The most important tip in producing high quality portrait images is to know how to get the most from your subject. The least important item in portrait photography is worrying about what camera gear you have or require. There is no point having amazing photographic gear (where it be high end digital DSLR like a Canon 5D Mark II, a classic Leica camera with the incredible Carl Zeiss lenses or a professional medium format camera such as a Hasselblad if you cant engage with and get the most from your subject.
I got talking to this interesting character in Dalat, Vietnam. He initially made a very half hearted attempt to see if i needed a taxi ride for money. After politely declining, I expected him to either leave to find more business or to barter me down for a cheaper ride. Instead we got into a half hour conversation about my home town of Perth, Western Australia and how different it was to his, the beautiful mountainous city of Dalat in the south of Vietam.
We chatted and chatted and he talked about how his uncle or cousin...not sure which due to the difficulty understanding each other, had moved out to Australia and how life was for each of us. He eventually asked if i could take his picture. He was initially quiet stiff and the first photos reflected this. After a few shots he began to relax a little and started a new cigarette. This portrait really does something for me. Through Adobe Photoshop CS5 i have given the image a retro, warm feel with slightly distorted colour balance. I have made a couple of pre-set actions to enable me to process these type of images quickly. I can't recommend Photoshop actions enough especially if you have a lot of images to process that are of similar exposure and tone. You will run into trouble if your raw images differ dramatically with ratio of highlights to low lights. I normally try to avoid batch processing unless my lighting conditions are identical from shot to shot.
In terms of getting the most from your portrait photography other suggestions i have is to play and experiment on friends and family so you get a feel for what works when you get to a commercial photography shoot or using a real model. Experiment with different lighting effects. Personally i like using natural light far more than artificial lighting such as on Camera flashes or soft boxes in a photography studio. I love the effects that can be achieved with natural light from the sun streaming in from windows and doors. Stunning results can be achieved by simply placing your subject near a window and using a reflector of any type (i like to keep a collection of scrap white cardboard and polystyrene foam) to use to reflect light back onto the shadow side of the face.
The second tip i like to recommend for interesting portrait photography is to experiment with perspective. Try to find an unusual perspective that is different from standing eye to eye with your subject and shooting. Getting down low and shooting up or getting up on a chair or step ladder and shooting down can often provide a more dynamic photograph. If I'm out on location, it wouldn't be unusual to find me lying in dirt or climbing on top of bins, benches to try and find a point of difference to make an interesting photograph.
Thirdly, don't be afraid to get close to your subject and fill the frame. Alternatively if the subject is in an environment that helps to tell a story, don't be afraid to show this as well. A portrait can include its surrounding environment, especially if it helps describe the character or add something to the photograph and subject. I often try to include the subjects environment if I'm taking travel portraits or if the place is critical to explain a story behind the subject.
So to summarise. Get out there today and start shooting…Nothing will give you better photos than playing and experimenting with different situations and conditions. You don't need a fancy professional camera or photographic studio with light boxes and continuous backgrounds just a willing subject and a belief in your ability to get the best out of them.
One of the most frequent questions I am asked as a Perth photographer from photography enthusiasts is how do i store and archive my digital images. Unfortunately for the photography enthusiast the precursor to the question is often along the lines of "my computer was stolen, my hard drive has crashed, I accidentally deleted everything, my dog at my hard drive etc. These all too common incidents are often described with sunken watery eyes and a sprinkling of expletives.
Fast forward to our conversation..."chris how do you back up all your precious photographs and digital images?" My answer to any enthusiast or professional alike is to "establish what works for you and keep a routine that you can maintain week after week, month after month, year after year. There is no point developing a back-up system so elaborate and secure that you become exhausted at the mere thought of having to perform another back-up of your digital image collection.
With digital cameras both compact and DSLR versions having the capability of storing thousands of images on one SD disk no-one is shy about taking a seemingly endless stream of photos on a daily basis. So with 4 out of 5 digital files seemingly identical to the last what do we do to manage and control an abundance of images. Well for me i have a staged process that i find manageable, time efficient and an effective means of filing digital image files to find easily today, tomorrow and indeed in years to come. I will explain this process in the coming paragraphs.
Step one: When i return from a professional photography shoot either for a commissioned job or a personal project the first thing i do i download all photos (usually several 8gigabyte SanDisk Ultra 3 SD cards) onto my Macbook Pro desktop. I always - repeat always use a card reader for this as opposed to plugging in a USB into the Digital camera body for the reason that you can sometimes get card failures by doing this and miss out on downloading all the images available.
Once i have all images on my desktop and having still not reformatted my SD cards ready for my next photo shoot I drag each image into Adobe Bridge. Adobe Bridge is an image viewing program that comes with most editions of the Adobe CS Suite. I find it particularly useful as it lets you see all the meta-data of an image and also view the RAW .CR2 files that most image finders don't show. It doesn't really matter though what program you use but its preferable that you can view the images side by side so you can begin to compare photos.
Its at this stage that i look to cull as opposed to deleting photos on the shoot by looking at them on the back of the 3' screen on the back of a Canon 5D Mark II or Canon 40D which while useful to establish rough composition and exposure really lack the detail required to judge a images quality.
Going through the photos i quickly delete photos where people are blinking, exposure is clearly over or under exposed, or images that are blurry or poorly framed. Once i have done this i create a folder that is named with a sequential job number that i keep on google docs and place all remaining files in there. The sequential job number links to the google doc file (available from anywhere with internet connection) then tells me more details about the shoot. Details such as date of shoot / subjects / photography brief (if applicable) / Location (Perth, Western Australia, or overseas). Once this stage is complete I burn two copies to DVD which are then labeled (filed in CD case) and copy a remaining copy to a 1.5 Terabyte external hard drive. One of the two DVD's are then taken off-site to safeguard against theft.
Now i have my base selection of images all safe and backed up 3 times. At this point i delete the images off my desktop to ensure my computer and the available RAM is accessible to use in photoshop and the processing of the RAW files that draws considerable memory usage.
Each image that i work on is entered into another google doc database for final processed images. Again this database of images details where photograph was taken,subject, landscape photograph or portrait photograph in terms on composition and orientation of camera. Once i have made any necessary post production I create store the following files all with renamed file names to match my database:
1x Raw .CR2 file
1x Photoshopped .psd file with all layers un-flattened. This is useful in the event that i want to change the look or feel of the image at a later date.
1 x high resolution jpeg
1 x Medium resolution jpeg
1 x Low resolution jpeg (This file contains my logo watermark - as seen on all my work published on the internet)
These 5 files are each filed into a folder of the same name that grows larger and larger as it contains images from previous photography shoots. These folders are then backed up in the same way as my unprocessed photographic collections: 1 copy to the external hard drive and 2 x burnt DVD's to file and archive.
Well that about summarizes my process. I'm not saying its the best or the only way to archive and back-up. The onset of cloud computing and websites such as dropbox.com has me thinking about other ways to safeguard my work. But as mentioned earlier what ever process you decide on, or develop yourself make sure its one you can maintain.