8 Lessons Learned from My First Attempt at Portrait Photography - Digital Photography School

8 Lessons Learned from My First Attempt at Portrait Photography

853978794_ZH47z-L.jpgOne of the things I love about dPS is that we have a variety of photographers of different levels of experience and exploring different types of photography – all learning together. Today Aaron Meyers shares what he learned in his first attempt at portrait photography.

Let me start out by saying I’m an amateur photographer. I always loved taking photos but I didn’t buy my first SLR (a D80) until 2007. Since then I’ve mostly done landscape/nature photography and I’ve slowly upgraded my gear (to a D300s) and I’m starting to branch out and try new things. \

Lately I’ve really enjoyed looking at portrait/model photos on Flickr so I thought I would give it a try. I convinced 2 of my friends to model for me and we went over to Stanford University for a couple hours of fun.

The Things I learned on my first portrait photoshoot:

1. Background is key! Keep it simple: in fact, keep it even more simple than you think. I thought I was using easy backgrounds but often there’s tiny things (like trash bins) that can be really detracting (see below).

Also, don’t forget that bright spots show up in between tree/shrub leaves and those can be really distracting. Try to find something with a solid background. Also, try to find a background that leads into the model, by using columns, a hallway, stairs, something which can spruce up the photo a bit.

853978677_txhQe-L-1.jpg

2. Use Objects to Help Relax the Model: When you’re using inexperienced models they’ll become a lot more comfortable if they have a prop to work with or something to lean against. It was kind of awkward when they had to just stand there.

3. Pay Close Attention to the Hands/Hair: Often I’d spend so much time worrying about how the model should stand or what was in the background or what my lighting was like that I forgot to look at their hand position. When I got back home and began editing the photos I found a lot of them had awkward hand positions that essentially ruined the photo. Additionally, stray hair (either due to wind or other factors) can also really detract/cover the models face.

853980622_ZvTuo-L.jpg

4. Use an assistant: Bring a friend or family member if you don’t have a real assistant. They can help straighten out wind blown hair, hold a reflector, or just help make the shot look more natural. I brought a reflector with me but my friend ended up taking one of the models and shooting at the same time and I didn’t have anyone to hold the reflector. Next time we’ll take turns being each others assistant.

5. Use a sharp, fast, large focal length lens: I started the shoot using my Sigma 105mm f/2.8 macro lens. I figured 105mm would be perfect (longer focal lengths tend to “squish” things a bit and make your model look better) at f/2.8 but it turns out the lens was really soft and I didn’t like the results. I ended up switching to my 50mm f/1.8 and that worked much better. I’m a fan of sharpness in the features of my photos and the soft 105mm lens just made my models look too blurry.

6. Eye Position is really tough, learn to control your models: I spent a lot of time looking at other portraits/model photos on Flickr and a lot of photographers have the models eyes positioned so that they are not looking directly into the lens. I tried this out by telling my model to “look left” or “look right” but I quickly found out that if they looked too far to one way then their eyes would barely be in the photo. It took some work to figure out just how far to tell them to look in either direction.

7. Have the Models Wear Interesting Clothing: The models that I used were some of my friends and they weren’t too happy to be told to be at my apartment no later than 7am (I wanted the good light!) They showed up in normal jeans and a sweater. Although they brought a couple changes of clothes I felt bad making them change. When I got back to my computer after the shoot I wished they had been wearing something less every-day-clothing. Since it was spring time when we did the shoot, the best photos I had were when they were wearing spring dresses.

8. Have fun and learn what works! Don’t go into every shoot (or your first shoot) with high expectations: It’s going to be a learning experience for all so just relax and have fun with it. If you can have someone more experienced teach you the ropes, you’re lucky, but if you don’t, then find some friends like I did and just go out and have fun!

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  • http://www.michellearmour.com Michelle Armour

    Agree with above re lens you are doing something seriously wrong if you think that Sigma lens you mention in point 5 isn’t sharp. Maybe yours is broken. Don’t use it with older women they will hate the pics as it will show every fine line.

  • http://smashpotato.wordpress.com Lorbie

    Hi..

    great share.. I am sometimes guilty of #1

    one request please..

    could you give some example for #6 Position of eyes..

    TYVM

  • Shelley-Ann

    This was a great article. It reminded me of when I’d just started out, particularly the bit with the eyes. I’m still struggling with that, but it’s much better than it was a year ago. Practicing like this gives so much confidence when it really counts.

  • http://ahref=title= Manuel

    I’ve got the Sigma 105mm F2.8 macro lens and the only lens I have that competes in the sharpness department is the Nikon 50mm F1.8.Not even the 18-105 or the Sigma 10-20 is as sharp.Saying that a Macro lens is soft would only confirm that something is wrong with his Sigma lens.
    On another note, I read an article in the internet about Portrait photography that explain all the things that he explained in his article.
    These are some of the things explained in the article.
    1)The face is of the most important aspect in portrait photography,anything in the photo that distracts form the face is a no no.
    2)Keep the clothing simple so as not to distract,no sleeveless blouses or dresses.It distracts.
    3)Eyes should be looking slightly of camera not straigth towards the camera.
    4)Positioning of the model should be with as much different anlges as posible for different body parts.
    5)Never cut the arms or legs at midpoint.Makes them seem as if they were amputaded.
    6)Positioning of the hands should be in such a way as to only be able to see their sides,never their upper or lower parts.
    7)Body position of females should be always to enhance femenidity and masculinity in men (example is head position in females can be a little tilted to one of her shoulders and mens positioning should be straight.
    There are more but these are only some that I remember.Sorry about my spelling.My main language is spanish and I haven’t practiced my english consistently for a long time.God bless you guys.

  • http://Www.flickr.com/photos/carolinemarie_photography Caroline Marie

    Great shots for first shoot!
    I am fifteen and have been in love with photography since I can remember. Any comments on my flickr would be greatly appreciated to help me grow in the thing that I am passionate about.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/carolinemarie_photography

  • http://escapethevillage.com Daryl

    Great article! I recognized my alma mater even before I read your preface.

  • http://moonbeamsfromtheattic.smugmug.com julie moon

    goodevening!
    i shoot with a 70mm-200 2.8 ,on a d300s nikon for my portraits.When i first started i would edit everything.Then i just started bouncing light for that bokeh and experimenting with exposures.Placing the sun behind the subject and using reflectors.Ido not edit anymore unless they want b&w photosalot less work.
    Very good article!Gets people excited to share thier ideas and expertise!

  • http://hmooney.webs.com halmooney

    Just to clarify terms, a “Macro” lens is one designed to allow it to focus extremely close – within inches, or centimeters, if that works better for you.

    Older lenses would only focus down to a few feet – you couldn’t get any closer to your subject than that. People who wanted to do close-up shots of very small things had to buy a close-up, or “macro” lens that would ONLY focus from zero to a few inches. Scientific photographers bought them to shoot small to microscopic items.

    Now that feature is incorporated into many zoom lenses. While this feature is pretty good, on most lenses, it is not the best way to shoot close-up, if you are specializing in that, and the “macro” feature does not make the lens any sharper when shooting normal work.

    It just makes your lens more useful for all kinds of shooting.

  • heather

    Fabulous tips! And your photos are beautiful! I can’t wait to try this out myself. :)

  • Mustafa Khayat

    am a biggener photographer, and I started to shoot 3 years ago. i didnt have dslr till last year. i used to shoot by my sony syber-shoot then i bought the power shot canon. the result always wasnt that good, in another word i wasnt satisfied by my photos. but the things were diffrent after i bought my EOS 50 D canon. Im interested in landscape and close-up photography. and just a month ago, a friend called me and invited me to shoot a model. i was so exited i red some articular from dps about portrait and candit photos. then i shot almost 700 shots in 2 h. i was so pleased with the result i came out with almost 20 good edetied photos. on of the points that i can share it is just like aron said the assistant part and the hand and hair stuff. i was using my 24mm canon lens and 18-200mm.

  • http://ahref=title= Manuel

    Macro lens are made very sharp as to be able to pick up details at very high magnification.If you make a search of all macro lens that exist on the web you will soon find out that if there is one thing that all macro lens have is extreme uniform sharpness from side to side .Nikon 85mm,Nikon 60mm and 105mm,sigma 50mm,70mm,90mm ,105mm and 150mm,tokina 100mm,tamron 90mm and tamron 60mm all apart from being macro lenses are extremely sharp from side to side.A macro lens that is not sharp at high magnification will not be able to pick up the fine details that makes macro photography so exciting.

  • http://flickr.com/people/csdewittphotography Chris Buck

    Great tips. These are many things I learned along the way in my early years of “people” photography.

  • http://www.rookiephoto.com Kyle Bailey

    Really appreciate the article as I’m getting ready to shoot some portraits for the first time. Still scared since they actually move and talk back and have opinions unlike my friends the flowers, old buildings and cars.

    You can view some of these on my site at http://www.rookiephoto.com or on my Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/photos/kylebailey

    I’ve got myself the 50mm 1.8 and am looking for lighting solutions for some basic head shots etc. If you have any good links to lighting resources and know how please post.

    :) Happy Shooting!

  • http://www.g1mp3r.com Mark

    great tips! This will help me a lot!

  • Anton

    very good lessons specially for beginners like me…..

  • Charo

    Thanks, Have learnt lots from article and the comments it genereated… and by sharing your expereinces.

  • http://www.aaronmphotography.com/Photography/Architecture/Belle-Island-2010-02-06/11216710_HH8u2#789654309_M2kuf-A-LB Aaron Meyers

    Thanks guys for all the great feedback! I guess one thing I’ll make sure to add to the post/think about in the future is my post-processing! Gotta watch those halo’s! I just finished reading “Scott Kelbys 7 Point System to CS3″ and I think I got a little carried away and a little careless with my editing.

    As to the Sigma macro lens: I didn’t mean to say that macro lenses are bad. In fact, I wanted the longer focal length which is why I chose the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 in the first place. I think, as many of you pointed out, there must be something wrong with the lens. It used to be sharper (at least when I used it to take flowers). A couple months ago I dropped the lens out of a backpack onto a concrete sidewalk. The pictures seemed to be OK but after this photo-shoot I’m not so sure anymore. I’ll take the lens in to get it checked out :)

    There’s some great comments/feedback in here. Thanks to everyone who shared!

  • david bridge

    Nice article. I agree with the first comment about the halo too. That was my first rough on that photo.

    As for the hair though I think a good photo is the one that you intended to take. If the shot comes out the way you want it then its a good photo. Some people are going for the messy hair look and achieve it and others want a clean look.

    I agree that practice will prefect the chances is sites and not to worry about the diets shoots

  • http://hmooney.webs.com halmooney

    I must yield to Manuel’s much greater knowledge on the subject of macro lenses.
    He is speaking, though, of fixed focal length macro lenses – which are much sharper across the glass.
    I was thinking of the zoom lenses most people have, which have “macro” as part of their focus range. These will go from infinity, down to a few inches from the front of the lens.
    My Canon 28-135 IS zoom will do this. While it is a very nice lens, and very sharp, I don’t know that it’s “macro” ability improves it’s normal use. I’ve never thought of it that way.
    Maybe it does, and I’ve enjoyed that benefit without knowing it!
    That lens IS a workhorse, and stays on the camera most of the time.

  • http://www.shutteria.com Joel

    Very valuable tips and lovely photos. I notice some sort of a glow around the models that really makes them stand out. I presume you achieved this effect using reflectors. I would love to try that out soon.

  • http://howardpa.zenfolio.com Paul Howard

    Terrific article! I found that taking a course on this from a local pro photographer really helped. I’m strictly amateur, and still need lots of practice, but I was pretty happy with the results from our class.
    Some samples at http://howardpa.zenfolio.com/p1029675597 (the ones labelled “portrait shoot”). Please feel free to leave me comments there, I’ll take any help I can get!! :-)

  • http://www.flickr.com/singhangad angad

    This is brilliant for beginners doing outdoor portraits!

  • AlwinLagniton

    It’s much better if you use a longer focal length, say 70-200, it gives a much detailed shot of your model and controlled DOF. Keep in mind it’s your model’s face and mood that your after not the background. Macro lens is the best choice if you want a more sharp and detailed feature of your subject. Take pictures in RAW format it’s more flexible. Use tripod. I like the third picture it’s more relaxed.

  • A.H.Samiee

    hello Dear. Thank you for the best information about taking portrate. Good luck

  • http://Na Mark

    Could you give me tips on how to set up and take boudior photos?

  • http://runawaywolf.deviantart.com/ Emma

    I really liked this article! I’m a newbie to the portrait photog as well :)

  • Subash

    This is a honest and bold attempt to express one’s experience. Thank you for sharing.

  • http://www.bobbymayberry.com Bobby Mayberry

    I tried to get a recent subject to change into a pretty summer dress and he absolutely refused…

  • Meri

    I am wanting to photograph something I truly believe in, in which I need someone to pose. I want them to feel comfortable in the situation, but am unsure if I should go for someone with experience with being a model or look for someone new to modeling. With being brand new to the world of expression photography, where i want a real human subject, what would you suggest? I know I’ll be nervous directing someone…

  • Ed

    Great post, and I really apprecieat the other comments as well. (I was wondering about that Sigma f2.8 lens)

    I’m started gettting into portraits (hopefully professionally) and I appreciate the novices’ perspective as well.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/emeraldwilliams/ Emerald

    Good advice in regards to the backgrounds. I love portrait photography because it is so challenging for me to instruct people how to move, look, etc. I even find this difficult with people I know quite well or perhaps it is just my lack of confidence in telling people what to do.

    I like the first photograph best. I too, wondered if the second one had been photoshopped due to the glow around the model. I really like the background in the second but I think it is too busy for a portrait shot.

    Overall, very nice for a first attempt.

  • http://www.cfleesphotography.com Chris Flees

    A very well written beginners article. As with any “art” photography skills: change, evolve, and become perfected with time. A style or focus that is used today may be modified tomorrow to create the individuals next masterpiece. Always be open to change and trying new things.

Some older comments

  • Chris Flees

    July 13, 2013 03:23 pm

    A very well written beginners article. As with any "art" photography skills: change, evolve, and become perfected with time. A style or focus that is used today may be modified tomorrow to create the individuals next masterpiece. Always be open to change and trying new things.

  • Emerald

    April 16, 2013 01:49 pm

    Good advice in regards to the backgrounds. I love portrait photography because it is so challenging for me to instruct people how to move, look, etc. I even find this difficult with people I know quite well or perhaps it is just my lack of confidence in telling people what to do.

    I like the first photograph best. I too, wondered if the second one had been photoshopped due to the glow around the model. I really like the background in the second but I think it is too busy for a portrait shot.

    Overall, very nice for a first attempt.

  • Ed

    February 10, 2013 12:36 pm

    Great post, and I really apprecieat the other comments as well. (I was wondering about that Sigma f2.8 lens)

    I'm started gettting into portraits (hopefully professionally) and I appreciate the novices' perspective as well.

  • Meri

    November 3, 2012 01:53 am

    I am wanting to photograph something I truly believe in, in which I need someone to pose. I want them to feel comfortable in the situation, but am unsure if I should go for someone with experience with being a model or look for someone new to modeling. With being brand new to the world of expression photography, where i want a real human subject, what would you suggest? I know I'll be nervous directing someone...

  • Bobby Mayberry

    June 18, 2010 05:16 am

    I tried to get a recent subject to change into a pretty summer dress and he absolutely refused...

  • Subash

    June 16, 2010 10:19 pm

    This is a honest and bold attempt to express one's experience. Thank you for sharing.

  • Emma

    May 26, 2010 12:26 pm

    I really liked this article! I'm a newbie to the portrait photog as well :)

  • Mark

    May 26, 2010 03:10 am

    Could you give me tips on how to set up and take boudior photos?

  • A.H.Samiee

    May 19, 2010 11:55 pm

    hello Dear. Thank you for the best information about taking portrate. Good luck

  • AlwinLagniton

    May 19, 2010 01:35 am

    It's much better if you use a longer focal length, say 70-200, it gives a much detailed shot of your model and controlled DOF. Keep in mind it's your model's face and mood that your after not the background. Macro lens is the best choice if you want a more sharp and detailed feature of your subject. Take pictures in RAW format it's more flexible. Use tripod. I like the third picture it's more relaxed.

  • angad

    May 17, 2010 09:46 am

    This is brilliant for beginners doing outdoor portraits!

  • Paul Howard

    May 16, 2010 08:41 am

    Terrific article! I found that taking a course on this from a local pro photographer really helped. I'm strictly amateur, and still need lots of practice, but I was pretty happy with the results from our class.
    Some samples at http://howardpa.zenfolio.com/p1029675597 (the ones labelled "portrait shoot"). Please feel free to leave me comments there, I'll take any help I can get!! :-)

  • Joel

    May 16, 2010 12:22 am

    Very valuable tips and lovely photos. I notice some sort of a glow around the models that really makes them stand out. I presume you achieved this effect using reflectors. I would love to try that out soon.

  • halmooney

    May 15, 2010 11:09 pm

    I must yield to Manuel's much greater knowledge on the subject of macro lenses.
    He is speaking, though, of fixed focal length macro lenses - which are much sharper across the glass.
    I was thinking of the zoom lenses most people have, which have "macro" as part of their focus range. These will go from infinity, down to a few inches from the front of the lens.
    My Canon 28-135 IS zoom will do this. While it is a very nice lens, and very sharp, I don't know that it's "macro" ability improves it's normal use. I've never thought of it that way.
    Maybe it does, and I've enjoyed that benefit without knowing it!
    That lens IS a workhorse, and stays on the camera most of the time.

  • david bridge

    May 15, 2010 09:23 pm

    Nice article. I agree with the first comment about the halo too. That was my first rough on that photo.

    As for the hair though I think a good photo is the one that you intended to take. If the shot comes out the way you want it then its a good photo. Some people are going for the messy hair look and achieve it and others want a clean look.

    I agree that practice will prefect the chances is sites and not to worry about the diets shoots

  • Aaron Meyers

    May 15, 2010 07:16 pm

    Thanks guys for all the great feedback! I guess one thing I'll make sure to add to the post/think about in the future is my post-processing! Gotta watch those halo's! I just finished reading "Scott Kelbys 7 Point System to CS3" and I think I got a little carried away and a little careless with my editing.

    As to the Sigma macro lens: I didn't mean to say that macro lenses are bad. In fact, I wanted the longer focal length which is why I chose the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 in the first place. I think, as many of you pointed out, there must be something wrong with the lens. It used to be sharper (at least when I used it to take flowers). A couple months ago I dropped the lens out of a backpack onto a concrete sidewalk. The pictures seemed to be OK but after this photo-shoot I'm not so sure anymore. I'll take the lens in to get it checked out :)

    There's some great comments/feedback in here. Thanks to everyone who shared!

  • Charo

    May 15, 2010 05:47 pm

    Thanks, Have learnt lots from article and the comments it genereated... and by sharing your expereinces.

  • Anton

    May 15, 2010 01:38 pm

    very good lessons specially for beginners like me.....

  • Mark

    May 15, 2010 10:49 am

    great tips! This will help me a lot!

  • Kyle Bailey

    May 15, 2010 07:47 am

    Really appreciate the article as I'm getting ready to shoot some portraits for the first time. Still scared since they actually move and talk back and have opinions unlike my friends the flowers, old buildings and cars.

    You can view some of these on my site at www.rookiephoto.com or on my Flickr at www.flickr.com/photos/kylebailey

    I've got myself the 50mm 1.8 and am looking for lighting solutions for some basic head shots etc. If you have any good links to lighting resources and know how please post.

    :) Happy Shooting!

  • Chris Buck

    May 15, 2010 01:11 am

    Great tips. These are many things I learned along the way in my early years of "people" photography.

  • Manuel

    May 14, 2010 11:56 pm

    Macro lens are made very sharp as to be able to pick up details at very high magnification.If you make a search of all macro lens that exist on the web you will soon find out that if there is one thing that all macro lens have is extreme uniform sharpness from side to side .Nikon 85mm,Nikon 60mm and 105mm,sigma 50mm,70mm,90mm ,105mm and 150mm,tokina 100mm,tamron 90mm and tamron 60mm all apart from being macro lenses are extremely sharp from side to side.A macro lens that is not sharp at high magnification will not be able to pick up the fine details that makes macro photography so exciting.

  • Mustafa Khayat

    May 14, 2010 10:26 pm

    am a biggener photographer, and I started to shoot 3 years ago. i didnt have dslr till last year. i used to shoot by my sony syber-shoot then i bought the power shot canon. the result always wasnt that good, in another word i wasnt satisfied by my photos. but the things were diffrent after i bought my EOS 50 D canon. Im interested in landscape and close-up photography. and just a month ago, a friend called me and invited me to shoot a model. i was so exited i red some articular from dps about portrait and candit photos. then i shot almost 700 shots in 2 h. i was so pleased with the result i came out with almost 20 good edetied photos. on of the points that i can share it is just like aron said the assistant part and the hand and hair stuff. i was using my 24mm canon lens and 18-200mm.

  • heather

    May 14, 2010 09:59 pm

    Fabulous tips! And your photos are beautiful! I can't wait to try this out myself. :)

  • halmooney

    May 14, 2010 09:33 pm

    Just to clarify terms, a "Macro" lens is one designed to allow it to focus extremely close - within inches, or centimeters, if that works better for you.

    Older lenses would only focus down to a few feet - you couldn't get any closer to your subject than that. People who wanted to do close-up shots of very small things had to buy a close-up, or "macro" lens that would ONLY focus from zero to a few inches. Scientific photographers bought them to shoot small to microscopic items.

    Now that feature is incorporated into many zoom lenses. While this feature is pretty good, on most lenses, it is not the best way to shoot close-up, if you are specializing in that, and the "macro" feature does not make the lens any sharper when shooting normal work.

    It just makes your lens more useful for all kinds of shooting.

  • julie moon

    May 14, 2010 06:10 pm

    goodevening!
    i shoot with a 70mm-200 2.8 ,on a d300s nikon for my portraits.When i first started i would edit everything.Then i just started bouncing light for that bokeh and experimenting with exposures.Placing the sun behind the subject and using reflectors.Ido not edit anymore unless they want b&w photosalot less work.
    Very good article!Gets people excited to share thier ideas and expertise!

  • Daryl

    May 14, 2010 02:56 pm

    Great article! I recognized my alma mater even before I read your preface.

  • Caroline Marie

    May 14, 2010 12:59 pm

    Great shots for first shoot!
    I am fifteen and have been in love with photography since I can remember. Any comments on my flickr would be greatly appreciated to help me grow in the thing that I am passionate about.
    www.flickr.com/photos/carolinemarie_photography

  • Manuel

    May 14, 2010 12:36 pm

    I've got the Sigma 105mm F2.8 macro lens and the only lens I have that competes in the sharpness department is the Nikon 50mm F1.8.Not even the 18-105 or the Sigma 10-20 is as sharp.Saying that a Macro lens is soft would only confirm that something is wrong with his Sigma lens.
    On another note, I read an article in the internet about Portrait photography that explain all the things that he explained in his article.
    These are some of the things explained in the article.
    1)The face is of the most important aspect in portrait photography,anything in the photo that distracts form the face is a no no.
    2)Keep the clothing simple so as not to distract,no sleeveless blouses or dresses.It distracts.
    3)Eyes should be looking slightly of camera not straigth towards the camera.
    4)Positioning of the model should be with as much different anlges as posible for different body parts.
    5)Never cut the arms or legs at midpoint.Makes them seem as if they were amputaded.
    6)Positioning of the hands should be in such a way as to only be able to see their sides,never their upper or lower parts.
    7)Body position of females should be always to enhance femenidity and masculinity in men (example is head position in females can be a little tilted to one of her shoulders and mens positioning should be straight.
    There are more but these are only some that I remember.Sorry about my spelling.My main language is spanish and I haven't practiced my english consistently for a long time.God bless you guys.

  • Shelley-Ann

    May 14, 2010 12:13 pm

    This was a great article. It reminded me of when I'd just started out, particularly the bit with the eyes. I'm still struggling with that, but it's much better than it was a year ago. Practicing like this gives so much confidence when it really counts.

  • Lorbie

    May 14, 2010 11:12 am

    Hi..

    great share.. I am sometimes guilty of #1

    one request please..

    could you give some example for #6 Position of eyes..

    TYVM

  • Michelle Armour

    May 14, 2010 08:24 am

    Agree with above re lens you are doing something seriously wrong if you think that Sigma lens you mention in point 5 isn't sharp. Maybe yours is broken. Don't use it with older women they will hate the pics as it will show every fine line.

  • Bouke Peterson

    May 14, 2010 07:31 am

    Nice article! I agree with Mathew concerning his remarks about the masking.
    I would like to share some of my thoughts about portraitphotography with you.
    The art of portraitphotography: in my opinion the results are all about the interaction between the photographer and the model at a certain moment. The photographer should know how to light his model the best possible way (depending on the image he wants to get), but if his model isn't on the same level the result won't pass the test.......................
    It's challenging to go for the best, look at the differences after changing clothes, positions, lighting. A whole lot of factors are involved in this process. High key, low key, butterfly lighting, Rembrandt lighting etc. etc. Try them and find out which one works best for you in any particular situation.
    For instance: try a session that lasts approximately an hour: in most cases you can see in the whole sequence of pics the model feels more at ease after a while. Talk to your model, discuss your plans, make him/her feel comfortable, show him/her the shots you've made.try different backgrounds, different lightings, don't stick to routine. As long as the photographer is interested in discovering new ways, the results can still surprise him/her. That's the ultimate reward, in my opinion.

  • Jeroen-Ingmar

    May 14, 2010 06:22 am

    I actually kind of like the trash bin in the background of the first photo. But I think you might as well get used to it. If it were my photo, that would probably take me some time. But hey, does perfection necessarily make the picture better? It's the girl that makes the difference. In a real world.

  • Kadi

    May 14, 2010 06:20 am

    Great article, Aaron!

    A couple of things that I've found helpful when shooting with models:
    - spend time with your female models finding out what colour looks best on them... ask them to bring along a couple of simple tops in that fav colour, a couple of neutral tops (black, grey, etc) and if possible, an accessory or 2 (like a scarf/shawl/jewellry ) in the fav coulour. If the fav colour top doesn't work (too bright or distracting), then use the accessory with a neutral top.
    - and talk to your model the whole time... tell them how wonderful they look ("Your eyes from this angle are amazing!") and encourage them to think of moments (warm, fuzzy, exciting, scary... whatever's appropriate) to bring out more facial character .

  • Danferno

    May 14, 2010 06:18 am

    Those halo's are really distracting. Like the last one though (maybe a little less vignette...)

  • Darren

    May 14, 2010 05:54 am

    Crop, i say Crop. Shoot the subject not the background. I do like portrait photography but as you mentioned, things in the background get distracting. Some times this cant be helped. This is where a good crop comes in handy. Focus on the subject at hand and eliminate as much as possible. Another handy tip is to shoot with wide open apature to blur out the background giving a great soft feel to the picture.

  • Brittani

    May 14, 2010 05:05 am

    These are actually great tips, especially (being a beginner myself) knowing that I mess up these things myself alot! I am horrible when it comes to remembering the hand positioning.

    I myself am working with a kit lens for Canon Rebel XS, adn a 75-300mm lens. I am saving for my first 50mm 1.4 for now.

    Thanks for sharing, by the way. =)

  • William

    May 14, 2010 05:03 am

    Wait, you've been shooting for 3 years with (I'm guessing) over 2 grand in equipment and are just now deciding to try out some portraits? Wow..

  • Dennia

    May 14, 2010 04:48 am

    I have to agree with Chang Yang about the second photo. I found that when making adjustments in shadows and highlights in Photoshop the halos would appear. Also when using the vignetting effect, be careful to keep it light or it too will be noticable and stick out.

  • Michael

    May 14, 2010 04:30 am

    Nice list, I learnt a bit from this. I would love to get into Portrait photography but I don't know many people.

  • dblayn

    May 14, 2010 03:10 am

    Thanks for the article -- great ideas and reminders. I constantly work on all of these, but for me, if I do not remind myself to not rush rush rush, that is a really big help. That allows me to explore things like camera setting, angle, framing tweaks to get the best shots straight out of the camera (within reason of course. I take an extra 30 senonds to 3 mintues, not 10 minutes to half an hour.) Thanks again -- great article. ( 8 ,D}

  • Jason Collin Photography

    May 14, 2010 03:08 am

    Sorry, forgot to say very good results though for a first attempt!

  • Jason Collin Photography

    May 14, 2010 03:08 am

    I use the Nikkor AF-S 105mm VR micro f/2.8G lens for portraits and love its sharpness and focal length. It is an extremely useful lens for portraits and of course macro work.

    It seems Aaron learned a lot from just one portrait session! It took me more than just one to learn all that stuff.

    What I agree with most is background, as with most photography, is key. That's why I often like to make portraits with lots of bokeh, just reduce the background even more. As mentioned, trash cans are everywhere, and even though Photoshop CS5 makes it pretty easy to make those disappear now with content aware brushes, it is still better to try and notice them before pushing the shutter.

    No mention of off camera flash at all? 90% of the portraits I make use off camera flash.

    Also, I like to focus on someone unique when photographing a wedding or event, for example:

    http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/2010/5/9/focus-on-someone-unique.html

    I too noticed the not too careful dodging job on the second photo (see the halo-ing around the jeans).

  • Md. Shahriar Hossain

    May 14, 2010 03:05 am

    Photography is an art and doing portrait is the best part of this art!!

  • tyra

    May 14, 2010 02:59 am

    Really good tips. How does one focus on the eyes when trying shoot indoor with studio flashes?

  • Caroline Castillo

    May 14, 2010 02:59 am

    Nice article, and the samples provided are nice.

    LENSES: I shoot with a Canon, and agree that the 50mm 1.8 is an awesome lens for portraiture. It's cheap and versatile, and frankly, can be more useful in some circumstances for beginners. I also use the 50mm 1.4, 50mm 1.2L, and the 85mm 1.2L, which are definately upgrades, but can cause problems with depth of field when shooting couples portraits, etc. The upgraded lenses take some practice, but are well worth it once you have some experience.

    MODELS: I often find that models (which in my case are everyday regular folks) find their comfort zone in front of the camera within just a few minutes by using this method: While getting them prepared for their first pose/position, ask them about their work or hobby, and explain to them that you're adjusting the settings on your camera, and that there is no need for them to smile or "pose" just yet. Then start shooting away as they talk about their work or whatever. Often, you'll find several of these "test shots" usable, and the model has already dipped their toes into the water, so to speak. It works every time.
    Also, when you get a really good "money shot", go ahead and show the client the shot on your camera. Once they see they're doing a good job, the jitters melt away.

    Aaron, nice job first time out! Good luck!

  • Glenn

    May 14, 2010 02:43 am

    I'm certainly no expert, but with DOF, and hyperfocal distance, isn't 1.8 and 2.8 too wide an aperture? I know the goal is to blur the background, but with a 105mm or even the 50mm I'd think f4 is a better stop. It could be your blurring issues are a result of the nose being in focus but not the ear depending on how far away you were. Though I now use my Nikon 24-70mm for portraits, I've used my 85mm macro with good results, but at f4.

    Nice of all us to chime in after your nicely written and well-considered article isn't it. Easy to criticize, harder to put yourself out there.

  • Tony White

    May 14, 2010 02:22 am

    Most of the points above are true,good lens,low light and a patient model really helps.Bur to get portrait shots really looking well get the models to apply makeup when on an outdoor shoot In low light,this makes a huge difference to the overall image.

  • Jay McIntyre

    May 14, 2010 01:41 am

    Love the last shot!!!

  • Katherine

    May 14, 2010 01:33 am

    Thanks! THis is really encouraging!

  • Robb Mac

    May 13, 2010 11:43 pm

    First: Thank you Darren for letting rookies post. I think it's a great way to learn. Second: Very brave of you "Guest Contributor" for posting this. Fortunately, there are a ton of people that are extremely helpful here.

    Finally- I had the same sort of issues with A Tamron lens (though not a super piece of glass). I thought it was the lens, but as someone posted, lenses can have a "sweet spot" as to when they're super sharp. But don't give up on the lens. I also use the 50mm and love it, but you also may be subject (esp shooting headshots) to needing to crop. Keep practicing with the Macro. The more I shot with it, the better and more confident I felt. Rome wasn't built in a day!

    Good luck to you.

  • Matthew Dutile

    May 13, 2010 03:22 pm

    Good first attempts. Some advice. As mentioned before the masking is a bit heavy. Don't use Photoshop to compensate for the wrong exposure or directional on your light to obtain a lighter subject and darker background. It'll take some learning, but force yourself not to use Photoshop to correct things like this. Go for right in the camera. You'll benefit far more in the long haul. Also, the vignettes are a bit heavy. Just keep forcing yourself not to use Photoshop to achieve the effects or correct problems, but sit down and think how to solve them in camera instead. :)

  • Mei Teng

    May 13, 2010 02:00 pm

    I am currently exploring self portraiture and I hope to be able to rope in some friends who will be willing models for me. Thank you for your great tips! I like shooting portraits with the 50mm f/1.8 lens too.

  • Stacy

    May 13, 2010 11:24 am

    I find it incredibly useful to just hold up a hand and tell the model to look at it in terms of getting the eyes where I want them. The range you want is subtle anyway and the distance of your arm should be plenty to guide the movement (or you will be back to the whole looking too far one way or the other thing).

    At the very least, give them something to look at...the whole "a little more..a little more" proposition is a losing and time consuming one.

  • Pawel

    May 13, 2010 10:55 am

    check you 105mm lens (send to calibration maybe). mine is super sharp wide open. I think it is the sharpest lens I own at the moment (and I have a stack of them).

    btw: I don't agree with the hair tip. wind quite often adds a lot life to a portrait. the same with bright spots in BG that can be converted to boceh

  • Robin

    May 13, 2010 10:07 am

    These are great, thank you. I'm shooting my first engagement session in Boston on Saturday, tips are always welcome (you know what I mean).

  • Guillermo

    May 13, 2010 09:09 am

    Thank you Darren!

  • Darren Rowse

    May 13, 2010 08:59 am

    Guillermo - some comments get moderated for approval while others don't. We use a filter system that flags some comments for moderation based upon numerous factors including whether you've left comments before, if you include links in your comments (we don't mind them but spammers use them too), the words you use in your comment and other factors. As I'm in Australia it can take a little while for me to get to comment approval if you comment while I'm asleep :-)

  • johnp

    May 13, 2010 08:43 am

    Good practical and useful tips! Another is to keep horizons (walls, ceilings, etc) straight even in portraits unless you intentionally are going for an obvious angled shot as otherwise they can be distracting. Most programs have a straighten tool if you don't get it right in camera.

  • Rob

    May 13, 2010 08:19 am

    any samples online bonnie?

  • Dan Ketcham

    May 13, 2010 05:32 am

    Thank you so much for writing this...
    I am trying to take that first step into portrait photography, (other than my wife & kids) and got alot out of this article!

    I really enjoyed heading to your website and looking at the other photos... I think that they are fantastic and I hope to achieve the same results soon!

    THANKS!

  • Bonnie

    May 13, 2010 05:10 am

    Thanks for some great tips! I'm currently taking a photography class and our first assignments have been portraits. Something that I tried with my models is telling them to look away / down while I'm getting all the settings / focusing ready between shots (I'm a newbie and this takes a minute or two) then I asked them to look up at me and smile into the camera on the count of three. All the shots that I captured that way were great - - no 'forced / frozen' smiles - - they created a genuine connection with the lens and you got a glimpse of their personalities.

  • Rick

    May 13, 2010 05:07 am

    I don't know man, the black sweater and jeans work well in the school environment IMO. The summer dress is nice but in context, the jeans look great IMO.

    Thanks for the tips.

  • Tyler Wainright

    May 13, 2010 04:46 am

    I want to do more portrait work so I appreciate these tips. Thank you

  • Greg Taylor

    May 13, 2010 03:12 am

    I have a love hate relationships with portraits, that's just me. When I am shooting portraits with a "busy" background I typically use my 50mm 1.8. The depth of field allows me to keep the model as the center of attention. In the studio with a backdrop I like to use a 24-70 2.8 which gives me some more flexibility.

    One tip with portraits that after you build a rapport with your model don't be afraid to get in close and make something great happen.

    www.grtaylor2.com

  • Kimberly

    May 13, 2010 03:04 am

    Fantastic tips. Thanks!!!

  • Guillermo

    May 13, 2010 02:51 am

    Sorry, missing the link!

    http://www.flickr.com/search/groups/?q=portrait&m=pool&w=14333189%40N00&z=t

  • Guillermo

    May 13, 2010 02:50 am

    Portraiture done with Sigma 105mm EX DG f/2.8 Macro Lens

    Seriously, how can anyone say that a macro lens is soft?

  • Guillermo

    May 13, 2010 02:49 am

    Hey, why my comment isnt approved yet? You have another comment done later than me already published!
    whats up?
    you can delete this comment if you want but come on, whats the deal with my previous comment?!

    i'm going to submit another comment because i came back to this article to submit a useful link.
    really, you can delete THIS post

  • Donny Lightspeed

    May 13, 2010 02:37 am

    Excellent post! Even though i shoot mostly portraits, i still learned some good things in this article!

    I shoot with a 24-70L but just recently got the new Canon 70-200 II L but will definitely try out the longer focal length.

    As for your 105, you might want to get it checked out. I don't know much about the one your using but it may be out of alignment. My 24-70 was soft until i took it in and found out that 2 seals were bad and there was something wrong with the focusing motor that had to be replaced. Go figure for a $1200 lens that was only 6 months old, lol.

    And as for post work, i can't live without my little wacom tablet!

  • Guillermo

    May 13, 2010 02:08 am

    Some things to say about this article

    1. 2nd photo, the noticeable bad exposure retouch on the model is on purpose?

    2. good point about the hands. regarding the face, its good to check it as much as you can, get closer zooming on your lcd

    3. that sigma lens its not a soft lens. maybe you are using it right. its best f-stop is f8, but you can get away just as good with 5.6, using the fastest fstop should be only when it is necessary

    4. assistant, definitely yes!

    5. "interesting clothing"... well that is definitely a yes, but not by your explanation. very simple clothes that suits here and lets you focus on her face or eyes its very good too (and a personal preference btw)

    With "interesting clothing" meaning colorful o patterned clothing you'll have to be twice as careful regarding the posing because the lines can exagerate the model features

  • Tyler

    May 13, 2010 02:00 am

    you need to learn to mask your corrections accurately the glowing edges really stand out - a wacom tablet works wonders.

  • Todd Eddy

    May 13, 2010 01:46 am

    Forgot to say that the biggest tip is to just go out and try it with some friends. You'll be able to pickup what needs work and what doesn't and if you even like it.

    And in regards to the article about having them look away from the camera. Turn around and find some landmark for them to look at. This worked really well when doing a group shot but can also be expanded to just a single person. haven't experimented but possibly just looking at your shoulder could be far enough away to get the effect you want.

  • rmrf

    May 13, 2010 01:44 am

    +1 for "Chang Yang". You should be more accurate with masking.

  • Todd Eddy

    May 13, 2010 01:42 am

    I've posted a couple blog entries from my first attempts at portraits. I've actually considered doing a guest post here once I condense some things down since I tend to get a little wordy.

    First one I learned a whole lot. Only came back with a couple good shots but learned a bunch of things that I really should have known but didn't think about at the time.

    Second one I did a couple photo shoots and did immensely better. No bullet points on this one but my summary is the last big paragraph.

    I'm working on doing more. Another anime convention coming up in a few weeks plus I'm on modelmayhem as well now.

  • Timo

    May 13, 2010 12:42 am

    Sorry, I forgot to add some examples:
    http://fotografzahl.wordpress.com/2010/05/08/day-252-sixteen/
    or
    http://fotografzahl.wordpress.com/2010/05/02/day-246-chris/

    Both photos were made with said Sigma lens, a little bit softening applied at post-processing.
    Focus was on the eyes - the rest is supposed to be softer to make the subject look better.

    If the lens has a front or back focus problem though, the pictures would not be usable, so I really suppose your lens might have such a defect (no, I don't work for Sigma).

  • Pritam

    May 13, 2010 12:39 am

    Nice article. But somehow, I like the photo with the "hand and hair" much more than the others! It's more lively, and it's easier to see the person rather than the photo!

  • Mike B

    May 13, 2010 12:35 am

    Very good tips. I avoid taking portraits because they never come out as well as they should.

  • Timo

    May 13, 2010 12:32 am

    Interesting tips, but with one point I cannot agree:

    A Sigma 105mm f/2.8 macro lens is one of my favourite head portrait lenses on my Nikon - with excellent results, even wide open.
    Macro lenses are designed to produce pinpoint sharp pictures. In fact, stopped down a bit this lens would be brutally sharp - too sharp for portraits!
    So I mostly shoot portraits at f2.8 (for the small depth of field) - but the pictures are still that sharp , that I have to soften them a little bit at post-processing stage in some cases. Perhaps your lens has a focusing problem when you try to set the focus on the eyes (which you have to do at such a small DOF).

    I sometimes use a manual Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 and a Sigma 50mm f/2.8 as well.
    Both highly recommended for portraits on a Nikon.

    The classic would be the Nikkor 85mm f1.8 though, I guess.

    The closer you have to get to the subject, the less comfortable they'll feel...

  • Jan

    May 13, 2010 12:31 am

    Very helpful tips Aaron, I appreciate that you used some of the 'not so good' shots to illustrate your points. Thanks

  • Chang Yang

    May 13, 2010 12:26 am

    Good advice for beginners.

    I am far from being experienced or good in portrait photography (or any other types of photography for that matter), but just a little advice about your second picture there, it seems that you have selectively brightened your model, and it wasn't done very well because there are halos all around her figure which I think comes from the brightening process. It makes her look rather stuck-on.

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