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Archive 2013 · New To Photographing People, Help!
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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · New To Photographing People, Help!

My first request for critique, do not hold back!

Other than family snapshots, I have never tried people photography. The local photography club had a mini-fashion shoot at a museum, so I went and tried my limited skill.

I tried to capture a story, "Waiting For Her Man's Train"

First pic at noon, second at 5PM, third at midnight. The backlighting was changed by aperture and shutter speed.

He will be here soon!

Did he miss the train?

How long do I wait?

I need all the help I can get, thanks!

Jan 28, 2013 at 12:12 AM
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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · New To Photographing People, Help!


Photo One:

Body language reads like, "Gee my man is not coming for a couple hours so I'll flirt with that cute clerk in the ticket window over there." Direct eye contact, hand up near eyes drawing attention to the face and eyes send that message.

Arm pose look awkward and contrived here. The hand near the face was an effective way to place it because it's close to the face and connects with it (literally and in terms of leading lines down arm back to face) but it sends the wrong coy flirtatious body language for this story. Someone waiting might instead be seen reading or holding an open book in their lap with her hands, pausing from reading to look for the train.

In terms of execution the composition of figure in frame overall works well but that big gap on top just pulls attention up off the face to check it out. The lighting on the face reveals it's 3D shape naturally because the flash isn't overpowering the natural modeling (as in the other two). But the face is underexposed.

Eyes are shaded by the brow and darker that the other parts of face. The way to prevent shaded eyes is to shoot from a higher POV and have the subject look up more getting the light past the brow. The angle of the face to camera will be the same if both move equally but there will be better light in the eyes. If you just add flash thinking it will make the eyes brighter it will create catchlights as it did here, but the same amount of flash hits the cheeks so relative to the cheeks the eye sockets still look darker. Get the eye up into the light first, pick the camera angle to the face second, then add the flash; ideally from the same downward angle the natural light is modeling the face. I slightly higher camera angle relative to the eye line would hide the nostrils completely and be more flattering. If you can see the nostrils in the viewfinder try raising the camera a bit more and compare.

Photo Two:

Again as in #1 she's engaged and flirting with the camera (and the viewer of the photo). At this point she might instead be seen looking at her watch implying her man is running late.

In terms of execution it is a nicely balanced oblique view of her face but the flash is overpowering the natural light and coming from an unnatural upward direction because of the the low camera angle and flash on camera. Again in terms of workflow: 1) pose face to natural light, 2) find a flattering camera angle (preferably not looking up the nose), 3) if you need to add flash position it to match the modeling of the natural light, don't overpower it flash from the hot shoe.

Overall composition is pleasing but there's more space than needed on top. Recompose after focusing. Poses where the subject leans their weight on an stiff arm to support the body look stiff and like the person is going to fall over out of the frame. Better to put the weight on the buns and the hands together doing something. Attention in a portrait nearly always goes first to the face then follows one of the arms to the hands to see what they are doing (holding book, revealing watch). So you don't want to cut off the hands with the bottom of the frame and if you do show the hands they should be doing something interesting. From the hands you want to create a path up the other arm back to the face. The path down one arm and up the other keeps circling back to the main focal point that way. Where do the arms lead here? Out of the frame.

Third Shot:

This is the only one with body language conveying the idea of waiting for someone. The idea behind the dark background conveying night doesn't work very well here because she blasted with flat flash lighting like the noon day sun. Where will the eye go here after the face? In a shot where a person it seen looking off to the side the viewer will follow the nose to see what is so interesting. The dark background also isn't very interesting and adds nothing to the story. This would work better as the first shot in the series with the train track, buses, airplanes seen in the background to establish the context of where she is waiting.

As for the storyline at this point? Enough of the waiting already! That part of the story got told and old when we saw her looking at the watch in the second frame. What is the ending? There are two possible: either the guy shows up and she's seen happy and running towards the gate, or he doesn't and she seen alone in the exit doorway slouched with defeated body language. Or.... he doesn't show and she is seen leaving with the clerk from the ticket counter who she was flirting with in your first shot.

Stories are always more interesting with a "punchline". Better when it's one that is unexpected by the viewer.

Execution? Again the flash is overpowering any natural light modeling. The camera is too far right past profile. A few inches more to the left and you would have captured a more symmetrical and flattering "penny" profile. When you split the face exactly in half the brain of the viewer will assume the other half is exactly the same. When you don't, as here, the face just looks lopsided.

The body language of the pose with cocked wrist curved fingers and extended index finger on chin reads as "thoughtful" but the the elbow sticking out is awkward looking. Better to have it down in the infield not pointing into left field. Remember arms are usually leading lines AWAY from the face so be mindful of where they lead. Here the path is face > hand > arm > left field.

With women be mindful of where the bust line winds up relative to the bottom of the frame, how it is revealed by the camera angle and how much attention the clothing draws to it. Too close to the bottom crop and enhanced wth near/far perspective as it is here it will draw more attention to the breasts at the expense of the face. So will eye catching distractions like the buttons and folds. Drawing attention to the breasts works for a glamor shot, not for this message. Tighter crop here works well, it just needs more space on the bottom.

The contrasting color of the green top is distracting. Consider that if it was brown and blending into the color of the bench it wouldn't compete color wise with the gloved hand and face. and the profile of the breast on the far side wouldn't even noticed if the lighting wasn't so overpoweringly strong. Make the focal point of each shot contrast strongly and blend everything less important into the background.

Watch movies and you'll see scenes where everything in a room seems to be in the same range of colors and tones and the actor's faces contrast. It's not that way by happy accident. It's planned months in advance by the production and clothing designers. That same attention to coordination of clothing and background together then highlighting the front of the face with the lighting is how to put the focal point "in the spotlight" to guide the viewer to it and hold attention there. That's how all the pieces of the puzzle need to come together holistically to deliver the message more effectively.

Jan 28, 2013 at 02:37 AM
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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · New To Photographing People, Help!

Thanks for the input, I will print all that and read it a dozen times!!

I just noticed the RAW converter has a histogram, I tried pic #1 again:


Jan 28, 2013 at 04:40 AM

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p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · New To Photographing People, Help!

The adjusted version is more "normal" looking in terms of exposure.

BTW - I realize you likely didn't have much control over the model's poses and expressions at that club shoot so my suggestions where more in the vein of what to change if you do in the future based on the desired story line.

The difference between a well trained / experienced model and one who is not is being able to tell them the story line and them knowing how to create the appropriate expressions and body language needed to convey it visually. That only happened in the last shot here.

Some models are "naturals" at this. Those that appear to be probably got that way by practicing for hours in front of a mirror. That's also something I encourage photographers who struggle with posing do themselves. If you stand in front of a mirror and try to look happy, sad, confident, insecure with your body language you'll better understand how to coach an inexperienced model to create that look. More often than not I demonstrate the poses I want to inexperienced subjects by standing with my back to them so they can better relate to how the feet are placed, weight is shifted between them and how that affects angle of hips and shoulders.

With a seated subject hip and shoulder angles are controlled by which butt cheek is bearing the weight. That's more difficult to communicate to a model that "shift your weight to your back foot" so it's actually easier to pose a standing subject than a seated one.

When you need to seat a subject is when they are very tall or you much shoot from a low tripod. Remember what I mentioned about nostrils. They are the least attractive feature on the face and can be hidden from view by raising the camera relative to the eye line. Went you can't raise the camera higher you need to put the subject lower to get the camera above the eyes and hide the nose holes from view.

Mind you that's not an absolute "rule". There are situations where a view looking up has story implications that trump whether the nose is flattered. An example would be a PJ story of a small child where you would shoot from their eye level looking up at the parents to give the viewer the impression of how the kid sees his world. That what you should think about when selecting other than "normal" eye level views. How does POV of the camera fit the context of the story / scene. There wasn't any compelling story reason for the low angle in your shot.

Jan 28, 2013 at 02:19 PM
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p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · New To Photographing People, Help!

Thanks for the input. Yes it was a club shoot, she was constantly readjusting her pose. I simply reset my camera and waited for a pose that was "close enough".

For me, just working the camera to get some variation in background lighting was difficult, that is why I was happy with the poses I got.

There is another club fashion shoot in a couple weeks, I get to try again! Next time I will be more confident talking to the model.

Baby steps this time, next time I will let go of the coffee table!

Jan 28, 2013 at 03:22 PM
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p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · New To Photographing People, Help!

SweetMk wrote:
There is another club fashion shoot in a couple weeks, I get to try again! Next time I will be more confident talking to the model.

Photographers in general tend to be introverted. That's why we by choice wind up behind not in front of the lens.

For me interacting with the subject was an acquired skill. It's really quite easy, just ask them about their family, kids, last vacation, favorite nearby eateries.... Then shut up and listen

Jan 28, 2013 at 03:33 PM

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