Mid van, amit nem kaptál? – Didn't God give you everything you have?

Classic Indoor Portrait Photography with Túróczki Szilvia

Whereas street photography or probably any form of underground photography tries to focus its attention to freezing a particular situation where the personality of the acting people is just the second line of interest, portrait photography is essentially about capturing the model’s beauty and personality. Obviously it means that every distracting elements shall be eliminated from the picture and emphasis given to the model; the face and the eyes in particular. In order to achieve this effect, classic portrait photography generally requires a studio or at least a suitable indoor facility where lights can be controlled(!!!). Thinking back at the recent years of my photography it is easy to see that I usually enjoy taking pictures of situations, random events, people and of course taking snapshots in the street. Classic portrait photography or anything that has something to do with a studio was not really my taste and probably it wouldn’t have changed if it wasn’t for Túróczki Szilvia. Szilvia is an extremely attractive young Russian and English teacher who I first met in early summer 2010. It quickly became obvious to me that if there’s such beauty in the world that shall be captured by all means then it is hers! So I decided to go for a classic indoor portrait photography and here I try summon up my experiences concerning shooting this kind of pictures.

Although the most important thing to do when preparing for portrait photography is to find a beautiful model, this time it was not a problem since Szilvia’s stunning beauty ensured that no difficulties will have to be faced on the model’s side. Except maybe the photographer’s attention being continuously distracted from actually taking pictures… :) So once you have found a model, let’s have a look on the equipment you are going to use. You will need a camera of course where both digital and film cameras will be fine as long as they allow you full manual operation since that is what you are to use. You don’t need too many lenses to take classic portraits so let’s just choose one lens and use that during your shooting. The optimal lens has a focal lenght of at least 50 mm and a maximal apperture of at least f/2.8. You might be using a wider lens than 50mm of course but it is really not recommended to go for a wide-angle lens since it distorts the image in such a way that will have visible effects on your subject’s face or body. This distortion is highly undesirable in classic portraits. If you’re shooting film than better to choose a C-41 color print film that has good dynamic range and wide exposure latitude, softer contrast and good shadow details. Essentially Kodak has the best color print films for classic portraits but if you’re doing it for the first time, than any Kodak C-41 will do it.

If you’re shooting digital – such as I was in this case being reluctant to risk any pictures of this beautiful girl – then the most important thing to do is to set your camera to RAW format. If you do not know what RAW is or you have no idea how to handle them, you should really take your time to learn it if you want to have high quality portraits. Actually RAW allows you to set the white balance after (!) shooting the picture and it provides the most accurate values and settings for white balance that is available today. You shall know that processing RAW files into a final JPEG image shall be performed out of your camera and you will need some additional software such as Adobe Lightroom, but it is really worth it.

Once again you have to be in full control of the lights hitting the subject or anything that will be in the picture. In classic portrait you do not want to have a background that has too much details so let’s just confine ourselves to a single colored background and of course black and white are the more often used for such portraits. It probably won’t mean any difficulty to get some black or white clothes or carpets for background. Once again it is up to the photographer’s taste but I favor black background with nice colors on the subject or white background with less saturated colors on the face. So it is no wonder that I shot most of Szilvia’s pictures with blank black background. For lighting you may use the sunlight if you can control it, so if you have reflectors and blockers that ensures that you will have as much light as you want and you will have it right where you want it. If you are not sure, or you just want to have better control, than let’s go for studio lighting with strobe lamps and headlights. You have to be careful to soften the lights. I tried to avoid hard lights at all times since I did not want to see strong shadows on that nice face of Szilvia. To achieve a classic portrait lighting you will need three different light sources. The first is the key light that is going to be your main light. This is the strongest lighting in your setup so you want to place it facing the subject but at least 30 degree to the side. The second is the fill light that is to fill in the shadows created by the key light. It shall be weaker than the key light with a 4:1 or 3:1 ratio. It should be place to the opposite side of the subject. The third light that you are going to use is the hair light that is to be a quite weak light source that only gives a nice contour to the hair especially if you are shooting with a dark haired model and a dark background.

You will need manual control of the shutter speed and the aperture value of the camera. First set your aperture. You should use a wider setting that makes your subject sharp but blurs out every possible detail in the background. Probably you do not want to go below f/2.8 because wider aperture would give you such a shallow depth of field that you couldn’t focus properly on the subject’s face. The most important: when I was shooting Szilvia I always tried to focus on her amazing brown eyes and focusing on the eyes under all circumstances is something I recommend the most. After setting the aperture, set the shutter speed as well. Watch out for the focal length especially if you’re using a digital SLR with a crop factor! In Szilvia’s case I used 1/60 and 1/80 shutter speeds depending on the position of my pretty subject. The shutter speed settings worked fine with f/2.8, the above mentioned lighting and ISO 400 settings.

The above described method shall enable you to shoot classic portraits on a dark black background. Remember that it is not just down to technology! You should shoot a picture that is interesting, so forget the boring pictures of the subject sitting in front of the camera and try to shoot her a little bit from the side. While taking the pictures keep telling your subject the instructions on what she should do since it is you who shall see what the image is going to look like and then it is of course up to you two what she’s willing to do. Try to stay in contact with the subject, talk to her, laugh with her, try to get to know her since it is fun and that is basically what this whole thing is about.

Special thanks to Túróczki Szilvia (who is much more than just beautiful;)) for being my model and to London Gábor as always for his helpful and nice tutorials;)

Check out the Gallery section for nude pictures of Szilvia!!!! :D

Posted in Photography.

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  1. Máriás Attila aug 11th 2010