We're coming up on the end of our school year, and many need graduation portraits. More importantly they need new images for their Linkedin as thousands join the new job market looking for that entry-level career opportunity. What your photograph says about you is more important than some think. Here are 11 crucial steps to taking a perfect portrait for the new graduate.
1. Manual Mode: Get off the automatic mode and play with manual. I'd suggest using the a large aperture (low f-number) to blur out the background so it does not compete against your subject. I would however avoid a 1.4 because getting a precise sharpness is difficult if the subject moves the smallest amount. Consider an F 2.8 but still have person not move as much. For your settings, put your contrast at about 25% of the maximum and try to shoot in Neutral mode.
2. Window Light: I wish more people used window light, it's the ultimate soft box! Here's the big thing about this, avoid direct light. The reason for this, is that the human eye can see the difference both shade and sun at the same time. We also see every shade of gray. The best cameras in the world cannot compete against the human eye. With a camera you'll either get an area of the photograph blown out or severely underexposed. When you don't have direct light coming from a window, you'll notice that it's a nice even light and covers the subject very well. Make certain the window is free of anything obstructing the path of the light to avoid shadows. In addition to a nice light, you'll avoid squinting on the part of your subject when there isn't' any direct light.
3. Background: Keep it solid or free of distinct designs like stripes, plaid, etc... When you have a complicated background, you're walking into a retouching disaster. A good background is a Muslin like this (pictured) that can easily be clipped or taped to anything. A good muslin is something you'll use over and over, year after year. Invest in one! You may also use a solid colored wall, ideally a wall that does not have glossy paint.
4. Bounce: You'll want to have a bounce readily available nearby. It's essential to a good portrait but do not worry, you can get them for $1 or spend a little more for a longer investment. Here are the pro/con of each. If you opt for the first example, a regular foam core board you can get a nice clean even light from the white side. They sell them at your local dollar store and are cheap to replace. The downside is that they are cumbersome and hard to pack in a bag. They also only come in white unlike the professional reflectors. You can wrap aluminum foil to the board for the silver bounce, but at this point it's getting complicated and you should just invest a small amount to have a professional reflector set.
If you purchase reflectors, you'll spend a little more obviously but they last longer. For about $35, you can get multiple foldable bounce in every color. The downside is that the initial investment but you'll have the golden bounce which helps the subject with their tan or to mimic golden hour, the silver bounce is stronger than the all-white, you'll get the white bounce and even a diffuser which is so great for a sunny day. It mimics a cloudy day. It all depends on the individual. If you plan on shooting many portraits and on location, consider spending a few dollars more for the second option below.
5. Test Angles: Everyone has a good side, some lucky people have two good sides. Test them out. Have your subject sit down on the chair and take a couple shots from each angle (left, right and front). You can also have their chin slightly up and then slightly down. This should take 1 minute and early on, so you can have some time to decide their best angles. Do this before they get ready, so you will have some extra time figuring out poses based on their best angles. By the time the model is ready for their session, you'll have decided their strongest angles. Tell them what it is! Many have no idea and would appreciate your honest contribution. Many Facebook profile images will change for the better.
6. Shoot in RAW: Because you'll deal with shadows, shooting in RAW will give you a greater ability to lighten or darken areas. Because you are photographing in RAW, my advice is to under expose instead of over exposing. The reasoning is that when you over expose, you are running the risk of losing data. If any part of the subject is blown out, you will record no data and it's hard to repair that part of the image. When you under expose, all the data is there. You'll have all of the skin pigment and you can raise it in post production to the proper setting. The downside of RAW is that you'll have a longer processing time (minimal) and less photos fit on a card.
7. Wardrobe: If shooting in color, avoid all white or red. Avoid patterns that will outshine the subject or contribute to the background. Allow for muted colors, they do best. Be mindful of their size. When you Google professional portraits, see how everyone has a solid color and usually muted. The reason is, we want to see the person and not the outfit. Your wardrobe should be an after-thought and nothing that should be a conversation piece.
8. Posing: Remember to favor their best sides and go through several emotions before you move them. What do I mean by that? You had time to review which side is the strongest. Have them favor that angle and increase the odds of a better image. Also if the angle and body position are great, go through several emotions. Have them smile big, smile a little bit. Have them look at the lens and slightly away from the lens. Have them do this with the chin slightly up and then down. Once you see a beautiful light on your model and the pose is down, tell them to go through every emotion. It's better to have too many choices vs. not enough.
Lie to them. Yes, just a little white lie. Most people will tense up. They have rehearsed poses which make it to every other Instagram or facebook post. A professional portrait is an entirely different product and you'll want to encourage something unlike their social posts. I'll tell my clients "Just keep looking this way, I need to fix a setting on my camera first". Then I pretend to look at the camera settings, I snap a few, pretend to look at the settings again, snap a bunch more...repeat, repeat. When I do this, the client thinks I'm adjusting settings and they relax. The focus is not on them, so they're patiently waiting for you. The entire body changes from top to bottom, and they're in a natural state. This is your chance and you grab it! Click the camera! You can usually get away with a maximum of 2 minutes at a time. Try it. One note about this: Be vocal about it being a simple adjustment to the camera and you'll be up & running no time. They should never feel it's something they are doing wrong and they should be confident you'll remedy the problem in no time. Give them confidence.
Remember this is a portrait shoot and you'll probably have a few basic poses, unlike a modeling shoot where movement is dynamic. It's YOUR job to make a client feel good about themselves. This means you will probably tell white lies here or there. Tell them to sit up or turn because of the light and not because they look large and out of shape! (I never promised to be PC on this blog, just stating the truth). Remember your facial expressions, that's what they're hanging on to. Practice a pleasant smile and every so often give a slightly exaggerated "Oh this is a really good one!" comment. It works. Sitting in front of the lens is a daunting experience for some. You can be the one to change that.
9. Reviewing Images: This is key! Please take time to sit with your clients in the beginning and review images together. Warn them that THEY are their own worst enemies. Remind them that everyone gets a little retouch here or there! It's your job to make this a pleasant experience for them. Please take that seriously and you'll notice a person come alive in front of your lens. When shooting with a client, photograph about 20 images. Then let them see the back of the camera. Show them the good images and tell them why it's great. Show them what needs improvement and give an visual example. When you give the negative, it's ultra-important to reassure them it's normal and even the professionals have a warm-up period. Shoot another 20-30 and review again. They will do better this time. Let them know how good they did. This step here is the difference between a real photographer and those that rely on apps.
10. Flash (NO): Avoid using any flash when it comes to natural light. It's difficult to balance the light and color when you mix two forms of light. Natural light is stunning and can give you some of the best images with a nice even fill. The shadows are often softer and complimentary compared to flash.
11. Price Accordingly: Some people make a little extra income from photographing graduate or LinkedIn head shots. At The Hobby Photograph we urge photographers to retain not just their respect, but respect for this art form. When you lower the price to ridiculous rates, you're hurting the entire industry and we ALL pay for it. When you lower your price to such rates, it's difficult to ever rise up again. It's better to photograph one person for $200 vs. 4 people for $50 each. You want to add subjects to your portfolio? Call your local homeless shelter and ask if any residents would like a free headshot to help them get back in the job market.