Portrait Photography: The Photographer's Guide to Capturing Mood + Emotion  | Ebuka Mordi | Skillshare

Photography became an integral aspect of my existence on a Sunday in June 2010. At the age of 13, my mother dispatched my father to purchase strawberries, yet he returned with a camera! Since then, I have been capturing moments wherever I go and immortalising all that I lay my eyes upon – from vibrant flowers and playful dogs to breathtaking landscapes. All of these photographs have been meticulously compiled into my cherished personal photo album.

I have a strong affinity for socialising and connecting with others. I thoroughly enjoy engaging in conversations and acquainting myself with new individuals. Consequently, once I became more self-assured in my photography skills, I directed my attention toward capturing human faces. To fuel my creativity, I would dedicate extensive hours perusing publications like Cosmopolitan and Glamour, extracting inspiration from the images showcased. Naturally, this progression resulted in me venturing into portrait photography, predominantly focusing on my friends and scouting picturesque locations throughout London to craft a comprehensive portfolio.

Right from my early years, I possessed a strong desire to become a photographer specialising in capturing people. Consequently, I made determined efforts to realise this goal. The key aspect of photography, as with any other form, lies in the portfolio. Irrespective of whether one’s interest lies in portrait, fashion, still life, or landscape photography, the emphasis is always on developing a portfolio that showcases a distinct style. Currently, having graduated from university two years ago, I am privileged to work with esteemed brands like Nike, Footlocker, Cosmopolitan, UGG, Sleek Makeup, Adidas, Skinnydip, and others.

Portrait photography encompasses more than simply capturing a person’s image. As a photographer, you have the chance to convey someone’s narrative by capturing their expression, utilising lighting techniques, and applying post-processing edits.

Portraiture is an exceptional form of photography. It possesses a captivating allure, often capturing my attention as I scroll through Instagram. In my line of work, fashion, and portraiture are closely connected, with a majority of my assignments involving capturing dynamic full-body shots and compelling close-up portraits.

In terms of portrait photography, although my experience primarily lies in the fashion realm, it is important to note that portraiture is also a significant aspect of street photography, documentary photography, beauty shooting, and corporate photography. Individuals involved in these diverse fields approach portrait photography with their own unique perspectives and objectives.

Tips for Capturing Portraits in a Home Setting

Being a knowledgeable fashion photographer, my goal is to constantly produce innovative visuals without incurring heavy expenses on studio rentals or lighting equipment. After a series of experiments and learning from my mistakes, I have discovered the most effective setup that enables me to capture impressive and professional images right within the confines of my small London apartment.

In order to shoot at home effectively, there are several crucial factors to consider. Firstly, it is important to create a designated area near a source of natural light. This will serve as the foundation for your shooting setup.

In my setup, I utilise the following equipment: backdrop stands, mini colorama (backdrop paper), and several reflectors. The reflectors are employed to soften intense sunlight during brighter days, while on overcast cloudy days, I redirect the flashgun’s light using the reflector to achieve a makeshift softbox effect. To further adjust the lighting, I occasionally position the Profoto A1 flash away from the camera. On warmer days, I even bring my colorama outdoors, enabling me to capture photos in natural daylight while still maintaining a studio atmosphere.

When it comes to photography, I prefer connecting my camera to a laptop. This setup allows not only the subject but also the rest of the team, including makeup, hair, and styling, to view the captured images in real time. The positive feedback received during the shooting process helps the subject feel at ease, leading to the creation of exceptional visual content.

If you desire a documentary-style ambiance in your photographs, it is advisable to maximise the utilisation of natural light. The greater the availability of natural light, the less you will need to rely on artificial lighting or adjust your camera settings, such as excessively increasing your ISO.

Recommended Camera Options for Capturing Portrait Photography

As an individual with experience and knowledge in photography, I tend to prefer Canon cameras. Specifically, I frequently switch between the EOS 5D Mark III and IV, finding them highly suitable for my photography style. Nonetheless, when it comes to capturing portraits, it is essential to prioritise the lenses you utilise rather than fixating solely on the camera body. You may consider alternative equipment to capture portraits rather than landscapes or wildlife, where a Vortex spotting scope would be more appropriate.

Choosing the Appropriate Lens for Portrait Photography

As someone with a background in fashion, I typically opt for the 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. This choice provides the versatility I need to capture striking portraits up close, as well as the ability to capture wider shots. When working on a set with a variety of photography styles, such as fashion and portraiture, it is advantageous to have a reliable lens that can meet the demands of both disciplines.

If you specialise in taking portraits exclusively, having a 50mm and an 85mm lens can greatly enhance your photography. These lenses allow for capturing exceptional levels of detail and achieving a pleasing shallow depth of field. By keeping the focus on the subject’s face and skillfully blurring the background, you can create stunning portraits.

Tips on Illumination for Portrait Photography

When it comes to lighting portraits, my primary suggestion is to approach it with simplicity in mind. It’s important to keep in mind that you’re capturing only the upper half of a person, and sometimes just their face. Therefore, you don’t require an excessive number of lights to achieve this.

If you are in a studio, I suggest beginning with a solitary primary light positioned parallel to your subject. In my opinion, it would be beneficial to soften the light by using a diffusion device such as a softbox or an umbrella, as this will help create a smoother skin appearance. If desired, you can incorporate an extra light source for the background or to create a silhouette effect. Another useful technique is to introduce polyboards, which are large black or white boards, on both sides to balance the overall lighting and regulate any unwanted excessive light.

However, as mentioned earlier, portraits can be taken outside of a studio environment. When shooting outdoors, you have the advantage of natural lighting, eliminating the need for artificial light sources. It may be necessary to increase the ISO setting when shooting outside, but it is advisable not to exceed 800 in order to prevent excessive grain that could affect the quality when enlarging the image. Personally, I always prefer to incorporate a supplemental light source, even when shooting outdoors. This can be achieved using a portable studio flash or a flashgun positioned away from the subject.

Tips for Reducing or Getting Rid of Shadows

I have acquired several effective methods that enable me to produce a visually immaculate and well-illuminated portrayal while minimising the presence of shadows. These techniques can be employed in various settings, including outdoor locations, personal home studios, or professional photographic studios.

In my photography kit bag, I always have a variety of reflectors that serve a dual purpose as portable diffusers. When shooting indoors with intense sunlight, I can soften and diffuse the light by utilising a sizable shoot-through reflector, which is a translucent material. The same technique applies when I’m photographing outdoors.

Using a reflector on the white side is an alternative method to minimise shadows on the skin. For instance, if your subject’s left side of the face lacks sufficient light, positioning a reflector on the left side can diminish the shadows. This technique can be employed with poly boards In a studio setting.

If you don’t have a reflector while using natural light, a good suggestion would be to have your subject turn away from the sunlight. When the sunlight hits your subject directly, it often leads to sharp shadows. Look for an object that can block the direct light and position yourself behind it.

When photographing in a studio, I advise my model to position themselves at a distance from the background. The closer they are to the backdrop paper, the greater the darkness in the background of the photograph. If studio lights are being used, it is suggested to employ umbrellas or softboxes to soften the light, resulting in a balanced and uniform illumination. In case these accessories are not available, it is recommended to redirect the lights away from the model. The lights can be bounced off poly boards or, alternatively, off walls and ceilings to achieve a desirable lighting effect.

My Portraiture Tips

I have a few key points to emphasise that can elevate your portraiture skills. Portraiture is a personal and potentially intimidating experience for both the photographer and the subject. It is vital to establish a connection with your subject to ensure their comfort. Take the time to engage in conversation and get to know them before bringing the camera into play. Building rapport will have a significant impact on the final images. I find it beneficial to involve my models throughout the entire process, sharing the photos with them and explaining my actions in real time. For example, I might say, “I am planning to zoom in closer for a tighter crop.”

While portraiture typically includes close-up shots, there is room for experimentation in terms of composition and motion, such as capturing images from lower angles. The aspect I particularly enjoy about portraiture is the opportunity it provides for creative expression. Working frequently with lively, youthful fashion brands, I find great pleasure in generating playful and dynamic facial expressions that bring a sense of vibrancy to the portraits. Moreover, these expressions and movements contribute to the story being told through the images. Below, you can observe some examples showcasing this.

Each individual possesses their unique approach. The manner in which I personally prefer to capture images may vary from what suits your preferences. Nonetheless, irrespective of the style you adopt, it is crucial to fully dedicate yourself to it and possess unwavering faith in your aptitude to produce breathtaking portraits.

By Rehan

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