Unlike other subjects in photography, the human face can convey emotions. Its varying expressions communicate to the photographer. And with its soul-penetrating eyes, it is capable of creating mood that can be strongly engaging and yet unpredictable. A passive look can turn into a smile. And in a heartbeat, the same smile can transform into mixed feelings of confusion, making portraiture more interesting and also more challenging feat in the art of photography.
Natural looking portraits, whether candid, casual or formal are shots that don’t just happen. They are products of serious effort in capturing the true character of the person being photographed.
I learned my first-hand lessons in portraiture when my first child was born. I discovered that babies and children are the most natural subjects to photograph. My three daughters were probably the most photographed kids in our neighborhood when they were growing up, long before the advent of digital photography. Although they were fun to shoot, I also learned that babies and children dictate the shooting time. And that time is the moment when they are ready, fully rested, interactive and tantrum-free. Forcing a schedule will prove futile, resulting only in miserable failure and unnecessary aggravation.
In shooting portraits, the thorough knowledge of how to operate a camera is just a quarter of the battle. The other three quarters allocate for lighting techniques, choice of background and full understanding of the subject. All these four when applied accordingly will most certainly result to a natural looking photographic interpretation of the person being photographed.
A good chemistry between the photographer and the subject is the major key in achieving a natural looking portrait. This explains why a professional top model prefers one photographer over the other. It also reaffirms the professionalism of a wedding photographer when booked by a sensitive and particular bride.
In this guide to shooting natural looking portraits, I am using a bride and a groom as examples. My long years of experience in shooting weddings, allowed me to improve my social and photographic skills, and expanded my knowledge of portrait photography. By studying the bride and groom’s culture, personalities and physical attributes such as facial features, skin tone, hair color, height, body weight, and posture as well as their mannerisms, I determine the right approach in bringing out their most appealing and natural looks. A pre-wedding pictorial always prove to be very helpful in establishing a relaxed working relationship and making them feel more at ease in front of the camera, on the day of the wedding.
Weddings are often emotionally charged. Excitement and tension are flying high. And there is nothing more challenging than calming a nervous bride. The photographer has only an hour if not minutes in making things right. There is no chance of re-scheduling. The perfect lighting and flattering backdrop are not enough in achieving the natural looking portraits. In that predicament, what would you do? Let your persuasive skills and professionalism infect the bride. Remind her that she is in control and you are there to capture the happiest moments of her wedding. When the smile re-appears on her face, then the two of you are back in the game. The ball is rolling once again.
Backdrop check is just as important as paying attention to the facial expression. A nice contrast complimenting the newlyweds should not be overlooked. Anything behind the subject that is distracting must not be taken for granted. A solution for an overly detailed and busy background is to blur it with the widest aperture of the lens. The pleasing effect brings out the sharply focused subject.
Nothing can beat the outdoor shot. The lighting is easier to control. I prefer the natural light of late afternoon or a cloudy day if it is too late for the morning sun. The white clouds filtering the harsh sunlight can produce an ideal ambient light. But in a situation where the sun is so bright, it is advisable to take the shooting under a shade, while making sure that there are no unflattering patches of light falling on the subject’s face. A diffused 45 degree side lighting as a fill-in light would add a nice pleasant effect most particularly if the groom has a dimpled chiselled face.
Some photographers completely avoid using harsh lighting. In most cases they are right to feel that way. But sometimes, by playing with it, it can accentuate a portrait. Like in the case of the bride’s great-grandmother, her deeply wrinkled face would look more interestingly aged. A direct bright light could also render an excellent backlighting, in creating highlights on the bride’s veil and her bridesmaid’s blond hair.
How do you handle a habitually blinking bride? Not easy. But I learned a simple trick in solving the problem. Firstly, refrain from counting one….two…..and three. This practice makes it worse. The resulting photo with her eyes opened would seldom give the natural look that you want. More than likely she would look tensed because her eyes were gripped by consciousness of waiting for the final count of three. The solution? Here it is. Once you have her framed in your view finder, ask her to close her eyes, and then tell her to open them with a smile. When she does, that is the time to nail the shot. This method works like a charm.
Wedding Portraits are not limited to the bride and groom only. They also cover the whole wedding party. Many will say that this group shot is the hardest one to shoot. It can be, but it is also the most fun to photograph. It is here where I get everybody to loosen up and be naturally happy.