I've been photographing people for a long time. I started doing it almost as soon as I bought my first 35mm film camera. In my home town of Brighton (on the south coast of England) I cut my teeth on capturing ordinary people going about their daily lives down on the beach and on Brighton's busy, bohemian streets.
In later years I moved into the studio and I had several years shooting weddings, families and corporate headshots. You pick up some tricks when you shoot as much as I did, and on today's Tog-Talk I'm going to share my thoughts on five really helpful things to either avoid... or things that are essential if you want to take good images.
There is great advice here for newbies with cameras, but I'm also sure there will be things to learn for photographers who have been shooting for a while.
You might want to listen to this episode of Tog-Talk and check out the image below.
One of the very most common mistakes that newbies make when they photograph people is all about headroom. Headroom is the space between the top of the subject's head and the top edge of the photo. In most cases this is wasted space that could have been better allocated to the main subject of the photograph.
In the image below, how much nicer it would have been if the photographer had lowered the camera down - to get all of the bride in the shot.
Where there's a street musician, there's a camera. So much so these days, that isolated images of street musicians are becoming a bit of a cliche amongst photographers and I avoid them.
On this occasion however there was a story to tell, there was a narrative.
Initially I had wondered if anything was going to happen with the guy holding the Waitrose carrier bag. To my delight, they were joined by the man with the open arms... and suddenly the picture exploded into action. Now it was more than just a photo of a man watching another man play guitar (which wasn't very interesting). Now the photo has drama and real a touch of humour.
Candid portraits on their own can sometimes be less than interesting (but not always), stand back and get the narrative and you could end up with a kick-ass capture.
When you're shooting a group of people, the law of averages dictates that someone in that group is likely to blink during the shot. They are often quite difficult to spot when you check the image afterwards on the camera's rear screen and usually you only first discover the blinking-offenders when you finally get to inspect your photo on your much larger computer screen.
So I make it a rule to always double-top my shutter, to take 2 (sometimes 3 or even 4) shots, just to cover myself. I've been doing it for so long now that I find I do it instinctively, without thinking. It's a good habit to have and it has saved my bacon countless times over the years.
When posing subject, it's often desirable to avoid them facing you square on. It can sometimes make them look a bit bulky, especially if they are on the large side already. So by getting them to twist to an angle of around 45° you should end up with a much more flattering position.
A very gentle tilt of the neck (in the opposite direction to the way that the body is pointing) can also help reduce any bulk they might be carrying under their chin. If they have a double (or multiple) chin, it's often possible to reduce, or even eliminate, them. Your subject will be most grateful.
The picture below is how NOT to do it. This is a gross exaggeration and it has actually created lots of extra neck folds.
This photo (below) is a much better illustration of how to go about this very simple technique. Notice the shoulders are at 45° and the chin is slightly up to stretch the neck.
If there is one rule that should rarely be broken, it's the one about eyes. They should always be sharp. It's hard to take a credible portrait if the eyes are soft.
If you take a portrait and the eyes are soft, the image loses all its power. It's the first thing people often see when they look at a photo. If the eyes are sharp, no one notices but if they are soft, they stick out like a sore thumb.
At visual creatures, one of the first things we look at when we see someone... is their eyes.
I really appreciate you taking the time to listen to this broadcast and I hope that you have found it interesting as well as entertaining. If you're looking to imporove your photography and you live close enough to our training centre in Fleet, Hampshire, you could attend one of our workshops (or our longer courses) in both photography and photo-editing.
If you're at the beginning of your photography journey you might find this one-day introduction, just what you're looking for:
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This is a ten-module photography course with photo-assignments between sessions. Each session lasts three hours and will include time to examine assignment images and take part in practicals (where appropriate).
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