by Florence W Deems

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I wrote the following for members of the Middletown Camera Club to read before our shoot during the Feb 7, 2011, meeting. During this meeting, we practiced shooting portraits of each other.

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If your camera has interchangeable lenses, bring a 50-100mm lens. If your camera doesn't have interchangeable lenses, then see if it has either a Portrait Program or an Aperture Priority or Manual Mode.

Other useful items (all are optional): A favorite hat or scarf for the head; a white cardboard about 12 inches on each side, or larger; a black cardboard of about the same size; a cardboard about the same size, covered with aluminum foil. We can use these to add or subtract light from the shaded side of the face. Light for the brighter side of the face will provided by natural light from a window.

Depth of Field: This means how much of the scene in the photograph will be in sharp focus, front to back. For portraits, it's usually more pleasing if the person's eyes, at least, are in sharp focus, while the rest of the scene is blurred or out-of-focus. Usually we want the viewer's attention on the person's face and not be distracted by other items in the room.

The way to do this is to set the lens opening, or aperture, at or near its widest. If your camera has an Aperture Priority or Manual mode, make sure you know how to set the lens aperture to its widest opening. This will be read as f/2.8, f/3.5 or f/4 to f/4.5. (Consult your camera's manual for directions.)

For cameras with only program modes, set your camera to Portrait Mode, or even Macro Mode - consult your camera's manual.

White Balance: Most cameras have a tool that allows us to set the White Balance to daylight (sunny), or cloudy (shady), or Auto. If the sun is coming in a window, then we'll need to set the camera for daylight or sunny White Balance. If it is a bright day, but no sun is coming in the window, then we'll probably need to set the White Balance to either cloudy, shady, or Auto. If you leave the camera on daylight or sunny, then the faces in the images may have a bluish cast to them - sort of an unhealthy color for flesh.

Procedure: During our shoot, we'll pair up: one subject and one shooter. Probably we'll have only 2 subjects/shooters at a time. The extra people can hold the white or foil or black reflectors. Then we'll rotate. We'll try to arrange it so each person gets to shoot several people and then gets "shot" him/herself by several others.

When you line up your "victim" in your camera's viewfinder or screen, make sure to get close enough so you've cropped off much of the background. You can even get so close that not all of the person's head is showing. This is very effective if you want to concentrate on the eyes. Also, try several positions around the person: most of the face is bright; or most of the face is dark; or try to position the person so there's a rim of light around some part of the head/face.

The most important thing to make a person's face come alive is to make sure that you have a catchlight in at least one eye. If you don't see this catchlight - perhaps due to the light being behind the person - then try to use fill flash or have something white or light colored to use to bounce light into the eyes.

If the thought of having someone make your portrait is not agreeable to you, then we can use your hands. Hands can make very expressive portrait material.


  1. What to bring:
    * Camera (plus lenses);
    * Your camera's manual;
    * White, foil-covered or black cardboard squares for reflectors (optional);
    * Hat, scarf, necklace, etc (optional)

  2. Set the Camera:
    * Aperture Priority, or Portrait Mode;
    * White Balance (we'll see what is best when we get there.)

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