How to take photo of portraits?

  • Portraits fall into two basic categories, the so-called candid or in- formal shot and the posed formal portrait. There are commercial studios that specialize in the latter and often use view cameras and special lighting equipment. But the informal approach is the more popular.

  • I have always enjoyed photographing people. If a formal portrait is to be made, I try to meet the person before the actual picture-taking session so that I can get acquainted with the subject and establish some rapport with him or her. I also like to allow plenty of time to analyze the available light conditions, backgrounds, and the position of furniture and windows. If the arrangement can be improved by moving things around, I make it a point to ask permission to do so first, even though I know the answer is bound to be "Of course." Courtesy pays off in more ways than one. In a friendly and relaxed atmosphere everything always moves along more smoothly from beginning to end.

  • For portrait work I bring with me two cameras (one as a backup), four lenses-50, 90, 105, and 180 mm—a steady tripod, and electronic flashes. I try to use whatever available light there is, and position the subject accordingly. Available light gives the most natural-looking results, but flash can be useful, sometimes essential, for filling in or lightening shadow areas.

  • The background is extremely important in portrait photography. Any distracting elements, such as an awkward chair or a tall lamp situated directly behind the subject, must be removed.

  • For formal portraits I usually mount the camera on a tripod so that I can talk to the person I'm photographing without continually raising the camera to my eye, a practice that often makes a sitter nervous. I also find it much easier to work when I am alone with a subject. Bystanders at these sessions have a way of distracting the sitter, making the whole operation much more difficult.

  • Informal portraits are usually easier to take, especially under conditions where additional lighting is unnecessary. On these occasions—on assignment, for instance—one usually doesn't have the chance to meet the subject beforehand. I take with me 35-, 50-, and 90-mm lenses, and often don't bother with a tripod. I try at once to establish the right atmosphere and do everything to make the subject feel at ease in front of the camera.

  • When being photographed, people are apt to seem a little tense or self-conscious at first. Consequently, one should be prepared to waste a few frames at the beginning of the session and keep photographing until the initial inhibition breaks down and the subject becomes at ease.

  • If it is you who feels shy about photographing someone, instead of the other way around, my advice is just to be bold and do it. It's not so difficult, and increasing self-confidence comes through experience.

More information about portrait photography

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