Of all photographic genres, the portrait is the most widely practiced. Of course, landscapes can be inspiring, and architecture can be striking, but people are, well, people. There are an infinite number of faces out there, and each one has an infinite number of expressions.
There are many styles of portraits: they can be unstaged, friendly, intimate, and simple. Or they can also be formally posed, and styled by a team of pros with a choice of clothes, makeup, hair and accessories.
Most portraits we see today in print or on screen also receive various amounts of post-treatment. From color correction to wrinkle removal, smoothing, and even, in extreme cases, sophisticated morphing. Photoshop is everywhere!
Even the most contrived and complex portraits begin at a very basic level, with a photographer’s understanding of light and its effects.
What we are suggesting today is a very basic exercise aimed at sharpening your photographic eye. Just take a few moments to make a simple, natural, portrait in an everyday situation, keeping things as simple as possible, but while paying attention to every fine detail and nuance of light.
Our illustration shows a child looking out the window. The window is the main source of light. Taken as is, the photograph has a nice spontaneous look. Maybe you prefer the shot in the top-left corner, where the boy’s face was left in the shade, or maybe you prefer one of the two others, where his face is more evenly lit.
An experienced photographer will tell you right away that the photos where the boy’s face is brighter are taken by reflecting light onto the shadow side of the subject. In this case, a simple white reflector is enough to even out the lighting. We even managed to get the toddler to hold it himself!
As a photographer, you may prefer one type of image over the other. The decision is yours.
But even the most experienced photographers will tell you that there is always something to be learned about light. So if you’ve never tried this simple test before, just do it. Try reflectors with various hues, try changing the angle slightly, try different sizes. And above all, use your eyes to see what’s happening.
The more you know about the basics, the more creative you can get using all the tips, techniques and accessories available to today’s photographers. It’s a never ending quest.