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Simon King's picture

Beginner Portrait Tog Seeking Advice

Hi folks! I dabble in a few different areas of photography and more recently, with the lack of weddings, I’ve tried to do some environmental photo shoots using natural light and some poses from YouTube videos etc. All TFP and just for fun really. I put a few up on my portfolio and been a bit disappointed that they’ve been scored 1, as I think to say they’re snapshots is a bit insulting (given the work that had gone into them!). Anyway, if anyone can offer some constructive critique I’m sure I’d find that helpful and could try to put that to use in the next couple I’ve got lined up! Thanks!

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Black Z Eddie .'s picture

I would work on the posing, expression, location, pay attention to the lighting, and editing.

--Posing - that pose isn’t flattering. Her arm bulges, legs look short, and body is shapeless. Try not to have forearms, elbows, and knees directly at the camera. Unless they are tall and thin, definitely try to elongate their body and limbs.

--Expression - she looks like she’s having a miserable time and squinting on one eye. I think a happier mood would have suited her more.

--Location - the second photo is a mess. Looks like you just placed her there because there’s a large rock she could sit on. Had the rock not been there and then having her sit on the ground, and you shooting at a more lower angle, it probably would have been fine. Or, shoot her in the grass.

--Pay attention to the lighting/shadows - on the second image, her left shin and foot is in direct light plus there’s that hard shadow cast from her dress. You maybe could have used that shading on the right.

--Editing - definitely could have used some dodging to lighten up the dark shadows under her eyes and smile lines. More so on the first image, but, I would have done both. And, slightly brighten her eyes.

Simon King's picture

Thanks Black for the feedback. I think I agree with a few of your points around the posing in particular. The second picture is actually a pose she wanted to replicate from a picture she saw and liked online. I find your comment saying it’s a mess a bit insulting to be honest - to give ou some context, we actually moved that rock from another spot on the beach deliberately, and this was done to elevate her off the sand a bit - partly necessary to replicate the pose she’d seen online but also to create a more flattering shape for her body. Perhaps I should have clarified that she’s not a professional model and although in good healthy shape, she’s not in the sort of shape you’d see full time professional models in, so for me, I felt it be more appropriate to work with her to find a composition that was more flattering for her body, rather than do what may have been done with a professional model who had say <5% body fat.

When you say used the shade on the right, do you mean move her completely into the shade? If I’d done that, using only natural lighting, wouldn’t that have just resulted in a really flat image with boring light and lacking any shape/punch to the image?

The brightening of the eyes is actually something I did try, but I felt it looked too “fake” and weird by having next to no shade there, maybe I’d pushed it a little too far so can certainly have a closer look at that in future if I’m shooting with a less than optimal sub position again! Thank you!

Sennia Kyle's picture

Hey Simon,

I don't think the Eddie is trying to insult you at all. The comment about the second photo being a mess is likely due to the stark transition of a chewed up dirt foreground with a nice green grass background. As none of us were there with you nor speaking to the model as you worked with her, we are not privy to the ideas behind your images. All we can do is let you know how it comes off to an outside observer, and I would say that I agree, I would not have placed the model in that location or I would have done what Eddie said and shot her from a lower angle to remove the awkward legs and to get more of the grass behind her.

I think you've done a pretty nice job overall. And to answer your question, no, shooting in the shade absolutely doesn't create boring flat images! Working in open shade is one of the best ways to get gorgeous images. You can also do this while working in direct sun, but it takes a lot more work and you often end up with weird hard shadows in places that can be very unflattering.

The model is lovely. I agree about her expression in the first image, but mostly what I would think about for next time is her hand. The fingers look a bit stiff and awkward in her hair like that. Hands can be notoriously difficult! In the second shot, with her hand lower and wrapping more around the back of her head, it looks a bit better (although the hand is lost making the arm look a bit stump-like).

I hope this helps and that you are able to receive information intended only to help you grow as an artist. It's incredibly important for all of us to ask for and graciously receive critique (even when it seems harsh) in order to learn and do better. Good luck!!

Simon King's picture

Thanks Sennia! I know shooting in the shade tends to be what a lot of photographers look for, and I certainly would find it easier to control exposure all over the shots, I think it was maybe a bit of a case of if I had displayed a shot from complete shade, asking for critique as to why it was rated so poorly, it would have been easy to say “the lighting is flat and boring”. As you say it’s tricky to have a full understanding without knowing the context etc. I’ll certainly take on board what I can and try to work on these for future shoots - I think I also need to remember that there’ll always be subjectivity to any critiques. Although this was a natural light shoot, I really like using off camera flash for portraits to create some drama - but with no assistant and a lot of wind where I am, it’s not always completely feasible. A lot of photographers I know also feel using off camera flash is very outdated - which is not to say its wrong to use but just that they may not like the outcome if it’s not their style.

Sennia Kyle's picture

Agreed. We all have different tastes and for what it's worth, I've found that often, people who say that using off camera flash / studio lighting is "outdated" are either looking at pretty terrible examples of work, or more likely it is something they aren't comfortable doing themselves. I've known many people who have said something along these lines and that "natural light is always better" and then they start learning studio lighting only to eat their words :) But that is neither here nor there.

Another thing to keep in mind is that around here, often, really good images just aren't rated very high at all. You should cruise through some of the competition submissions and look at ratings there! Really nice work gets dumped on and rated really low a LOT. So, take everything with a grain of salt. It's not at all a reflection of where you are at as a photographer, whether professional or not.

Simon King's picture

Agreed on what you’ve said about those that say natural light is better!

Yeah I’ve actually been put off entering anything in the contests for any future ones for that reason. I’ve entered the last two, and been around 2’s for my entries which is ok. I personally think the voting system could do with a tweak - the way it is at the moment means most images are likely going to get a 2 based off of a 3 being portfolio worthy - we all try to do our best at all times but a portfolio is the best of your work! I think there should be 6 figures, with a 3 being “ok/good effort” and a 4 being the solid/portfolio ready. I don’t think anyone would take much pleasure from entering a photo and seeing anything less than 2.5, which is pretty common.

Yeah I know I’m not a portrait photographer - hence the beginner in the title of this post! So it’s certainly far from my strongest point - but I enjoy the challenge of dipping in to different genres now and again and trying to learn/improve - I’ve found in the past there’s regularly elements from one genre that can be really beneficial in others.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

Sennia pretty much described what I meant by the second image being a mess. Also, you mention you placed your model there to create a flattering look for her body. Being hunched over with arm(s)/leg(s) tucked in will most likely not look flattering, especially with a loose dress. They are going to look like a ball. For me, it's best to find ways to elongate.

As for the shadow in the right, I meant place her leg there so it’s completely in the shade. This way you don’t have a hard shadow below the knee then direct light from shin to toe.

If you brightened the eyes and looked too fake, you probably did it too much. That’s why I suggested “slightly” brightening her eyes. Also, you would/should lighten the shadows under the eyes…and even her eye sockets. If you only brighten her eyes, they are going to stick out more which could contribute to a fake look because how can her eyes be bright when the surrounding areas are in shadow. That, and heavy shadows under the eyes is almost never flattering. It makes them look tired and/or aged.

Simon King's picture

Yeah sorry I did mean I’d tried brightening the entire shaded area around the eye as oppose to just the eye itself - must have gone a bit too heavy with it. I’m with you on the leg now too being completely in shade. Thanks!