by Lisa Bettany, 5DMKII, 85mm f/1.8, 1/200 @f/3.5, ISO 100.
Before I jump head first into 2010 Olympic coverage (3 days!!!), I thought I should give my favourite photographer followers some post love. Here are 5 Tips to get more professional looking portraits:
1. Light your subject.
Lighting is one of most important aspects in creating a great portrait. Good lighting is easy to achieve, but requires skill and an off-camera flash. Getting that flash off your camera and onto a light stand with a shoot-through umbrella may seem a bit daunting, but trust me, it’s the only way to guarantee that your photos are going to look professional.
The first thing I suggest is to go read Strobist’s lighting 101 section. Try to take in as much technical information as possible and then practice until you get it.
Things you will need:
- A strobe. I use the 580EX as my key light, and 430EXs for edge or back lighting.
- Lots of batteries. Speedlights eat through batteries like a sugar-deprived kid with a Pez dispenser. Buy lots of rechargeable batteries and always have two extra sets for each flash. Also remember that batteries take ages to charge, so start charging them up to a day in advance of a shoot.
- Wireless triggers. I recommend the Alien Bees CyberSync Triggers. They are way cheaper than Pocket Wizards and work flawlessly. You’ll need one transmitter and a receiver for each flash. You will also need PC sync cables. Also, if you are shooting with a flash, (like my 580EX) that doesn’t have a PC sync socket, then you’ll need to buy a hot shoe adapter for your flash.
- Light stand + umbrella adapter + shoot through umbrella. You can buy kits at photo store or find them on line. You can always use “human light stand”, but after a few hours they usually start to complain and demand food, so it’s probably best to just sink the $100 and get a metal one that you can abuse without feeling guilty.
2. Engage with your subject.
As a photographer it’s really easy to get preoccupied with the technical details of a shoot and disconnect from your subject. Unfortunately, this disconnection between photographer and subject shows up like a red flag in photos. Nothing is worse than a portrait of a subject with dead, expressionless eyes. It’s something that no amount of Photoshop can fix.
To combat “zombie eyes”, stay connected to your subject and actively give them feedback throughout the shoot. Make small talk to your subject between shots, make sure they are comfortable and happy, tell them silly jokes if you need a smile. I find that with teen girl subjects, mentioning anything to do with Twilight or hunky vampires gets a great response!
3. Shoot in front of a simple, complementary background
A bad background can ruin a good shot. Trees growing out of subject’s heads, shrubbery poking out of ears, messy piles of things poking from chins, & clashing colours will distract from your subject. When you are setting up your shoot make sure your background is clean and simple. You can remove things in post, but why add the extra work for yourself. Clear any mess away or choose a new angle.
The secret is to shoot at a low aperture >f/3.5 and focus on the eyes. This will create a dramatic depth of field, with the eyes tack sharp and the hair and background soft and out-of-focus. I tend to shoot most of my portraits at f/3.5 or lower because I love dramatic dof and bokeh.
4. Compose your shot.
The rule of thirds is a portrait photograher’s best friend. Learn it. Love it. Replicated it over and over. Portrait photography is something that benefits from strict compositional rules.
When I started, I studied the best portrait & headshot photographers and practiced replicating their work shot for shot. There is no shame in copying others composition, lighting, and settings when learning, and I strongly encourage it. Once you’ve learned the basics and have a good handle on angles and set-ups that works, you can start to explore your own style.
5. Retouch your shots.
Nobody is perfectly flawless, but everyone wants to look flawless in their photos. While you don’t want to remove all the “character” from someone’s face, any sort of skin imperfection can probably be nixed without a word of complaint from your subject, especially if you are doing promotional headshots or wedding photos. As a model, it would stress me out to no end if I got a blemish before a photo shoot. If I would have known how easy it is to clone stamp that puppy away in one click, I would have way fewer restless nights and possibly consumed more chocolates. mm. Chocolates.
How far you want to take your retouching it is up to you. I think there is a definite point of no return that you should try to keep in mind when you are retouching. If the skin starts to look like plastic, then you should probably lay off the clone stamp a little. Keep your brush size small >20px and steer away from too much Gaussian blur. Use your aesthetic judgement, and get feedback from other photographers and even your clients.