As little as I know about photography, I know even less about portrait photography. What I do know is mostly from a lifetime of smiling and nodding at people’s pictures. My only formal training on the topic came in one evening of a class I was taking. The main things I took away from that evening were:
- Zoom in. Only include the important parts.
- Turn the camera to the vertical. Whether it’s a head shot or full body, people fit better vertically.
- Use a long enough lens you can be a comfortable distance away. This will prevent unflattering distortion like enlarged noses as well as help with the last item I remember . . .
- Get your subject to relax. This is the most important skill of the portrait photographer.
The instructor also talked about different types of lighting, but I prefer to shoot outdoors and never had much interest in studio lighting. I confess I didn’t pay much attention to that part of the class.
A guy in the class showed me what a great shot he got of the model. About 2/3 of the photo was occupied by the chair, floor, wall, ceiling, lights. Seems he also ignored part of the class.
Tonight, I have the sudden urge to practice a few portrait shots. What I don’t have is a model. But, I forgot, I always have a model. I just have to get him to lie still.
I coax Tisen up on the couch under a soft light and pile his collection of squeaky toys around him. I step back to the tripod and discover an interesting difference between dogs and people–dogs follow you when you walk away. I try again. This time, I hold out my hands and tell him to stay. I make it to the camera and manage to get off a few shots before he gets up again.
By the third try, he seems to have caught on that I want him to hold still while the camera does something. I have the camera set on 2 second delay, which is normally not a good choice when shooting a subject that suddenly gets up and leaves without warning, but he seems to be taking a cue from the yellow light that flashes until the camera fires. He watches the light and holds still until he hears the click of the shutter. Maybe he makes a good model after all?
The down side is that he looks tense. He watches me and the camera for any sign that he can get up. The pile of toys look like they are leering at him, reminding me of something out of a horror film. I take pity on my patient model and tell him he can get up. He immediately takes one of the offending squeaky toys, Red Dog, by the . . . body? . . . and gives him a shake for all he’s worth. Red Dog won’t be leering at Tisen again any time soon.