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4.1 The Portrait Assignment

Portraits are the freelancer's bread and butter: one of the most common assignments given out by editors. In this lesson you will learn how photojournalists approach portraiture and a few basic techniques for creating unique portraits in different situations.

4.1 The Portrait Assignment

Portraits are freelance photographer's bread and butter. They are the most common assignment given out by photo editors. Photographers that specialize in portrait photography, the masters of portrait photography, work in incredibly different ways than how a regular photographer would deal with a standard portrait assignment. This section is meant for that. How to complete your first portrait assignment, how to deal with a variety of different lighting situations, and what is expected of you. Editorial portraits are often shot on location. Either at your subject's business, or home. Very rarely do we shoot in a studio situation. Some editorial portraits are meant to be a little more casual and relaxed. For these, I do not use too much artificial lighting, generally relying on the ambient available light that's in the situation. For higher end portraits for magazines, I often use more lighting to create a more produced style portrait. Portraits are where my prime lenses shine. The unique aesthetic adds a little something extra to the photos straight off the bat. They are also generally a little less contrasty than zoom lenses, so they'e a little more forgiving. Radio slaves are a great tool for portraits. The transmitter sends a signal from your camera to a flash head to create off camera lighting. Generally this creates more dynamic lighting for your portraits. For off camera lighting, I generally use a standard flash head or a bigger studio head, depending on the style of portrait that I'm going for. For a portrait in a park, I will use a simple flash head on a stand. In a more controlled environment, I will use bigger studio strobes. Shoot through white umbrellas are my favorite light modifier to use with portable slaves. Medium size soft boxes are my favorite to use with strobe head. But it's important not to get bogged down with gear. Often times, nice window light is all you need for a good portrait. The most important thing in a portrait is the relationship between a subject and the photographer. The camera is just the middleman in capturing this. It's important to be confident, fun, and friendly the moment you meet your subject. They have to enjoy the time they are spending with you in order to breakdown that layer of awkwardness that most people have while being photographed. Also I like to move my subject around in a variety of different poses and set ups. This helps to break down some of the awkwardness that they may be feeling. We have to understand that most of our subjects are not professional models, and they need a lot of help from the photographer to become relaxed. It is the job of the photographer to make sure the subject is at calm and relaxed for their portrait. Having your subject make a slight change to their clothing, for instance, taking off a jacket or adding a tie can help with relaxing your subject as well. So, here I'm going to walk you through how I would move a portrait subject around and re-position them. Welcome to my studio in Mexico City. Excuse the noise from the street and say hello to my lovely wife Lindsay, who will be making a couple appearances through these videos here. So, basically now Lindsay, just put your hands in your pockets for me. And just loosen your shoulders up a little bit and turn your shoulders a bit so you're facing towards the window, just a pinch. Okay, that's good. Stay looking at the camera here, I'll try and get exposure. [SOUND] Okay, that should be a good photo there. Now look towards the street for me. Okay, [SOUND] That should be a good photo there. Look a little closer towards my hand here. Which you can't see, is my hand shooting off screen. Okay. [SOUND] Great. One thing we'll notice is there's a very bright streak coming across her hand, which is less strong in the face, so when we're shooting we'll wanna keep note of that. An easy way to fix that is simply to eliminate it through the composition. So again Lindsey, look towards the street. [SOUND] We have nice photo there. [SOUND] Okay good. And let me just show you how changing the aperture can kind of create a different style photo. Here I am increasing my aperture. I'm now at 3.2. Brought it up from 1.8. Here you can see we have a little bit of a different look. It is a little more balanced. If I were to take it back down to 1.8, and obviously adjusting the shutter speed. We have a little bit more of a- [SOUND]. This photo here, the background's a bit softer, and it's a little different. And again, look to the light. Okay, good. I'm a little out of focus. And just by simply moving around, you can create a completely different style of photo. [SOUND] Portrait there. Sometimes if you go up a little bit and bring your chin up to me a little bit. [SOUND] Make it look a little different. And bring your chin down a little bit. [SOUND] Now lately just bring your chin around a pinch and a little bit back. And eyes straight on at me. Good. [SOUND] Okay, again, keep your eyes on the street. [SOUND] Bring your chin a little bit towards the window. Good. [SOUND] And try to bring your eyes back to me. Good, hold that. [SOUND] We wanna be careful with the distortion. I'm using a wide- [SOUND]. So we'll also watch for distortion here. I'm using a 35 mm lens. Next, we're going to look at some of my portrait assignments, including looking at my raw photos to get more of an idea of some of my portrait techniques.

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