Monday, 12 July 2010

Do you hate being photographed? (4)

Preparing for Posterity
…with candid photographs
This Post:  Light, Posing, Angles, Expression, Perspective

Sources of Light
Use daylight, never flash, which is cruel;
Flattering light:  from a window during bright hours, or outside if very early morning or evening, or overcast. 

Avoid direct sunlight where possible, or if you must then position them with the sun behind them, i.e. it would be on you, the photographer, (no, listen): make sure the picture doesn’t include the orb of the sun (‘hide’ it behind your subject’s head, for example), and turn on your flash.  This will light up the natural areas of shadows on the face, while the sun behind her head produces a glowing halo effect, and the final result can be stunning.   
Taken on stage, but the principle is the same – the light behind the subject is a stage light.  Note that the picture is taken from below and from a distance using a telephoto lens – both flattering choices.
Useful if they’re holding something that will reflect – say a sheaf of papers, which while not in the final shot, will bounce light back into the areas of the face which go naturally into shadow – under the chin, the corners either side of the nose, the eye sockets.  If reflected on the cheek they can give a glowing look that’s very flattering.
In this case there is some flash on the child’s face, but the pool is providing an excellent reflector as well.

AVOID:  Bright light such as flash or direct sunlight.
Don’t take pictures of the subject head on, but ideally in profile or three quarters so that one can see both her eyes.  A wonderful pose is to position her seated or standing facing you but at 45 degrees, then ask her to twist her head round to look at you without moving the rest of her body.  It stretches the neck and minimises the double chin.
Mum, taken in the early 90’s also demonstrating the three-quarters pose.  The sun was just in the right place lighting up her face and leaving her body in shade, so I decided to take the grab shot from above her head, usually not recommended.

Use the wind:  If it’s windy and you’re outside, you’re in luck, particularly on an overcast day.  Windblown hair can look romantic in a candid portrait (or for example if the subject is laughingly trying to tame it), provided it doesn’t also make her look like she’s having a bad hair day.  Most of the time it will look best if the hair is blowing away from the face.  These sorts of pictures become much stronger and more stunning if they are turned into monochrome.  Bright red anoraks and noses recovering from heavy colds are thus neutralised…
The original picture showed more of Marina, but I liked the effect of just concentrating on her face.  This is what I mean about romantic hair, and the ‘heroic’ image of taking the picture from a lower viewpoint. 

Expression:  Compel the viewer to be drawn to your face, not the rest of you.  Try to hide unhappiness (or tetchiness) when being photographed and look confident even if you don’t feel it.  Years on, you – the subject - would realise how this spoiled the picture, and you would be unable to dissociate the occasion from your negative feelings.  Don’t give in to the age old instruction to “smile” and “say cheese”.   In group photographs it makes you seem like the misery-guts and it may not be possible, but if photographed alone, don’t grin.  If you have a nice smile it certainly draws the viewer in, but if you don’t think you do, a Mona Lisa imitation is interesting, as is a serious expression.  Practice your expressions in the mirror, try the following and then use them later, and you’ll do it unselfconsciously:  warm, happy, intelligent, interested, alert, come hither…

Shooting Angles

Shooting upwards from below her eye level – the subject’s eye level is above the level of the camera, looking away, and she will therefore appear to be looking (dreamily or heroically…) into the far distance.  This tightens the muscles of the face and neck, which helps with double chins.

Shooting on the same level – the subject is looking directly at the camera, communicating directly with the viewer and giving an impression of charm and trust;

Old school friend Cecilia at the Roman Baths, in Bath

AVOID shooting downwards, which would have a ‘dwarfing’ effect. 
AVOID full length pictures - for subjects who are self-conscious about their weight, full-length pictures are probably best avoided.  However if they are to be taken, it is generally because it involves groups of people – in which case the photographer needs telling that the results will be better and clearer if the subjects sit down, and they are photographed from the waist up.  In cutting out the legs and knees, the faces are larger in the frame – which is what people looking at the pictures later want to see anyway.
Take lots of shots, be wasteful, profligate and extravagant with that little flashcard in your camera, make it work hard – you no longer have the excuse that it’s expensive to waste so much film.  “But I’ve already done that pose, I don’t need to take any more”.  Yes you do, some people have slow blinks and talk throughout, and on your LCD viewing screen you won’t see the detail if there’s a slight twist to the mouth for example.  Most people are self-conscious when they’re being photographed; I’ve lost count of the times when the best picture I took was the 30th because in the previous 29 you can tell that they’re aware of the camera.  After that, the fact that you’re still clicking away is just a big yawn for them.  That’s when you get good ones.
Talk to the subject/s as you’re doing this, think of pleasant, friendly, amusing things to say that will cause a reaction – this is how you get the twinkle in the eye and the sudden laugh which can make them look radiant.
Ask her if she has a ‘good side’ – women particularly often know this because they’ve been studying themselves in the mirror for years.  It not only helps with rapport but makes a difference to the result.  If she doesn’t know, look carefully (and, let’s face it, calculatingly) at the imperfections on her face to see if a different angle will disguise it.  Example:  never photograph a person with a large nose from above and pointing the camera down at them.
Perspective – the easiest and most underused method of getting a flattering result, and if you’ve forgotten all my earlier blather, don’t forget this one:
Always use a long lens
and get as far away as possible.
Zoom in with the lens
and not by walking up to the subject.
If you have to stand close to get a close-up of them, the image gets distorted and the background is too clear and distracting.  If the camera has a zoom facility, always use it and stand as far back as you can.  Another advantage is that the background goes out of focus, which gives the image a timeless or romantic quality.

If the photographer prefers to take wide angle pictures, trust me, they’re doing it thinking only of their “art” and not of you, because professionals like them that way – just take a look at any Sunday magazine.  If your photographer is going out for the day with his/her SLR camera, you can be sure that you’ll be the subject, unwilling or not, at some point.  So do yourself a favour and force them to take their long lens along, and don’t take no for an answer.  With the small digital cameras that most people carry about with them, many have at least a small zooming facility.  Make sure they use it and stand as far away from you as possible while filling the frame with your head and shoulders only.
So, dear overweight, self-conscious person, you need to
  1. Think about photographic opportunities that might present themselves, and prepare for them;
  2. Get photographed from as far away as possible with zoom;
  3. NEVER let yourself be photographed full square facing the camera.  Your head perhaps, but not your body.  Angle your body a quarter turn at least away from the photographer, then swivel your head round to face the camera.  I don't know why, but it always works better - look back at the pictures here to verify.
  4. Encourage the photographer to get finger strain with the shutter button:  the more pictures there are, the more likely there is to be a decent one you can live with.
  5. If all else fails, do what John and I did a few years ago – photograph yourself in a special mirror…

Hope some of this is useful!

Photo Finish:
From Lonicera’s non-digital archive
Valencia, Spain
Street names...

'Paniagua' is in actual fact a surname, but it also means bread and water, so at first glance is a whimsical name for a street...

Chicken street...

Downtown Valencia

Up a side street...

Flower stall...

From the sea.



Tina said...

Beautiful as always! I love building shots! Thanks for the great tips---I didn't know any of it! and I love love the double chin tip :)


THE DASH! said...

Fantastic, fantastic tips. Now can you please tell MOTH who insists on taking my 5 foot seven from from above with his 6 foot three one making me look dumpy and short? He just won't listen.
Love your beautiful pictures as usual. You're a star photographer.

Lonicera said...

Thank you both! Cara you make me laugh - every person who's ever photographed me (aside from the people at my camera club) have always pointed the camera down at me, as I'm shorter than most (5'4") and it's difficult if not impossible to find a way to ask them not to without sounding like a know-all. (And incidentally that's probably another problem for people who hate being photographed - having to ask them to do it in a particular way...)

Matvi. said...

Your pictures of Valencia are fantastic.
Your tips for portraits are great, as I keep forgetting most of them. So I use your method: take lots of pictures, and one or two might be good enough.

Vagabonde said...

I just read all your tips and they are very good. I did not know most of them. I am going to copy them so I’ll remember what to do when I take a portrait. Thank you very much for taking the time to write all this – it is very helpful.

B said...

Hi Caroline, just wanted to thank you so much for the lovely and thoughtful comment you left on my blog the other day. You gave me lots of food for thought :-)

Beautiful pictures and great tips in this post, too!

Lonicera said...

Thank you so much Matías and Vagabonde for such kind remarks, and B for your sweet comment. I always say what feel, and try to be as honest as possible when commenting on other blogs.

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