Last week I shot some high school senior portraits for a friend’s daughter. As always, the three words “Subject, Light, Background” ruled what I did during the shoot. I already had my subject, so I needed to find good backgrounds and think about how I would use the light.
We met at a nearby park which had some nice locations to shoot in. Since the subject of the photos was Claire, it was important that the background not draw attention away from her. To accomplish that I used wide (“fast”) apertures and telephoto lenses. Shooting either an 85mm or 70-200mm lens, staying relatively close to her and using wide apertures (mostly around f/2.8) meant I’d keep those backgrounds pleasingly out of focus. Remember, with any lens, the closer you are to the subject, the more the background will be out of focus. That took care of the background.
For the light, I did something called “working against the light.” Being outdoors let me take advantage of daylight. And we chose early evening for the shoot so the sun would be low in the sky, which meant a better chance of getting some color from it. Then I made sure to keep the sun behind or to the side of Claire, so it would act as a backlight or sidelight. The only problem with that is it would put her in shadow, which could create an exposure problem. I solved that easily with one of my favorite tools, a reflector, held by her mom. The reflector kicked the sunlight back into Claire’s face, adding a glow to her.
With all the pieces in place, then it became a matter of talking Claire through the shoot. Perhaps the hardest part to any portrait is getting the subject comfortable being in front of the camera. Chatting with them, noticing which expressions seem most natural, developing a rapport so they can relax and let the true “them” show through.
I’ve always enjoyed shooting portraits because people are great subjects for photography. Finding a good background, working with the light, and then bringing out the subject’s personality in the picture is a great challenge. It’s the perfect exercise of Subject, Light and Background.