How to Take Better Photographs of People – Part One

By Tuesday, August 7, 2012 0 Permalink 0

Have you ever taken a photograph of someone and wondered how you could have made it better? You are not alone. There are some basic techniques that you can add into your photograph taking process that will greatly enhance your final image.

Tip One – Look for the Light

The very first professional level photography class I took was on using available light. We spent half the day walking around looking for good outdoor portrait light. I walked away from the class with a sunburn and a great understanding of what worked and didn’t.

First, let’s cover some stuff to watch out for and avoid.

Avoid: Bright Sunlight

Sometimes I think 90% of people with a camera are guilty of this one. I can’t tell you how many people tell their subjects “Come stand in the sun”. Why should you avoid it? The bright sunlight produces harsh, unflattering light on your subject’s face. It also makes your subject squint….not attractive. See above for an example.

Avoid: Spotted Light

This is a variation of Bright Sunlight. Say you decide that the sun is just too bright and you put your subject under a tree. Great but…the light is shining through the leaves and is illuminating your subject’s nose and a spot on their forehead. Again, not terribly attractive. See above for an example.

Avoid: Not enough light

When you don’t have enough light, you loose contrast in your image and the dark areas start to look “muddy”. This can happen when you put your subject too far under a tree or when you shoot too long after the sun sets. See above for an example.

Now, what you should do.

Look for even, defused lighting.

How do you find this?

A basic principle I learned: The subject must be able to see the sky or a reflection of it.

Translation – If you have a person stand under a tree, make sure they are not so far under it that they can’t look up and see the sky. Or, if you are standing under something and cannot see the sky, something (ex: a large light colored wall) must be bouncing the reflection of the light back at your subject. If you follow this principle, you will have soft, even light on your subjects….and, they will thank you! See above for an example of a subject standing in the shade with the light bouncing off the cement in front of her. Absolutely no color or exposure correction was done on this.

I am going to be posting more “how-to” tips soon. I’ll be covering chosing backgrounds, composition, posing, and expression. Please let me know if you have additional questions or subjects you’d like me to cover.

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