Trying to Learn Portrait Photography

Discussion in 'People & Portraits' started by Wes Hall, Jul 3, 2022.

  1. Wes Hall

    Wes Hall Active Member

    I've been busy lately, trying to get to grips with shooting portraits of people, usually strangers with consent.

    I'm hoping to produce a memorable gift for friends I'm seeing later this summer, with my Mamiya C3, and discovering how to frame, expose and develop the human form is tricky!

    I feel it's on the up, improvements are happening. Any tips will be welcomed and thoughts expressed will, as always, be appreciated.

    All on C3 shooting Foma 400, except last self portrait which is Fuji ACROS 2 in Yashica FX3.

    I know my home scanning is a limiting factor as I definitely don't have this down right (using a Pixl-later and DSLR), but the gift will go to a lab.
    Village History RPF.jpg
    Ryan Portrait Quick RPF.jpg
    Ryan SP RPF.jpg
    Kelvin Portrait RPF.jpg
    Miguel RPF.jpg
    Self Portrait Acros 2 Yashica FX3 02B RPF.jpg
  2. Rob MacKillop

    Rob MacKillop Edinburgh Correspondent

    No tips at all, as I'm the world's worst portrait photographer...ask my wife and daughter for vociferous confirmation.

    I'm not sure what to say about these, Wes. They show your mates (mostly) smiling. The last is of interest due in part to the environmental context (there being more of it than in the other images), and the overexposed but nonetheless interesting cap, which just shades his eyes. The more I look at it, the more I become transfixed by it. Yes, I really like it.

    Just thinking off the top of my head, unless a face is really interesting, then an environmental context which is related to the "model" can help build a story. Maybe? Some people have faces that naturally tell a story, while some not so much, I think. I've no idea, really, just thinking out loud.
    Wes Hall likes this.
  3. Wes Hall

    Wes Hall Active Member

    And thoughts shared aloud have a tendency to attract other thoughts, maybe developing into something of use :) Thanks Rob, I will add the the first chap isn't a known friend, although consented to me using the image, the next few are indeed friends, and the final is myself. I like your direction on environmental context, it's a difficult one to place and certainly an area I'm not comfortable with setting myself, although hearing you express it, looking amongst others portrait images I've been drawn to, that plays a part.
    Rob MacKillop likes this.
  4. Dave Farnes

    Dave Farnes Well-Known Member

    I see what Rob is saying about environmental context. The hard brick wall in the first gives the subject a tough guy look. The backpacker belongs in the great outdoors.
    Wes Hall likes this.
  5. Brian Moore

    Brian Moore Moderator

    Wes that last one is excellent. The splash of light overexposing the cap and part of your face only serves to impart an immediacy about this image that I find compelling. Its not literal; like a picture of what you might remember.
    Wes Hall likes this.
  6. Pete Askew

    Pete Askew Admin

    I think Rob's comments are very relevant here. I often feel that a successful portrait needs to either have strong context, be truly candid or be formally arranged. Or of course, in addition to these, be part of a conceptual idea.

    For me, the first 5 do not fit into any of those categories and come across as 'snaps' . Fine in and of themselves, but lack meaning to an outside viewer. The last though, has many elements of a conceptual image: one does not need to understand the meaning at all, and often I think that can be a strength. Even the blown highlight becomes an essential part of the presentation: is he gazing into some divine light, inspiration, etc?

    I think many of the street images of Chris often fit into the first 2 categories, in many cases the person is often a prop. as it were in the composition. Formal is a lot harder as it is rare for the 'sitter' to present themselves in a photogenic / interesting manner, but direction is a difficult skill and only the greats such as Bailey ever really achieve it. So ones needs to employ an artifice, either as you have done with yourself or by asking them to think of something or to present you with a vision of themselves in some way. If there are more than one person, for example a couple, you can use a trick like asking one person in secret to nudge the other just before you take the image or something, to induce an interaction. Another is to use a formal approach: big imposing camera, use a tripod. Make the portrait an event as it were.

    Anyway, just some thoughts from someone who rarely takes formal portraits any more!

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