightroom: Book Four – The Photos is available now at a special price of 40% off for a limited time from Snapndeals. It’s an advanced guide to processing photos in Lightroom’s Develop module, explaining how to use Lightroom’s powerful processing engine plus Develop Presets and plug-ins to create beautiful images. This photo is one of ten case studies from the book.

Portrait processing in Lightroom

The story

When you are photographing someone who enjoys being in front of the camera, take advantage of it. This was a simple portrait to take and its strength comes from the model’s spirit, not fancy technique. I’ve worked with her before and know that she is good at creating different facial expressions. I asked her to give me a series and every time she changed her expression I took another photo. Experienced models will pose, pause until you take the photo, and then move onto the next one, making your job as a portrait photographer much easier.

You can’t see it in this photo but the model was holding a silver reflector slightly beneath her shoulders. The reflected daylight created a wonderful clean lighting effect that made processing the portrait much easier.

First steps

Here’s the original portrait as it appeared straight out of the camera. It was taken with an 85mm lens set to f/1.8, throwing the background out of focus.

Portrait processing in Lightroom

I knew from the start that I wanted the model’s expression to be the focal point of the portrait. The use of a short telephoto lens and a wide aperture has partly achieved that, but the photo required more work. The first task was to tackle the background. Although out of focus, its brightness was a big distraction. My main job here was to make the background darker so the viewer’s eye goes straight to the model.

My hope today is that by following this tutorial and applying the techniques I used to your own photos, you will learn how to create better portraits in Lightroom.

Step 1: Basic adjustments

I prepared the photo by going to the Camera Calibration panel and setting Profile to Camera Portrait. Next I went to the Lens Corrections panel and enabled Chromatic Aberration removal and Profile Corrections, setting Vignetting to zero.

I wanted clean, neutral skin tones, so I went to the Basic panel and moved the Temp slider slightly (from 4850 to 4520) to remove the warm tint.

Step 2: Add a vignette using the Radial Filter

Next I used the Radial Filter tool to make the background darker. I placed the filter so that the top half surrounded the model’s face and shoulders. In this position the Radial Filter can be used to make the area either side and above the model darker, without affecting the bottom part of the portrait. I set Exposure to -4.0 to see the area affected by the adjustment.

Portrait processing in Lightroom

When I was happy with the position of the Radial Filter I reset Exposure to zero, then reduced it until the background went quite dark. I also set Saturation to -70 to remove colour from the background. How much you push the Exposure slider in this situation is always subjective. Some of you will want to retain a fair amount of detail in the background, others will be content to make it go completely black.

Portrait processing in Lightroom

Note: Radial filters are new to Lightroom 5. In earlier versions the best way to achieve a similar effect would be to place a Graduated Filter on either side of the model, and use Adjustment Brush adjustments to fill in the gaps. An alternative technique is to use the Post-Crop Vignetting tool, and lighten any areas that are too dark (such as the model’s shoulders in this example) with the Adjustment Brush tool.

Step 3: Refine the vignette with the Adjustment Brush

While the Radial Filter is an excellent tool for making backgrounds darker, it’s not perfect. The feathering required for a gradual transition may leave some areas of the background close to the subject too light. In this case there were still areas around the hood that were a little bright.

So I used the Adjustment Brush tool to select those areas and reduced Exposure (to -0.65) to make them darker. I didn’t have to be precise with the placement of the Adjustment Brush as the background was already quite dark and out of focus.

Portrait processing in Lightroom

Tip: If you find that the use of the Adjustment Brush is obvious, try setting Feather to 100 and Flow to 50%. This lets you build up the effect little by little instead of doing it all in one brush stroke.

Step 4: Retouching with the Adjustment Brush

This portrait didn’t need much retouching, but there were still a couple of things I wanted to do. The first was to minimize the lines under the model’s eyes. Note that I didn’t want to get rid of them completely, as they are a natural part of her expression. The lines were created by her smile and winking action, and removing them would look unnatural.

I used the Adjustment Brush tool (zoomed in), and carefully painted over the lines under her eyes. I kept the brush size small so as not to affect the neighbouring areas.

Then I selected the Soften Skin preset from the Effect menu. Lightroom applied the skin smoothing effect at full strength by setting Clarity to -100 and Sharpness to +25. This was too strong. To reduce it, I clicked on the pin that marked the Adjustment Brush, held the left mouse button down and dragged the mouse left. Lightroom reduced the intensity of the effect by moving the Clarity and Sharpness sliders in proportion (this technique works with any setting from the Effect menu). I stopped when it looked right (Clarity -45, Sharpness +11).

Portrait processing in Lightroom

I created a new Adjustment Brush to cover the model’s eyes, mouth and eyebrows. I pushed the Clarity slider to +40 to bring a bit of extra sharpness and contrast to those areas. The screen shot shows the areas covered by the Adjustment Brush.

Portrait processing in Lightroom

Step 5: Framing the portrait

The model’s hood creates a natural frame for her face and is an essential part of the composition. I decided to emphasize it by using Clarity to bring out the texture of the fur.

I created another selection using the Adjustment Brush tool and increased Clarity (to 56), Contrast (to 22) and Exposure (to 0.26). The hood is a frame that draw the viewer’s eye to the centre of the frame, and these adjustments help to emphasize it. I needed to find the balance between emphasis and distraction; highlighting the beautiful texture of the fur lined hood without pulling too much attention away from the model’s expression. This screen shot shows the area covered by the Adjustment Brush.

Portrait processing in Lightroom

Next I went to the Basic panel and reduced Vibrance to -14 to de-emphasize the colours a little more. Finally, I used a small Adjustment Brush to lighten the edge of the model’s right shoulder, which had been darkened by the Radial Filter adjustment earlier. The area covered by the Adjustment Brush is shown in the screen shot.

Portrait processing in Lightroom

Comparing before and after results

Here are the original and final versions together so you can compare them.

Portrait processing in Lightroom

What do you think of these processing techniques? There’s more than one way to process most photos – do you have any suggestions for an alternative interpretation of the original Raw file? Please let me know in the comments.

Mastering Lightroom: Book Four – The PhotosAndrew’s ebook Mastering Lightroom: Book Four – The Photos is available now at a special price of 40% off for a limited time from Snapndeals. It’s an advanced guide to processing photos in Lightroom’s Develop module, explaining how to use Lightroom’s powerful processing engine plus Develop Presets and plug-ins to create beautiful images. This photo is one of ten case studies from the book.

The post Step by Step Portrait Processing in Lightroom by Andrew S. Gibson appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Beginner Tips for Posing People with Confidence

How to pose models

In earlier articles I gave you advice about planning a portrait shoot and some reasons for using natural light. Now it’s time to take a look at something that many photographers find difficult – posing.

The reason posing can create problems is because inexperienced models will look to you for direction. If your model is waiting for you to tell her what to do and you freeze up or don’t have any decent ideas you will struggle to create good photos. It’s up to you to take charge and tell the model how to pose. The key is preparation – you need a set of poses you can suggest to the model.

Before the shoot

Here are some points to think about before the shoot:

What kind of shoot is it? The posing requirements for a family portrait are very different than a fashion shoot. You can think about posing once you’ve decided what type of photo you are going to create.

Look for inspiration online. Chances are you have a few favourite photographers you follow on websites like Flickr and 500px. You will find some good poses in their portfolios. Download your favourites to your smartphone (or use Pinterest to create a mood board, covered in more detail in my article How to Plan the Perfect Portrait Shoot). Then you have something you can show to your model. Don’t try and commit the poses to memory – you will forget them under pressure.

Match the pose to your model. This is important. You’ll see some wonderful poses in fashion magazines. But many of them need a professional model to carry them off. Your model may not be able to do that, especially if she has a different body type than the people in the magazine.

Buy the Posing App. It gives you over 300 poses that you can access on your smartphone. The best way to use it is to select five to ten and make them your favourites. Then you can show them to your model so she understands the what you’d like her to do.

How to pose models

Screen shots from the Posing App. The line drawings are easy to understand and follow.

The author of the app has written several articles about posing for Digital Photography School you will find useful (click the link to see a list).

During the shoot

No matter how experienced or inexperienced your model is, here are some tips to help you find the perfect pose during the shoot:

Build rapport. This is essential. If your model likes you and sees what you are trying to achieve she will work harder. If you talk to her about things she likes you will see more life in her eyes and get better expressions, including natural smiles. She will be more relaxed. If your model is tense, you are going to struggle to get natural looking portraits. Take the pressure off her and bring it back on yourself. Assure her that if the photos don’t work out that it’s your fault, not hers. Build her confidence.

Look for natural expression. As you talk to your model you will notice natural expressions and mannerisms that you can use. Don’t be afraid to say “hold that pose” or “do what you did just now again”.

How to pose models

I noticed the model had a interesting mannerism so I asked her to repeat the gesture. This portrait is one of her favourites

Adapt poses. When you suggest a pose, such as one used in another photo or from the Posing App, treat it as a starting point, then adapt it to suit your model. If she looks unnatural in a certain pose, then adapt it so it suits her body and the clothes she’s wearing.

How to pose a model

The pose on the left is one I found in the Posing App. For the second portrait I asked my model to drop her left arm so I couldn’t see it. Don’t be afraid to tweak poses, sometimes a small change makes a big difference.

Simplify. Keep everything as simple as possible. That applies to composition and the clothes and jewellery worn by your model. If she has too much jewellery on, ask her to remove some. It will improve the composition. If you’re struggling to find a good full-length pose, move in closer and shoot from the waist up, or do a head and shoulders portrait. The background will go more out of focus, and there will be less of the model in the photo.

How to pose models

Simplification in action. The closer you crop, the easier it is to pose your model. This is a good technique to use if you are struggling to make a certain pose work.

Pay attention to detail. Especially hands, which often look better side on to the camera. Look at photos where the model’s hands look elegant or are otherwise well posed, and ask your model to do the same. Check her hair to make sure stray strands aren’t blowing across her face or eyes. Look at her clothes to make sure they aren’t wrinkled or creased in a strange way.

Find something for your model to lean on. This makes it much easier to find a natural looking pose.

How to pose models

Two different ways to use a wall to give a model something to do. The Posing App has lots of poses for leaning.

Use props. If the model has something to hold or otherwise interact with, it gives her something to do. If she is having fun you’re more likely to get a great expression.

How to pose models

The model in this photo is into hooping. Using the hoop as a prop gave her something to hold and added interest to the portrait.

How to pose models

I suggested the model bring her horses along to the shoot. The horses are a natural prop and her interaction with them led to photos like this one.

Over to you

Do you have any tips for our readers about posing models? What has worked for you? Tell us about your experiences in the comments.


The Natural Portrait photography ebookThe Natural Portrait

My ebook The Natural Portrait teaches you how to take beautiful portraits in natural light. This 240 page ebook, published by Craft & Vision, takes you through the entire process of natural light portrait photography through from finding a model, deciding where to shoot, working with natural light and post-processing your images. Click the link to learn more or buy.

The post Beginner Tips for Posing People with Confidence by Andrew S. Gibson appeared first on Digital Photography School.

5 Reasons for Doing Natural Light Portraits

Natural light portrait

With all the attention given to the art and craft of shooting portraits using flash, you could be forgiven for thinking that this is the only way to take a portrait. The truth is that while fashionable Speedlites get all the attention, there are photographers working almost entirely in natural light and creating beautiful portraits without a softbox or light stand in sight.

One of the most prolific is Eduardo Izq, a photographer based in the United States who has built an impressive portfolio of natural light portraits taken using local models and dancers. Eduardo takes natural light portraiture to an extreme, often photographing his models without make-up. He may not be creating beauty portraits in the conventional sense, but by concentrating on character he is capturing portraits that are beautiful in a deeper, more fundamental way.

Please take some time to look at Eduardo’s website, you will learn a lot from it. For another insight into his work you can also read my interview with Eduardo about his ballerina portraits.

Intrigued? Here are five more reasons why you should take some natural light portraits:

1. It teaches you about light

To get the best out of natural light you need to become an observer of light. How does the quality, and quantity, of light change where you live from hour to hour, and season to season? How is the light affected by weather and the location? To take good natural light portraits you need to work in the most flattering light, and that usually means finding the shade or going out and taking portraits at the end of the day during the golden hour and twilight (my article The Magic of Natural Light: Twilight will help). Doing so will help you appreciate the quality of light in your area. This knowledge will also help you in other areas of photography.

2. Light is linked to location

As you become more aware of light you will come to see that the quality of light is linked to location and season. When you take a portrait of somebody outside, the light provides a link between the subject and the place they are in, tying the two together. Light, location and subject are entwined: it was only possible to take a photo of that person in that place with that type of light at one particular time. It’s almost impossible to reproduce the effect afterwards – the uniqueness of the light becomes part of the image. That is something different (not necessarily better, just different) from the effect of using flash, which is easily reproduced.

Natural light portrait

The soft light of the setting sun links the portrait of the woman with her horse to the location. Both are lit by the same light, a type of light that occurs naturally in this location in certain conditions at the right time of year.

3. Natural light is simple

Natural light portrait

Natural light is also ideal for black and white portraits. Here the light is shaped by the archways on the right.

Flash is not complicated for everybody, but it takes time to master and that can get in the way when you are starting out. One of my friends told me a story about a portrait shoot that went wrong. She modelled for a photographer who was working outdoors, and he spent so long setting his lights up and measuring the light that the shoot never really got going. She wasn’t happy with the results and I guess neither was the photographer.

Natural light is different because it is simple. In fact, I often go on a portrait shoot with just one camera and a single lens. This simple approach to equipment lets you concentrate on composition, lighting, and building rapport with your subject. Another benefit is that it is quick and easy to move from one place to another if you don’t have much gear. It is much more difficult if you have flash because you also need to move the extra equipment.

4. Your relationship with the model is critical

The number one thing that determines the success of your portraits is your relation with your subjects. Building rapport is essential, especially if you’ve never worked with your model before. Simplifying your approach means that you have more time to concentrate on building the relationship. This is essential. Your model’s pose and expression are the prime factors that determine the success of the portrait.

A portrait shoot is a collaboration, two people working together to create a beautiful image. If you ignore your model at the expense of setting up lights, the results will suffer. It takes real skill to be able to set up your lights quickly and effectively, while building a relationship with your subject. That can come later. If you start off with natural light, it gives you time to learn how to build rapport, and you can introduce flash at a later stage. Master one skill at a time.

5. Natural light is beautiful

Natural light portrait

The subject of this portrait is lit by the extremely soft red light that appears briefly after the sun has set.

It’s hard to beat the beauty of natural light at its best. The photo to the right is a good example. We were taking portraits at the beach at the end of the day and the light became more and more magical as the sun disappeared over the horizon. For a few short minutes we experienced the beautiful red afterglow of the sunset, and I used it to take the last few portraits of the session. Moments like this don’t come often, but the results are worth it. Shooting in light that is beautiful, yet fleeting and difficult to find, elevates your portraits to another level.

Your turn

What is your experience of shooting portraits in natural light? Do you prefer to take the simple approach to equipment and lighting? Can you recommend any portrait photographers who work in natural light? Let us know in the comments.


The Natural Portrait ebookThe Natural Portrait

My ebook The Natural Portrait teaches you how to take beautiful portraits in natural light. This 240 page ebook, published by Craft & Vision, takes you through the entire process of natural light portrait photography through from finding a model, deciding where to shoot, working with natural light and post-processing your images. Click here to learn more or buy.

The post 5 Reasons for Doing Natural Light Portraits by Andrew S. Gibson appeared first on Digital Photography School.

Accent Lighting for Portraits

accent lighting

Tthanks to the wonderful Bridgette for her work as the make-up artist in this image

Studio lighting continues to mystify and bewilder many developing photographers. The intimidation of lighting ratios, modifiers, set-ups, etc… often seems as complex as deriving the quadratic equation or suffering through an explanation of Michaelis-Menten enzyme kinetics. Oh yes, for those of you biochemically privy folk, I did just go there! Well, one does not have to get lost amidst the photonic chaos if they understand how to interpret and understand the meaning of light.

Wow! Meaning of light? Sounds kind of deep and metaphysical doesn’t it? Please don’t worry! The only thing you need to remember about light is that it illuminates and creates shadows. Fairly simple, huh? We all know that when we shine a light onto something it allows us to visualize whatever is illuminated by the light. That is simple enough, right? Now, consider that behind every good light is a shadow waiting to give shape, form and dimension to your subject. This intricate interplay between what you illuminate and what you keep in shadow is what brings visual interest and creative acuity to your images. In studio lighting, this is your raw material with which you have to work and create.

There are many articles and books that describe studio lighting and as the student you may tend to focus on that main key light with simple one or two light set-ups, so we can dip our toe into the pool, so to speak, and see if the temperature is warm enough for us to dive in. A main or key light is simply the light source that is providing the primary illumination for our subject. Now, don’t get me wrong, one can create some amazingly, captivating portraits with a single light, but what if you want to add a little something extra? A little hint of spice to get some unique seasoning and flavor?

This is where accent lighting comes out to shine.

What is an accent light?

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Accent lighting is typically a very controlled light source that highlights specific areas of the subject. It can be a hair light that gives you some separation from a background, or a side light that illuminates the drops of sweat on an athlete after an intense workout. It gives some shape or form to elements of the photo allowing your eyes to experience the different dimensions of the image. Now, there are two important things you want to remember about accent lighting:

  1. The source should be very controlled and only hit the areas you desire
  2. It should be brighter then your main light to create a proper highlight

Easy ways to control accent lights are with modifiers such as barn doors, spot grids or small strip soft boxes. Basically, anything that will narrow and direct the beam of light coming form the light source. Heck, it could be a flashlight beam, the sun shining on the back of a subject’s head, or even the bright screen of a tablet or computer in the right conditions (yes, the eye fatigue from staring at the LCD screen is setting in). Add some colored gels to the accent lights to really make your images pop or bring some warmth into the mix.

Personally, I love adding side accent lighting to my portraits by firing my strobes into narrow V-flats (two large pieces of foam core taped together to form a v-shape) directed at the subject on either side to highlight the cheekbones and neck and really sculpt out those beautiful forms in light and shadow. The possibilities with accent lighting are truly endless, and the luminous results are absolutely stunning.

accent-lighting-02

For more on portraits and lighting check out these articles:

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