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Portrait photography


Guest plesbit

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This is yet another area of photography I have got interested in. Unfortunately I have thus far proved utterly useless at it.

My interest was piqued by a DP Review article on having the right lens for portraits and what that lens might be. Their consensus seemed to be that on APS-C bodies, which mine are, 85mm was around the right focal length. As there are at least three professional wedding photographers on here (Paul, Bruce and Adam) they ought to know a thing or two about portrait work. It has also been suggested that a super sharp lens is not the best as it shows up every little detail in the skin which women in particular are not always keen to reveal.

I don't have an 85mm prime and the only one in the Alpha system is a Carl Zeiss lens which comes with CZ sharpness and a CZ price, no third parties make primes that length and frankly I am done spending money at the moment anyway. The other thing I don't have is fancy lighting equipment and most of the really arty shots I've been trying to get inspiration from on Flickr have used exactly that. I only have one model, and she's a nurse not a model, so does her best at pulling the right expressions but she's no more of a pro in front of the camera than I am behind it. I have a spare model too, but she's old, grumpy and part time (and she doesn't speak English). The final problem, as I frequently admit, is the fact that I am not a good creative thinker. So if anyone has some nice tips on portrait work, within the limitations of my facilities and abilities I am listening.

For now, I'll start off with a few shots of my usual model, lets call her Model 1. Don't bother clicking on the images as I've not linked to the higher res versions this time. These are full frame, btw, I almost never crop a picture. There is also no PP, except turning to B&W. The JPEG was camera default and the RAW was Lightroom defaults.

3426052183_d913840ec0.jpg

ISO200, f7.1, 1/160 @ 80mm, -1.0 EV (?)

The above was actually an off camera JPEG as I was just playing around so I couldn't be bothered with RAW. My very patient and dearly beloved model is a wee bit Scottish and lit up like a ghost using on the camera flash. I couldn't be bothered dialling down the flash so I dialled down the exposure instead - I was deliberately looking for a dark, moody result. It goes in increments of 0.3 EV but I don't quote know how that relates to "stops". I presume 1.0 EV is 1 stop, so I effectively dialled down a whole stop. Someone who knows please clarify....

As the image was shot as JPEG the only way to achieve B&W was to totally desaturate the JPEG in Fireworks.

3426051389_898717513c.jpg

ISO200, f5, 1/160 @ 140mm

This one was shot using natural light coming in through the window, though as it was shot in a conservatory (as that's basically where we live) there was diffused light coming through the opaque roof and back light coming through the bamboo blinds behind her. This one was actually shot as RAW and I just used the grayscale option in Lightroom to get the B&W.

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A few shots of Model 2. I wasn't quite so concerned about the lighting with her. All shots are straight out of the Lightroom defaults. I did have a few fiddles but really couldn't come up with anything which enhanced what had come off the camera in the first place. My old camera was doing a sterling job whilst the new one was still pointlessly aimed at the bird feeders and that ancient (it must be 20 years old) 50/2.8 I was using simply must be my favourite lens.

3426864844_7395ee2074.jpg

ISO200, f6.3, 1/25 @ 80mm

3426055613_3e65dcdcbb.jpg

ISO200, f5.6, 1/20 @ 50mm

3426869794_7d3d6a0eea.jpg

ISO400, f2.8, 1/640 @ 50mm

Both models relax after the shoot:

3426056911_0d0e1b5946.jpg

ISO400, f2.8, 1/500 @ 50mm

The last one could probably benefit from a higher res version as you don't quite get the "pop" in contrast between Susan and the surround but you can see what I was trying, I hope!

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Hi Simon

sometimes you mention you want your pics to be a certain high standard. but from where i am sitting those first two pics of Susan are realy good.

the last shot I think is one that could be proudly put on the wall.

Jonny ice sliceice sliceice slice

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I contemplated putting the cat in the still life thread, it was that still. Yes the pics of Susan are nice (and I've already bought a frame for the second one) - it was a pity about the 20 or so others that were deleted! If you had a look through some of the arty portrait work on Flickr you'd soon see the effect I am after.

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They look great to me Simon - I'll reply properly when I'm on a poota rather than a Blacberry.

BTW I only do a few weddings - landscapes are my thing. For one thing, they don't answer back.

G and T. O'clock now. Rats, can't get the little emoticons to work...

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Hi Simon

I think we may have spoken about Portraiture before, as it was something I was experimenting with last year. I have tried using various set-ups with multiple flashes etc all with varying degrees of results. Try here for just a few of one model I have taken in a prefessional studio http://www.net-model.com/Portfolios/PhotographerPortfolio.asp?UserID=118380&IID=&cmd=&linking=

I tend to stick with a focal length of about 50mm for studio work, and a nice sharp image to be later blurred selectively in PaintShop Pro (along with some other creative stuff). A lot of the success, though, depends not on the equipment, but on the model and your ability to capture the pose you want, and indeed direct the pose. With a couple of professional models I have worked with, this is easy as they just move fluidly from pose to pose and you click away. In my opinion, though, there is little skill involved to produce reasonable pictures as the studio lighting is normally setup by who ever owns the studio you have hired!

I much prefer the type of lighting you have experimented with at a window. Some great results can be achieved like that, and I particularly like your second shot of Susan, where she is looking up. A simple reflector can really help with these shots to bounce a little of the light back up to under the shin and nose to help reduce any harsh shadows (i'll lend you mine if you want to try some out).

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As is so often the case the equipment plays a pretty small role. I raised the idea of the right focal length mainly because it was discussed in an editorial article on DP Review.

I have a 50/2.8 MACRO which I could use for portrait work but it's razor sharp. I typically use that lens on the cat. On Susan I opted for longer focal lengths. My (now sold) 24-105 got me nicely into that area and I think I used it for the first shot. Now I've sold it, it's a bit more difficult! The second one was taken from across the room with the big 70-300 G. That's also stunningly sharp. It was a bit of a chance shot - she was sitting there after dinner and I was sprawled on the sofa. I just asked her to look out the window, zoomed to what I thought was appropriate and fired. I was pleased with the result. I'm not mad keen on the idea of trying to soften things up in PP though.... I prefer my photography to be done on the camera as much as possible and just do the tiniest of tweaking in post. Even then it's usually only headroom stuff, and if nothing's blown I tend not even to do that. Almost all of the images I posted recently are straight out of Lightroom's default settings.

There is an article in one of last month's photography magazines which also discusses portraits and in particular the different coloured light reflectors you mention. I'd like to borrow one if I may - no rush though! The conservatory is quite helpful as a shooting environment because you get natural light from so many angles anyway.

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I use to use the standard 18 - 55mm lens that came with the camera but now use newer L lens I bought a few months ago.

Have not really used it too much but will be shortly as I have a few weddings coming up.

The choice of lens depends, I think, on the subject.

The cat one was actually taken with the 100 - 400 tele as I would not have been able to have got this close with the wide angle one.

This was taken on the river bank. The picture is cropped some what too.

post-170-136713504015_thumb.jpg

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I love the crossed paws Paul! :clap

I'm not mad keen on the idea of trying to soften things up in PP though.... I prefer my photography to be done on the camera as much as possible and just do the tiniest of tweaking in post.

Of course you are right to get as much as you can in the camera Simon, but portrait photography is a bit of an odd ball when it comes to tweaking. The most flattering shots (mainly of the female variety) are with a slight softening to give an etheral glow to the skin. However, the eyes, eyebrows, lips, hair and any jewellery such as earrings just look plain odd if they are soft. The standard procedure in PaintShop (and I assume in Photoshop) is to add a translucent blurred layer over the top of the main image then erase this layer over the key areas I have mentioned. I am afraid you simply cannot acheive that in camera. As you know I hate spending time infront of the pooter so I tweak my shots as little as possible, but when shooting portrait, it goes with the territory in my limited experience.

Of course if your subject is a craggy old character who looks great in B&W with all wrinkles showing then this is entirely not what you would do, but seldom does a young lady look good like that :grin:

This is again all down to personal preference, but to illustrate my point, I've just had a little tweak with the second photo of Susan (hope you don't mind :o ). The first is as downloaded, and the second is just with 3 or 4 minutes in PaintShop. The difference is very subtle, but personally I prefer the result, although the levels have been adjusted a bit to much by PaintShop when resaving it.

post-264-136713504037_thumb.jpg

post-264-136713504067_thumb.jpg

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Okay, I get what you're saying and there is no denying I do like the subtle changes you've made to the pic of Susan. The main point of this thread, for me, was not so much about the PP but about the lighting, head angles, how close you zoom / crop, types of expression that sort of thing. Apologies if I've "redherringed" the thread by making too much mention of soft and sharp lenses etc!

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Not at all Simon, it's all part of the process.

I still find the actual posing the hardest part as it is very difficult to convey on words how you want someone to look. I've tried reading and researching on the internet and there do seem to be a few rules for "classic" portraits. For example if you assume the window is your key light, and a reflector is being used as the fill light, with the camera between them, a classic pose would be to have the models shoulders at about 45 degrees to the camera towards the key light, with her head turned past the camera more towards the reflector, but then with the eyes looking direct to the lens this is known as "broad lighting". Dropping the chin slightly can then add a slightly more "alluring" look, but it really depends on what you are after, and whilst there are some classic guidelines, there are no hard and fast rules.

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Give Mark's reflector a try Simon I am sure you will see a difference in softening some of the shadow area's

The difference not just from a reflector but also from reflectors of different texture and colour was explored in the magazine article I referred to previously so I will definitely give Mark's reflector a go when I can, though Jonny's video man has some suggestions for cheating on that score. The video was interesting and did make me think about one or two things I have overlooked before. I liked his reflective umbrella (there's a similar setup in the WE showroom) but can't really justify the cost of such things just for a few experiments.

Dropping the chin slightly can then add a slightly more "alluring" look

Or a second chin. Women are quite particular about these things. :lol:

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Or a second chin. Women are quite particular about these things.

You betcha! :lol::lol:

The way around that is to elevate the camera slightly so the model has to look slightly upwards with her eyes without tilting her head. This avoids multiple chins but gives the same effect. :grin:

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The difference not just from a reflector but also from reflectors of different texture and colour was explored in the magazine article I referred to previously so I will definitely give Mark's reflector a go when I can, though Jonny's video man has some suggestions for cheating on that score. The video was interesting and did make me think about one or two things I have overlooked before. I liked his reflective umbrella (there's a similar setup in the WE showroom) but can't really justify the cost of such things just for a few experiments.

Hi Simon

i was not suggesting of cheating :o:o i was hoping it might give you some ideas of doing things you haven't thought of

Jonny ice sliceice sliceice sliceice slice

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