Beth Jennings – The Journey Captured » I capture the journey of people in their personal and professional lives. I teach amateur photographers how to capture their life in beautiful photos. Photography, Melbourne Photographer, Photography Workshops, dSLR Camera Workshops, Creative Camera Course, Photo Course Melbourne, Camera Class Melbourne

Beth’s Pick – Photographing Portraits

This week we’ve just finished the Portraits theme in my creative camera course, Your Camera, Your World.

I was so thrilled to open my email on Monday morning to see all the submissions! Participants then received the links for the feedback videos, sorry they will not be published here, it’s for their eyes only:)

It’s important to celebrate the learning curve and outcomes, and share with you a couple of results from the assignments, as well as feedback around the pictures.

I’d like to acknowledge all the sitters who generously donated their time and egos to be photographed by the course participants. It’s not an easy deal, and they have all done exceptionally well.

This week participants had two portraits to do…

1. Close-up

A head-and-shoulders, or even closer picture that provides an intimate connection between the subject and viewer.

From Jocelin

‘I just wanted to send you a quick email saying ‘thank you’. Thank you so much for your valuable feedback it has given me a boost in my photo confidence but also given me further areas to look at which I love.

I do have a question, that I hope might help everyone, or it may just be me! You mentioned to take it to the next level, perhaps I could have removed the table behind my mum and had the light from the window and wall behind. I did have a shot with the window behind with the bright light, but I questioned whether it was too light. The light on my mums face was great and the composition looked good but I just questioned the light from the window behind her. Is it acceptable to have that type of bright light from a window behind someone?’

My feedback

Joceline, it’s hard to say without seeing the image. From what you describe I can imagine the light from the window behind her was quite bright and flarey, even though the exposure was right for your mum’s face.  Don’t be scared and shy away from trying these things. The only way you know for sure is to move things around, move you, move the subject, and observe where the light falls each time you do that. Shoot it and see. Rinse and repeat. Closeup portraiture is all about deliberately controlling all those small elements. So you must train your eye to really, really see every single little thing that’s going on inside the frame.  Even though the surrounding elements are small, and perhaps out of focus, they do form part of the story for the viewer. That cascading light might have been a winner!

What’s really delightful in this capture is the light in your mum’s eyes, (nice catch light Jocelin!) and what tells me that this is a real moment for her is the lift in her shoulders. It’s such a small thing, a small movement, but a genuine one from your mum. Without that tiny gesture it would lack oompf. On top of handling the light and subject really well, you generated a genuine moment and captured it beautifully.  Well done.

For next time

I touched briefly on the ego element with your result in the feedback video. Everyone likes their ‘best side’ to be captured. Sometimes it takes a while to figure out what will work as each person has their strong qualities and not-so-strong qualities. For example, with me, you will very rarely see a profile picture because I don’t like my nose! In your mum’s example with her big smile, I would suggest to still go for that eye-camera connection but to soften the expression a touch and move from a big, grinny smile to a softer smile. Or, if you wanted to keep the big smile, try raising the camera and shooting downwards, and having your subject lean towards the camera and look up. Or perhaps, have her turn her face away from the window light and in towards the room. It all changes everything of course, and that’s the point. You have to do trial and error to see.

2. Environmental

When looking at portraits, as viewers, we seek to understand the subject as much as we can and we look for clues in the environment and elements given to us in the picture.

From Barbsie

‘This is a portrait of Kavita the photographer, shooting on location on a dark overcast day. This image is showing her here a in a city lane way.  Please give feedback on the location and posing. I thought it would be good to have her not taking a photo but showing her taking a quick break from taking a photo, the background is the scene she is shooting on locaton. I have used post production to give some contrast to an otherwise flat image.’

My feedback

Barbsie, I am so proud of you. I have seen your developments since the manual camera workshop in February this year and your photography is going in leaps and bounds.  You have handled this idea really well, and not tried to overdo it in terms of posing. Kavita has her arms together cradling her ‘baby’ and her shoulders look relaxed and her feet are positioned comfortably.  Mood wise, can you see that she’s a teensy weansey bit self conscious, as indicated by the face slightly tilting back and away from the camera (a natural defensive movement). Don’t worry about this – it’s perfectly normal and every time I shoot portraits I expect to see that turn up, it’s a natural human reaction to being watched by a big lens, and in a public place too! No stress, and I’m splitting hairs here.  You’ve done a great job and with practice you will become more knowing of what you want in a portrait and better able to express that to your subject.  In turn, the trust will build, the barrier will melt away.  It all just takes practice and time.

She’s a beautiful girl and you’ve used a slightly lower camera angle relative to her face and shot upwards. Then she also has her face tilted up a bit, and her eyes coming down again. With this posturing, I’d love to see what else you had in the results, in terms of face angles and eye to camera connection. Her positioning in the space makes sense, and the overall composition and landscape works well. The people in the background give context but at the same time do not take over the picture because they are out of focus. It’s well executed, well done!

For next time

We haven’t yet delved into post production, and it is a big area. I think it’s great that you’re seeing the raw file as being flat and unexciting. The raw file is exactly that, the raw data. It will be flat, lacking contrast, sharpness and saturation.

You’ve added contrast to make the whites whiter and the blacks blacker, and vibrance/saturation to give richness the colours. I can also see some split toning going on, which means you can pick a colour to tone the highlights, and a colour to tone the shadows. I think the handling of the shadows has worked fine, it’s all got that grungy, bluey, murky quality that fits with the alley environment.

But…there’s a but!:)Look closely at Kavita’s face, on her forehead, can you see it’s a bit ‘hot’? And the colour is unnaturally yellow for her skin. I believe from looking at this you are in Adobe Lightroom using a preset. With presets, my advice is to pick one as your ballpark, but then really learn to study the result, and look closely at the important areas. Aim for your pictures to look polished, not cooked. Presets sometimes overdo the look, so then you need to go into the sliders and individually play with each one to really see the effect each one is having.  In your example Barbsie, I’d pull back the saturation on that highlight split tone. I would also use the recovery slider to bring the highlights back in on her face. I’m picking, I know!!! Just little things to think about…

So, that was portraiture! Everyone is doing so well, and now we are exploring Live Performance.

So cool!!!


I hope you found this useful. If you would like to join onto the next Module for Your Camera, Your World, it is set to begin in mid-September. All you need is your camera and an internet connection. All the details are here.

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