Portraitist Peter Bellamy offers tips on how to get the most out of your
"Include as much background as possible--just don't lose your subject!" Bellamy jokes. Set your lens aperture to f/8 or f/11 to keep the background sharp. "Defocused backdrops don't communicate anything about your subject," he adds, "and they can often look gimmicky. The role of the observant photographer is to reveal, not hide."
Light carefully to control tonality. Place the entire scene within the contrast range of your capture media. No shadow should be solid black or highlight solid white. "It's critical to have separate and clear areas of tonality, density and color," says Bellamy. "Think of the picture as a painter's canvas. Try to carefully apply tone to its entire surface. You will create a visually richer look."
Ask your subject not to wear black or white. It can be hard to hold the texture and detail in either.
Place your camera parallel to the background. Real-life parallel lines should be parallel in your pictures. Door and window frames should be parallel to your picture's edges. "Nonstraight walls are subconsciously distracting, even disturbing," explains Bellamy. But walls parallel to your picture's edges not only add structure to a portrait, but they can often operate as internal framing elements, too.
Fairly simple guidelines, no? Bellamy sums it up: "Unless you've got a really beautiful, famous, or unusually expressive subject, it's usually the background that makes or breaks a location portrait." Bonus Portrait Tips
Take one a day. Peter Bellamy disciplines himself to shoot at least one portrait every day. "You only improve with practice," he says. "Portraiture is a learnable, refineable skill."
Light from the side. Side lighting brings out the shape of body, face, and the drape of clothing. Create alternating areas of light and shadow across your portraits. Just say no to on-camera flash as your main light.
Keep them moving. Especially for subjects with inexpressive faces, add gestures. Even the smallest can be telling.
Bring a friend. To keep male subjects alert and engaged, Bellamy often invites a beautiful woman onto the set, either as a friend or assistant. With female subjects, he brings attractive young male assistants.
BELLAMY'S DO'S & DON'TS
DO make necks appear long.
DO ask subjects to pull their shoulders back.
DO use lights and reflectors to fill in facial lines.
DON'T get too tight on the face.
DON'T overshoot. Subjects get bored after about 40 poses.