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Archive 2013 · Portrait critique
  
 
WalterF
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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · Portrait critique


I am trying to improve my skills at taking portraits, and would like to have them critiqued. So that I can improve.

Thanks

1



2


Thanks for looking and taking time to write out my weak spots.

Walt



Jan 25, 2013 at 11:06 PM
cgardner
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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · Portrait critique


Take both images and apply a 15px gaussian blur to make them an abstract tone map. Where does the tonal gradient pull your eye when you look at them.

That "blur test" simulates what attracts the brain perceptually. Instinctively humans will seek to make eye contact regardless of how the eyes and face are illuminated, but when the side of head is brighter than the front the more primitive perceptual instinct will cause the brain to tell the eyes to go check out the area that contrast more.

When you understand that dynamic you can use it to control "hang time" on the front of the face. Had you put your key light on the left which would make the far side brightest and put the "broad" side in shadow the attention would be drawn to the eyes and mouth first, but then attention WOULD STAY THERE.

In that regard a portrait isn't different than a scenic. When setting the pose and lights and when selecting background, clothing and props like the hat you need to stop, think ask:

1) What do I want to attract the viewer's attention first?
2) How long to I want the eye to dwell there?
3) Do I want for it to move off that primary focal point?
4) If so where and for how long?
5) Where next?
6) Is there a different path from there back the main focal point?

For a conventional portrait like this the answers are:

1) the face
2) the longer the better
3) not really, nothing is more interesting than the face
4-6) Don't apply when you have a single focal point

Next time try the key light on the other side with her facing towards it rather than away and keep the near side of the head in shadow. Compare with these in light of the new insights above.

After setting the light to the face so it is just hitting the front move the camera around her face. Here is you moved the camera around to the right a bit more the far side of the jaw and bit of ear sticking out would disappear and the face would look less and more shapely; you'll see the cheekbone "pop" into view as the far ear and side of the face seem to disappear.

Set the light first to face then move the CAMERA to change the POV not the face to the light with a static camera.

Eyes in oblique view seem "shifty" when looking at the camera because we rarely interact with people at that angle. To get more "normal" looking eyes after you set the lights and find the most flattering facial angle tell her not to move her head, just where she is looking, to a point on the wall she's looking at that's halfway between the camera and straight ahead. Standing at the camera watch as the eyes start to look more centered and "normal" as in a face-to-face conversation and tell her to remember that spot so her eyes will look centered.

What will happen is the minute you move her eyes will too to track you so pay attention the eyes shot-to-shot and remind her to "look at the spot again". It sound implausible but with the eyes faked that way they wind up looking more normal in the photo.

Here notice the difference the angle of the eye line makes the body language. Like all things there are not rights and wrongs, good or bad, just different implied messages. A subject appearing to leaning forward into the frame as in the first will seem more confident than one seeming to be falling backwards out of it as in the second. You can use that forward / dead level / leaning out dynamic in the eye, shoulder (and hip line in full length) to change the viewer's impression of the subject.

One of the neater tricks I learned from my mentor Monte Zucker was "feet up" posing. A person standing flat footed will have level hips, shoulder, and eye line in a photo. But when they shift weight to one foot or the other the hips and shoulders shift at an angle. Then by either tilting the head and eye line to either stay in line _0_ with the tilted shoulder line, or tilting eyes opposite the shoulder tilt you can create a squared off "masculine / aggressive/confident" impression or an angled more submissive "feminine / aggressive / shy" body language.

Try it in front of a mirror yourself so you can connect how it looks to how it feels. That helps when coaching a model verbally. I show first time subjects the pose by striking it myself, then explain which foot to put where and how to shift weight between them. Hips and shoulder follow the feet then you adjust the eye line to shoulder.

Like the eye movement non-models will move the second you turn you back to go to the camera. That's why I explain to them what I'm doing with the feet hips and shoulders and why, so they too can connect the desired pose with how it feels. Then all I need to say is "you moved, strike that pose again" and they get it and comply.



Jan 26, 2013 at 12:18 AM
AuntiPode
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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · Portrait critique


First tip for making a portrait of an adult woman, you can somewhat simulate make-up with post processing retouching, but it's almost always much better to have well applied make-up for the subject.







Jan 26, 2013 at 03:52 AM
WalterF
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p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · Portrait critique


cgardner You have given me a lot to ponder on. Can you recommend a good book on posing?
I think this photo better fills out your criteria for lighting and posing. Even though I could have moved the key light farther to my right.




AuntiPode She despises makeup, in the 15 years I have known her I can't remember I single time she wore any. Photos would look better though.
She is just a hippie born a few years to late.

Thanks for the effort you people put in.

Walt



Jan 26, 2013 at 04:55 AM
AuntiPode
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p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · Portrait critique


Well, that leaves post-processing.


Jan 26, 2013 at 05:54 AM
WalterF
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p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · Portrait critique


AuntiPode She likes what you did with the makeup, and says thanks. As long as it is not on her yuck


Jan 26, 2013 at 01:45 PM
 

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cgardner
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p.1 #7 · p.1 #7 · Portrait critique


I didn't learn posing from a book so I can't recommend any. I recommend standing in front of a full length mirror yourself to learn.

Imagine you are walking on a narrow sidewalk and you meet two other people head on. If someone doesn't turn sideways when passing you'd knock each other off the path. It's a test of dominance vs. submission to see who will turn sideways. As they approach you read their body language clues to decide for yourself whether to "stand your ground" or turn to let them pass. I do both at various times just to see how the other people will react. I'll just stop as they approach, but not turn sideways to let them pass, sending the message with my body language that just because there or two of them and one of me doesn't mean they own the public sidewalk. If forces one or both to turn or step off the sidewalk to get by.

Karen lives where body language was refined as a very effective defensive weapon. The Maori people used scary tattooed faces and crazy aggressive looking body language postures to intimidate potential foes. One look at them and the opponent would think, "Hell no, I ain't messing with that crazy dude".

You'd react the same way if walking down a dark street at night and you saw three guys hanging around on the corner. If you are were risk adverse you'd cross to the other side of the street and if they made a move to cross also start running as fast as you could. If you don't pick up on signals like that you become easy prey because the criminal element are experts at reading the body language of "marks". If you make some overt effort to show them you are aware of them, like crossing the street, they'll usually leave you alone because they see you aren't an easy target.

Knowing how to pose a subject in a photo is just learning to consciously recognize body language signals like that and use them to manipulate viewer's reaction in the same ways. To do it effectively you need to understand what postures trigger a passive/aggressive, confident/shy, sexy/demure reaction in real life and in photos.

Start first by thinking about how you react to the clues in photos. If a woman in a photo you see looks shy or demure notice how the shoulder's eyes and hips are angled. You'll see shallow angles that appear to fall off front>back. What happens when the model thrusts her hips a bit more and cocks the shoulders down at a steeper angle into the camera is that her body language changes from passive to aggressive. The greater the tilt the more aggressive the posture looks.

In terms of actual posing mechanics all you need to do to get the model to go from "demure" to "sexy" is have her increase and exaggerate the shift her weight more to one hip. The hip bone is connected to the spine, which is connected to the shoulders, and shoulder line will follow the hip to create the more aggressive "sexy" body language.

Ask a non-model to pose for a photo and what to 90% of the people do? Stand flat footed and square to the camera and grasp their hand together in front in a "fig leaf" pose. So for comparison use squared off and flat footed as the starting baseline: hips, shoulders, and eyes will be level.

What impression does that give you? Passive/ Aggressive? Dominant / Submissive? Compare with arms grasped in front to arms hanging naturally at sides and crossed in front. How do the arms change the body language?

Next angle the entire body 45 degrees to the camera. You do that by asking the model to put one foot in front of the other. Start with them flat footed, weight equal on both feet: Compared to the first baseline does the more slender overall profile seem more passive/submissive?

Next have them shift weight to back hip to the point they can lift the front heel off the ground. Note how it shifts the hip and shoulder together. How does the angle affect their body language? Have them shift more or less weight to the hip to change the angles. How does it affect the body language.

Next reverse the weight shift to to the front hip. How does that change the hip/shoulder angle and body language message.

What you'll notice is that however you get the subject to shift the weight between feet their eye line will always wind up square and level. That's because regardless of body angle we adjust the head naturally to orient the eyes with the horizon. But in a photo you nearly always want the eyes at an angle and must continually coach a non-model who will constantly move their eyes back to level.

Something trained models also learn to do is shift hips, shoulders, and eye lines INDEPENDENTLY. By that I mean differently than they naturally wind up when with the weight shift of the hips. They do that to change the body language signals to something that subliminally trigger a "that doesn't look normal" reaction to the body language. Tell a trained model to look "sexy" or "demure" and she'll know from training and experience how to change the body angle clues to create that impression.

I reiterate, strongly, my suggestion to practice yourself in front of a mirror with square vs. oblique and different weight shifts between feet so you can understand where the hips, shoulders, eyes wind up naturally and how it feels. Once you understand the natural postural relationship of the feet weighting to hips and shoulders, you'll gain the insight to look at a shot of a model in a magazine and consciously be aware of whether its a "natural" posture creating the look or she's moving the hips/shoulders/eyes it a way they don't naturally fall into place with that foot position / hip angle.

In other words, once you understand the "feet up" dynamic of a natural pose you'll be able to "reverse-engineer" any pose you see starting with the "Wow that looks sexy!" emotional reaction, then looking at the angles of eyes, shoulders and hips relative to the frame, then comparing them to the "natural" postures you see in the mirror when standing flat footed or with weight shifted more to the front or back foot.

When you get to that point, which doesn't take long if you actually try what I suggest, when posing a subject your first thought will not be which "playbook" stick figure diagram to use but whether you want the wife to look demure or sexy, confident and shy. You'll be able to get any of them by telling her where to put her feet and shift her weight.

It's really that easy. I know because was very easy to grasp it when my mentor Monte Zucker demonstrated it. He had learned it from his mentor Joe Zeltman who noticed how foot position and weighting predicted the angles of hips and shoulders.




Jan 26, 2013 at 02:47 PM
sbeme
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p.1 #8 · p.1 #8 · Portrait critique


Not qualified to say much about the lighting or post-processing. The others know more.
But I wonder about a crop from the bottom in both. To me these portraits might work better with a tighter crop. The tendons of her neck distract, pull the eye away from the face and do not add much. The last image, which is a bit more flattering in terms of her neck, is less an issue Still the brighter areas there, and the dark dress pull the eye away from the face where you want the most attention.

Scott



Jan 26, 2013 at 03:01 PM
cgardner
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p.1 #9 · p.1 #9 · Portrait critique




Here by comparison with the first ones you should see how the face looks slimmer and more naturally 3D due to the way the change in camera angle reveals the far side profile and how the lighting strategy only highlights the front "mask" area of the face keeping attention there.

To refine it further:

Light position: Note how on the near side the key light is spilling past the near eye around to the side of the face? That make the face look wider than if the light doesn't "wrap" around to the side.

Facial angle: When moving the camera to select the angle you need to visually balance how symmetrical the two sides in front look to the camera. Here the camera angle is making the eye area and overall face look slimmer, but if you look down at the chin that angle that's ideal for the eyes is making the chin on the far side look smaller. That's a function of the shape of the face that varies a lot from face to face. So when adjusting the camera look at eyes, chin and the illusion of overall right-left balance and symmetry the combined angle / lighting pattern creates in the playback. There no "right" angle, just let your brain tell you by comparison as you move the camera slightly which looks most balanced. That's usually the most flattering angle.

Eye position: A subject looking straight ahead sends a "look but don't bother me" message with the eyes. Try "cheating" the eyes more to towards, but not staring directly at the camera for more of a "come meet me" vibe without it becoming "shifty-eyed".

Lighting ratio: Shadows are darker than I'd typically use for a "flattering" portrait of a woman. What you used here is better suited for a man or a woman in a business suit trying to project a more aggressive vs. passive body language message. Here the pose and look to the side expression read "passive" but the lighting ratio is too "aggressive" and dark to match those body language clues.

The tone of the shadows, all other things being equal in the photo, are a clue the brain uses to interpret and infer mood of the subject and whether the environment they are in, even when none is seen, is "normal" or not. So when you get the pose and lighting refined try different ratios:

key = fill (1+1:1) = 2:1 What I use for women, young kids

key 1 stop over fill: (2+1:1) = 3:1 Men, tween and teens when I want them to look serious/mature. What looks "normal" in candid shots with most cameras (the look of a ratio varies somewhat with sensor range)

4:1 and greater key > fill ratios? Save those for the character studies of grandpa...

What you have here is what I typically see with a 3:1 ratio (key a stop stronger than fill). As you try different ratios note how as you adjust overall power/exposure to keep the highlight tone similar the darker shadows change the impression the photo creates. Often you can't judge that objectively on a very familiar subject so make prints of the identical pose/pattern with the various ratios and show them to friends. Ask which ratio they find the most "normal" looking and how the others changed their reaction.




Edited on Jan 26, 2013 at 03:28 PM · View previous versions



Jan 26, 2013 at 03:17 PM
RustyBug
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p.1 #10 · p.1 #10 · Portrait critique


A few tweaks of selective sharpening / blurring and a small crop trim. Nothing too obvious, but just a little effort to try and pull down some of the areas that are pulling or competing for attention away from her eyes/face.







Jan 26, 2013 at 03:18 PM
AuntiPode
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p.1 #11 · p.1 #11 · Portrait critique


WalterF wrote:
AuntiPode She likes what you did with the makeup, and says thanks. As long as it is not on her yuck


Without make-up on the subject, it becomes an extra post processing effort to retouch to show a subject to best effect. I understand the aversion to make-up. (It's also quite expensive in NZ.) I have many allergies and it takes a special occasion justify the effort for me to do-up my face. I'd be surprised if I do war paint more than a couple times a year. When I was in the portrait biz, folks always wanted retouching, at least until they discovered how much it cost. Back in the day, color retouching was nearly all hand work painted by skilled artists with an assortment of fine brushes. Now with tools such as Photoshop, with a little skill and some extra time it's possible to make changes old-time retouchers would have made ... expensively. The down side is folks have begun to expect them. That's not bad if you shoot professionally and can build-in the time/cost of retouching into your price. I shoot for family and friends so I factor in the extra time and effort retouching to a level I think they ought to be before I say, sure, "I'll take your picture."



Jan 26, 2013 at 07:48 PM
WalterF
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p.1 #12 · p.1 #12 · Portrait critique


AuntiPode I had to learn how to put makeup on today, and I can see what you mean by adding PP time. If for pay later makeup will be strongly suggested.

This is my work at putting makeup on her, and trying to blur more areas. Whiten teeth, adjust the color of her eyes.




cgardner thank you for such a thorough answer, leaves me with a lot to digest. Have to reread a few times for it to start to sink in.

RustyBug Thanks for the touchup of the image, it helped.



Thanks everyone for the time spent helping me learn.

Walt






Jan 26, 2013 at 09:16 PM





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