On assignment – Portraits

Sorry for the disappearance, but with my folks visiting me, there was an impromptu trip to Prague last week (hopefully shots here, someday 🙂 ).

Don’t forget the Scott Kelby – Worldwide Photo Walk this Saturday!

Scott Kelby - Worldwide Photowalk

In january my brother asked me for some portrait shots (full body, headshot …). It was an interesting and educative experience. A couple of months ago I shot a portrait of my wife for her CV. Another nice experience. Two lights, whitish backdrop …

At the end of the school year (july, in Germany) my son’s teacher at kindergarten asked me if I could shoot headshots of all 8 teachers for a new board at the entrance. As Barney from How I Met Your Mother would say “Challenge accepted!” and my head started spinning.

The reasoning was the following. It’s not a paid job (it has never been, so far) but it’s a good chance to practice in all senses. Also, c’mon, am I gonna let them hang dreadful snapshots, taken with a point-and-shoot and lit by a light hand granada (the pop-up flash)?? Really???

First part, find a location. It was scheduled to 11AM, so no garden, since my gear is very limited and I have no diffuser panels. Not indoor either, otherwise I’d probably need to borrow a second light and stand. Also rooms aren’t long enough for a 100mm headshot. The garden has a covered area with a light wall in the back, so this would do for some nice diffuse light and background. One speedlite, with a Rogue XL Pro over a light stand (my tripod). My beloved and faithful 60D and my only lens (Canon 18-135mm) cranked all the way, since I had space and a stiropor panel as diffuser to get some light opposite to the speedlite.

As in the previous two shots the main problem is to direct people! You can watch Peter Hurley’s classes (the man is a genius directing people for a headshot), you can study other techniques, when it get’s real it’s not as you wanted 🙂 Mental checklist: pose, chin to the front for a jaw line, make the person relax, get a nice expression, get the eyes right. Watch out for the hair, the diffuse, beady eyes … and when the person is in front of you, you can’t handle all that, unless you have experience in doing it!

Conclusion it takes practice, so shooting 8 people was already a good practice and I need to shot more portraits!!!! Also laying my eyes on a 85mm f/1.8 and maybe some umbrella, though fighting a clear case of GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome, as referred by Zack Arias).

Then the next educational part was to process those 8 portraits. Choose the best shot of each (being 8 women I asked my wife for help here). Tonal part, make all 8 shots the same color, brightness, crop and then the basic retouch.

Retouching I followed the recipes from Scott Kelby. Blemishes and stray hair (there were some, but no weird hair chunks to be liquified), soften “eye bags”, wrinkles, brighten eyes, irises and teeth, soften skin, sculpting face with dodge and burn and finally some sharpening. A nice process and you can notice how the last one takes way less time than the first ones. You can practice that on any photo, but if you have a real purpose to it is way easier to do it. Otherwise you’d just “do it tomorrow”. It took me a couple of days to get everything done, but I managed.

Actually the assignment thing is the key to the practicing. You can always shoot someone (wife, friend …) but you don’t because you can do it tomorrow, or next week. The same for the photoshop part. When you have an assignment, even if not a paid one, there are schedules, expectations and a whole lot of things you get yourself obliged to do, so you do it!

Really enjoyed the experience. It was great to work with nice people. Didn’t make a tutorial of the retouching. I’ll probably do it on the next assignment (otherwise I’ll do it next week, and next week …).

About Cris Da Rocha

Astrophysicist, DB manager, cyclist, musician and, why not, "photographer to be". Back to enjoy photography after many years ... it's cool. Might share something nice and get something new.
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