The Pleasure in Portraits
Talking with friends some years ago it was brought to my attention that (at the time) I was known as being very good at shooting the "action" of action sports, but I was not so skilled at photographing portraits of said action sports athletes. This was news to me, and quite frankly a bit of a shock to hear from my friends/fellow photographers. However, instead of arguing with them about the various aspects of my portraits I thought were actually quite good, I took what they had to say to heart and decided to slowly but surely try to improve my portrait photography over the next few years.
These days portrait photography has become one of my favorite things to shoot and I think I have come a few steps on my journey as a portrait photographer so I thought I would share some of my thoughts on shooting portraits, and show you a few of the nicer ones I have shot in the last few months or so.
No matter what I'm shooting for the day I always like to take a few mins to get a portrait or two in each of the shooting locations. A lot of the time I will use this to warm myself up for the day's shooting, and to allow myself some time to get in close and chat with the person I am shooting. Many people say its important to create a good vide with you and your subject early on in a shoot, and I tend to agree and strive for this when shooting. This is doubly important when shooting someone for the first time, especially if they are not used to being photographed. There are no really set questions I will ask, but just try to chat and make them (and myself) nice and chill and comfortable. I will start this as soon as I start getting my gear together and try to naturally travers that into the portrait session as well.
From there I personally don't give all that much direction to my subjects. I like to see what they do, what movements they make, where they look, and then if they do something I think looks good I will ask them to keep that pose or look, etc. Of course there are some people who have no idea what to do when being photographed so I have to say "look there" "sit like this" and things like that, but I find even in these situations if I can give a more vague suggestion to the subject they are able to move/sit/look in a way that is most natural and comfortable for them, as it is their natural expression and look that I really want to capture in the end.
On the more "technical" side of my portraits, one thing I really notice and look for these days is the light. If I can find cool looking natural light, like a nice backlight from the sun or a sliver of light coming from above for example, then I will almost always go with it and leave my flashes in my bag. Saying that, now that I have two Broncolor Siros L 800s to play with I have been getting more and more creative with my use of flash in both the day and night, and am really enjoying the results. Having the best equipment possible is not 100% necessity of getting cool pictures, but with things like flashes that fire off of radio slaves, I really suggest you get the best ones you possibly can. I have seen many people get the cheaper (usually Chinese copy) version just to have it not flash when they need it and not get the shot they wanted. I am not saying my Broncolors are PERFECT but they pretty darn close to it.
For lenses I tend to use two lenses for almost all my portraits, the Nikon 70-200/2.8 and my Nikon 50mm/1.4. I find these two lenses really do everything I want when shooting portraits. When I want something super crisp and a little tighter I will go with the 70-200. I like the compression it creates in the subject as well as how much freedom you have controlling the background. By this I mean, if you want to keep aspects of the background in the image you can by shooting a little wider, but if you have a distracting background you can easily zoom in and by shooting at 2.8 the bokeh will destroy almost anything annoying in the background. And when I really want a LOT of bokeh, I grab my 50mm/1.4. I don't know why but I just LOVE the look of this lens shot wide open at 1.4 and find I never shoot it at any other aperture, haha.
So I would have to say that my 50mm/1.4 is my go to lens for portrait photography. With the amazing bokeh it gives and the fact that you get quite close and personal with your subject if you want to shoot anything as close as a bust up I just really enjoy using it. It can be "soft" when it comes to sharpness and chromatic aberration can be an issue, but with photoshop the CB is easily fixed, and I am not someone who really worries about sharpness and other technical aspects to my portraits. Usually I am more looking for a feel to the image and if that comes across as I like I could care less about many of the "technical" aspects you see lots of people chirping about online here.
So ya, that is just a bit of what I do when shooting portraits. If you have any questions please feel free to ask in the comments!