Portraiture is one of the most fun and rewarding styles of photography for anyone interested in working with people. You can take this style and use it for several different sub genres of photography, from head shots, to fashion, and beyond. Working one on one with a client is super fun and allows you to explore how to use your equipment more easily than if you were to start out taking photos of big crowds. You can experiment with posing, lighting, and your camera functions with far less panic if you don’t know precisely what to do yet. For beginners this is the perfect style of photography for someone starting out with people because it gives you all of the opportunity to make mistakes and fix them.
There are two definitively different ways to shoot portraiture, as you might’ve been able to tell by the title of the blog. The first that a photographer will undoubtedly stumble upon is location portrait photography, and usually they will work their way up towards studio work if that’s what they choose. The differences in these styles open up different kinds of clientele and have different feels to them, although they can fundamentally have the same results: professional quality photos. Now, while they open up different clientele, that isn’t to say that the same clientele cannot be found on either side of the style, but that some clientele are easier to land when a photographer is not restricted to only one of these styles of portrait photography.
Location portrait photography is wonderful for helping to exemplify business clientele who want to portray how they interact with their environment. It can be used for fashion clients to build a visually interesting scene that incorporates real life so that their audience can associate the style with the real world. It can help with creating stock photos for a client’s website, or to create fun and exciting headshots for an actor. This style helps prepare photographers to deal with sunlight and weather changes and to over come them. This style utilizes the natural lighting that exists from the sun and challenges you to learn how to adjust to it. This kind of situation helps to prepare the photographer for larger more stressful outdoor events, like weddings and festivals, where knowing your camera and how to adjust for weather conditions is essential.
Many photographers will swear up and down that cloudy is the best way to shoot and that one should avoid using direct sunlight. Some photographers know that you can use any type of light as long as you know what to be mindful of. If you are shooting in cloud you don’t need to be mindful of the sun’s position in the sky because the clouds act as a diffuser, creating soft even light across the face of your client. In direct sunlight many photographers try to recreate this by shooting in the shade, but often this can create harsh shadows of leaves across their face if you have them stand in the trees. My tip for you here is, if you are to shoot in direct sunlight at high noon, face your subject away from the sun. They will stop squinting, and the indirect light on their face will dissipate and even out the shadows. This will also help to create a back lit effect in their hair and make the photo look more professional. Never have your subject facing direct sunlight as this causes harsh shadows and squinting. That being said, get creative with your shadows and light. Some of the most intriguing photos from the greats incorporate harsh shadows in an artistic way! Be mindful that the best light for a photo is during or around golden hour, you may not always get to shoot in it, but when you do be sure to utilize it.
The other great thing about location portraiture is that you can get more poses and backgrounds out of your shoot than you can in a studio. This allows you to explore how poses work or don’t work with certain angles. I encourage you to spend some time on each portrait shoot to come up with at least ten new poses with your subject, even if it seems weird. Sometimes we can be surprised by how a pose can bump our photo from a simple portrait to actual art. The worst-case scenario is that you’ve created a photo you don’t like that you can delete later. One of the things to make sure of when posing is to make sure you don’t cut off any limbs, you have the subject positioned in such a way that their neck and their chin are defined easily from one another, and that their hands are positioned purposefully. By this I mean that they don’t unintentionally cover something that you want to see, and that they don’t just free float in the photo if they are meant to be seen. This applies to studio work too, but on location it can be hard to focus on these things because of how distracted one can get by making sure they are placed well within their location. The background can be overwhelmingly loud and attention grabbing, which can detract from all that you have to pay attention to with your model. Analyze your background first, and then adjust your model. Sometimes we get too excited about taking the photo that we miss the trach can in the background.
In a studio set up you can create a more intimate look to your portraiture. With these photos you can create a more one-on-one feel between the client and their audience. The primary goal for clients seeking studio style portraiture is for a clean and polished look, which best exemplifies their face. For this reason, I highly recommend learning photoshop and/or lightroom because clients seeking studio work are looking for high quality editing as well. That isn’t to say location clients don’t want this either, but it is absolutely necessary for studio work. These tools will also advance all of your other work, there is no reason not to know how to edit in this day and age. Often actors, musicians, and corporate business folks look to this style as it is a staple in those industries. A great headshot will boost their first impression with agents, customers, and judges. This style demands polish and professionalism. It is important to choose poses that reflect this. You can incorporate fun poses so long as you keep professionalism in mind when you go to use them. This is the best time to try out your comedy routine because getting shots of them smiling or coming out of a smile with the joyful twinkle still in their eyes is gold for portraiture, but is particularly hard in studio because it is hard for clients to remain engaged. Strike up a conversation with them and get them comfortable, it will create a more personable relationship to them that will create trust, a friendship, and a repeat customer.
While this style is less fun for posing because there is less you can do, this one is far more fun when choosing your lighting. The light for your subject is entirely yours to choose from and you get to play with so many different options. There are LEDs, soft boxes, flashes, sunlight from an open window, and any mix of all of those. Soft boxes are my personal favourite to use for professional portraits, specifically my octobox, as it dissipates the light in a very beautiful way. Regular soft boxes will also give you soft light, but will deepen the shadows because there is less dissipated light. LEDs are easier to set up but have less dissipation and harsher shadows. For the downfall LEDs have in dissipating light, they make up for by having an easier time with gels. You can get Dollarama binder separators and fasten them to an LED as a cheap gel. They work great, and they’re only about two dollars. Lighting is fun, but it is also trial and error. Experiment here with your lights by trying at least three to five different light setups in your next shoot! You may be surprised by what looks good and what doesn’t! There are many great videos on Youtube explaining why and when to position certain lights in different places. Remember that Youtube videos give great tips, but they are not rules, so find what works for you and your client. The most important part about taking a great portrait photo is keeping the eye in focus. Everything else can be blurred so long as the eyes remain focused, unless there is an artistic reason not to.
Location work sets you up for working weddings, outdoor events, and outdoor family photos. This can expand out into a larger clientele and bigger paydays, while studio sets you up for intimate family photos, baby photos, graduation photos, engagement photos (though I suggest these are location based instead), and boudoir photos. Find out what you’re interested in and just keep trying. In photography there are rarely wrong answers while you’re learning. The only thing that is always wrong: ISO lightens a photo. It doesn’t. Only raise it if you need a higher shutter speed and your aperture is as low as it gets, but I’ll explain this more in my next technical blog.
If you want to show us your studio work tag us on our other social media and use #capturecreatecommunity ! I look forward to seeing what you create!