Before we get to the assignments for this chapter, I thought it might be a good idea to leave you with a few extra pointers on shooting portraits that don’t necessarily have anything specific to do with your camera. There are entire books that cover things like portrait lighting, posing, and so on. But here are a few pointers that will make your people pics look a lot better.
Go wide for environmental portraits
Your subject’s environment can be of great significance to the story you want to tell. This might mean using a smaller aperture to get more detail in the background or foreground. Once again, by using Av mode, you can set your aperture to a higher f-stop, such as f/8, and include the important details of the scene that surrounds your subject.
Using the widest angle (6.1mm) can also assist in getting more depth of field as well as showing the surrounding area. The wide angle requires less stopping down of the aperture to achieve an acceptable depth of field. This is due to the fact that the lens is covering a greater area, so the depth of field appears to cover a greater percentage of the scene.
A wider lens setting might also be necessary to relay more information about the scenery (Figure 6.11). Select a zoom level that is wide enough to tell the story but not so wide that you distort the subject; the lens on your camera avoids distortion pretty well, but it can become exaggerated if you’re too close to the subject. There’s nothing quite as unflattering as giving someone a big, distorted nose (unless you are going for that sort of look). When shooting a portrait at a wide angle, keep the subject away from the edge of the frame to reduce distortion. As the zoom increases, distortion is reduced.
Avoid the center of the frame
This falls under the category of composition. Place your subject to the side of the frame (Figure 6.12)—it just looks more interesting than plunking them smack-dab in the middle.
Choose the right Focal Length
Choosing the correct zoom can make a huge impact on your portraits. A wide-angle lens can distort features of your subject, which can lead to an unflattering portrait. Selecting a longer focal length can compress your subject’s features, which can be more flattering.
Use the frame
Have you ever noticed that most people are taller than they are wide? Turn your camera vertically for a more pleasing composition (Figure 6.13).
Sunblock for portraits
The midday sun can be harsh and can do unflattering things to people’s faces. If you can, find a shady spot out of the direct sunlight. You will get softer shadows, smoother skin tones, and better detail (Figure 6.14). This holds true for overcast skies as well. Just be sure to adjust your white balance accordingly.
Don’t cut them off at the knees
There is an old rule about photographing people: Never crop the picture at a joint. This means no cropping at the ankles or the knees. If you need to crop at the legs, the proper place to crop is mid-shin or mid-thigh.
Keep an eye on your background
Sometimes it’s so easy to get caught up in taking a great shot that you forget about the smaller details. Try to keep an eye on what is going on behind your subject so they don’t end up with things like tree limbs popping out of their heads.
Frame the scene
Using elements in the scene to create a frame around your subject is a great way to draw the viewer in. You don’t have to use a window frame to do this. Just look for elements in the foreground that could be used to force the viewer’s eye toward your subject (Figure 6.15).
Eliminate space between your subjects
One of the problems you can encounter when taking portraits of more than one person is that of personal space. What feels like a close distance to the subjects can look impersonal to the viewer. Have your subjects move close together, eliminating any big gaps between them (Figure 6.16).
Give them a healthy glow
Nearly everyone looks better with a warm, healthy glow. Some of the best light of the day happens just a little before sundown, so shoot at that time if you can.
Get down on their level
If you want better pictures of children, don’t shoot from an adult’s eye level. Getting the camera down to the child’s level will make your images look more personal (Figure 6.17).
Don’t be afraid to get close
When you are taking someone’s picture, don’t be afraid of getting close and filling the frame (Figure 6.18). This doesn’t mean you have to shoot from a foot away; try zooming in and capture the details.