What's portrait photograpy? No, we’re not referring to image orientation here – we’re talking about photos taken of other people. Local photographer Mark Teo lays it all out in the first of our Photography Projects series in conjunction with Canon Singapore.
Photos by Mark Teo
In or outChoose the right setting for your shot, because it will set the mood for all your pictures. For example, shooting in a studio offers more control, but could feel a bit clinical, while outdoors will give the subject more freedom.
You’ve been framedWhat goes on in the background is also important to the composition. If you’re after a more solemn portrait, you should concentrate on the subject’s expression, so a clearer background will help to keep the attention focused. If it’s a lively shot you’re after, then try to fill the frame with as much action as possible, leaving no empty space to create the right atmosphere.
Know your subjectResearch who you’re shooting so that you’ll have something to talk about. Making conversation will help them feel more comfortable with you, and they’re bound to be stiff if you don’t introduce yourself and only talk about the job.
Eyes on targetRemember to focus on the eyes. If you focus on the ears or nose of the person you’re shooting, that’s what viewers will end up looking at in the image.
Plan aheadSometimes you may only get five minutes for your image, especially if it’s a celebrity and/or you’re at an event. Scoping the area and having a mental rundown of where, how, and what you’re shooting will help to keep things tight. Also, the situation or weather could change too, so it’s always good to have a backup plan ready.
Keep on shootingSometimes it can take over 40 tries to get one good image. It depends on how much the person warms up to you, as well as their personality. Focus on getting what you need, and try to have enough time to shoot other options. People are more relaxed when not pressured by deadlines, so you could end up getting a better option.
The Right Expression
Keep it naturalTalk to your talent as you shoot. As you’re talking, try to get them to imagine doing something that might get you the shot you want, rather than just asking them to pose and smile. For example, you could tell a joke, and even if it’s not that funny they might just laugh because they realise what you’re trying to do. It’s all about being alert enough to capture the right moments.
If all else failsGet the subject to ad lib it. Even if they don’t give you what you’re looking for, play along to increase their confidence and encourage more free play. Then if they happen to do something you like, you can ask them to try it again and coax them into giving what you want.
Know Your Equipment
Through the looking glassIf you know what you get from certain settings and effects, then you’ll know how framing and lens choice can affect how subjects will look. For example, wide-angle lenses can exaggerate the sense of space and show more action.
Blurred linesThe amount of bokeh can also be used to your advantage. If you need to isolate the subject without much time to select a good location, you can use bokeh to blur out the background, even if it’s very busy. That way the photo is literally focused entirely on who you’re shooting.
Get flashyA flash can really help to shape the picture, gives you more shooting options, and offers a better sense of dimension. Fill-flash techniques can also help you to shoot against backlit scenes, allowing you to get gorgeous images against a sunset or bright blue sky.
A matter of perspectiveDepending on the situation, avoid wide angle lenses, because the people at the back might end up looking very far away from those in front. A longer lens would be better to bring everyone closer together, and they won’t be distorted out of shape either.
Part of the collectiveMost of the time, people in a group portrait already know what look they’re going for, based on the group’s collective identity. A company knows how they want to be seen, as does a breakdancing group. So, you just need to talk to them and shoot as if you would a single subject.
What to avoid
Forcing the matterEven if you think it’ll make a great shot, don’t force your subjects into a pose or environment they’re uncomfortable with, because their displeasure will probably show in the image and it won’t work. If it’s crucial to the brief, ask nicely, and try to show some examples of how the shot would look first.
Being sloppySetting up for the shot only when the subject arrives will leave your talent sitting around with nothing to do, and they’re bound to become impatient waiting for you to test your angles and lighting setups. Always maximise your time so you have more opportunity to experiment with your shots.
Tunnel visionDon’t go into tunnel vision and spend the entire shoot on one particular idea. Mix it up, and you might get other options that work just as well, if not better, than what you imagined.
Foot in mouthThis comes back to research. Talking puts your talent at ease, but if you really don’t know much about them, keep the conversation general enough to avoid any sensitive subjects. Saying the wrong thing could spoil the mood and ruin the shoot.