When I first started in photography, I had no clue what I was doing. I was thrown to the wolves until some kind souls took me under their wings, if you'll allow me to mix metaphors. It took me a good year and a half before I felt completely comfortable with the camera. Once I was comfortable, I was ready to try new things to take my newfound skill to the next level. Here are 9 techniques that helped me:
1. Looking For a New Angle
In the beginning, I posed everyone straight towards the camera. It's a natural tendency; people want to face the camera. The problem with that is pictures look flat- two dimensional and your subjects appear wider. Placing your subject at a 45° angle adds shape and dimension and is flattering to your subject. When you are photographing multiple people, angling their bodies will allow you to get them closer together so framing them is much easier. There are some instances where posing straight towards the camera works, but I have found that angles take you from passport to a portrait.
2. Eye to Eye
This is a big one. After you pose your subject at a 45° angle, make sure their face is pointed at the camera. The camera lens will open on whatever is closest to it, so if something is facing it more dominantly, that object will be out of proportion. You don't want their cheek to look huge compared to the rest of their face. I always tell people to turn their nose towards where my finger is; otherwise they will jerk their head to the complete opposite direction.
The next step is to make sure that you are positioned at their eye level. That means move your body! To me, this step alone tells me if you are a photographer or just someone who just points and shoots. Getting at the correct eye level allows the camera to fully capture their face. If you are up too high, their forehead is the focal point. If you are down too low, it's their chin. You should be able to draw a(n imaginary) line from ear to ear through their eyes, like they are wearing glasses.
3. Find Your Center
Axis sounds like a scary word, but it just refers to where you are positioned when photographing. You want to be parallel to your subject, so you can see all of them in the camera. If you are having issues with getting your whole image in the frame, I can almost guarantee that you are off center to your subject. That or how you hold you camera (more on that later).
4. You Light Up My World Like Nobody Else
I talk about lighting a lot, but it's important. I'm still working to master it. Chris is amazing at it. I have a few tricks up my sleeve, some I've learned from him, that are different from regular lighting. This is something I like to call The Glow:
Best at sunset, pose your subject so their back is to the sun, slightly to the side of the sunset. You will be standing parallel to them, facing the sun. This is best with an interactive pose, so have them do their thing. This is an instance where you will have to adjust your camera settings, but the overall look is amazing.
Another tip for lighting is to use a reflector. Sometimes you will need just a little extra light on your subject's face. I've used a shiny silver cookie sheet or a piece of cardboard wrapped in aluminum foil. Have someone hold it (so you can't see it in the picture) or else position it so you can see light reflecting in their face. Having proper lighting helps enhance your subject, making a more flattering picture.
5. Freeze Frame
Every photographer has their own way they treat their camera and their own style of shooting; it's like a painter and their brush. You just have to practice until it feels comfortable in your hands. I could fill a blog with the horror stories that Chris and I have witnessed over the years of people trying to get their feel of the camera. You're going to be an awkward duckling until you grow into a skilled photographer.
There IS something that will help you with framing your picture and capturing perspective with your portraits: holding your camera so the lens is laying flat. It means that you will have to move your body to get the cropping that you want. You will have to consciously make sure it is flat, as your hand has a tendency to angle the lens after awhile because it gets heavy. Holding it flat will help you not (accidentally) cut something out of the image.
6. The Shape of You
This technique takes our first step and throws some spice on it. Our eyes are automatically drawn to things that have shape. Angles should make shapes. Shape adds dimension and makes things interesting to look at. There are three basic shape used in photography: the triangle, the diamond and the step-stairs. Look at pictures around your house- look for shapes. Start by positioning your subject's heads so your eyes can see a shape. If you have a single subject, pose their body to make a one.
7. Breathing Room
When I started photography, I was taught that everything needs to be perfectly centered. As I developed my skill, I found that my performed form of cropping is using the rule of thirds. I will center my portraits from pose to pose, or at least give the illusion that it's centered, but what I'm drawn to is rule of thirds.
The rule of thirds is posing your subject, and in your camera, split your viewfinder into thirds. Frame your subject so they are purposefully filling two-thirds of the frame, with the final third having negative space. The negative space gives your eyes breathing room, so they can naturally find the subject. A common occurrence is just to frame off center and say that it's rule of thirds, when really it's just badly cropped. The most common thing is to have the subject in one-third of the frame with two-thirds filled with negative space. This style is great for close ups or for event pictures, like graduation or maternity.
8. I'm ready for my close up, Mr. DeVille
This is another one of my favorites. The extreme close up picks one feature, usually the eyes and showcases that feature, causing the viewer's eyes to naturally go there first. Frame your subject, using the proper perspective, and make sure your desired focal point IS the focal point. That means you'll probably have to crop the top of their head out. Two things to watch out for: 1. Make sure you don't chop the chin off. And 2. Don't crop too much of the head- going too far into the forehead looks odd. I usually go slightly below their hairline, so it's not to distracting.
Extreme close-ups and rule of third's definitely need practice, but once you master it, your photography will start to look like it's from a magazine article.
8. Let's Get Candid
Candid is one of those double edged swords. It's often requested, but rarely enjoyed, because you can't force candid. I am not a great candid photographer, but I am great at looking for and capturing moments. There is a difference. The reason people don't like the candids that they requested is just that: you can't make someone be candid- it just looks fake. The pictures that they saw were from someone else's story and it didn't fit in with their own story. Every person and family has their own dynamic and as you build your skill, you will be able to use their dynamics to create their own moments.
I hope these will help you develop your skills. Some of them are more creative choices, so take them with a grain of salt. It's just how I do it, but try it out and try other techniques. Find your own style! -m