Portraits – Make Great Photos Excerpt February 6, 2019 – Posted in: Photography – Tags: alan hess, Group Photos, Make Great Photos, portraits
This blog post is excerpted from the book Make Great Photos by Alan Hess.
The challenge with photographing people inside is the potential lack of (or poor quality of) light. You either need to have natural light coming in through a door or window, enough available light from lamps or overhead lights, or you need to bring your own light. Many times an indoor portrait can use a combination of available light and some flash.
Lens: When shooting inside and using a flash, remember that the flash has limited power and won’t reach the subject if you are not shooting from too far away. Also, the flash is on the camera, so when using a long lens, the farther away you are, the smaller the light source of the flash becomes; thus, the harder the quality of that light. Many of the indoor portraits I take are shot using a 24–70mm lens, and I try to stay closer to 70mm (Figure 1). Exposure mode: I use aperture priority mode with a deep-enough aperture to get the person in focus. I will increase the ISO so that the flash doesn’t have to work so hard. Here are some other tips to help with indoor portraits:
- Flash on camera: If you want to take photos of people inside, at some point you are going to have to use a flash. I suggest buying one and practicing with it at home so you are familiar with the controls and how it works. The most important thing your flash head needs to be able to do is tilt and rotate so you can aim the flash independently of where the lens is pointing.
- Bounce light off the ceiling: Look for large surfaces above and to the sides of your subject when photographing a person (Figure 2). These can be used to bounce the light. If there aren’t any surfaces and the ceilings are very high, that’s when I use my secret weapon: the Rogue FlashBender.
- Look for windows: Window light is great, if you can find it. Look for light coming in through the window, then place your subject just in the edge of the light (you don’t want everything to be blasted with diffused sunlight!).
- White balance is key: When you shoot inside, chances are there will be a mixture of lighting types that might yield weird colors (Figure 3). Check the manual for directions on how to set a custom white balance for your camera. One quick way to see the best white balance for your scene is to turn on the live view, look at the monitor on the back of the camera, then start to cycle through the white balance settings and see which one looks the best. Check your camera manual for instructions on how to adjust white balance, but usually you press the White Balance button and rotate the main dial. The camera will show the current scene on the back of the camera with the different white balance settings applied, so you can easily make a choice as to which one you like.
Photographing outside can be a lot easier than photographing inside because of the availability of light.
The issue outside, however, is that there can be too little or too much light. The best time to shoot portraits outside is when there is cloud cover that diffuses the sunlight. But if you plan to shoot outside under clear, bright skies, make sure your subjects are in the shade (Figures 4–6).
A group portrait might be the most difficult type of portrait to take due to human nature. It is very difficult to get everyone looking at the right place with the right expression at the same time. The more people in the group, the more difficult it becomes.
- Get their attention: This might be the hardest skill to accomplish in this whole book. It is nearly impossible to get everyone’s attention at the same time. I usually have to shout to get (and hold) their attention while I take the photo.
- Take a series of photos: Don’t take just one photo and hope you got the best shot. A better bet is to take a series of photos in quick succession and hope that everybody is looking at you in at least one of the shots (Figure 7).
- Stairs are a gift: One of the issues with group photos is that it’s difficult to layer and stagger people in lines and still see everyone, especially people in the back. Stairs are a great way to give the people in the back rows a bit more height. As you can see in Figure 8, I shot this group on stairs. It works great; just make sure the depth of field is deep enough to get everyone in focus.
- Use fill flash outside: One of the more difficult photos to take is when the group is backlit and their faces are in in deep shadow. One way to solve the issue is to move the people, but if that isn’t possible, a little touch of fill flash can really make the photo look more natural and open up the shadows. The secret is to set the flash to manual power and only use a little power. In Figure 9, I used a touch of fill flash to lighten up the riders because we wanted to keep the water at their back.