Headshot, portrait, street and documentary photographer in NYC and Jersey City

alastair.arthur@gmail.com

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Photography Fundamentals

Week 5

Going into more detail on composition and post- processing

You've probably heard of the Rule of Thirds. The idea that having a key element of an image (such as the horizon line for example) one third of the way into the picture makes it more visually appealing. It's only a guide, and thought to be an approximation of the 'golden ratio'.

Here's a more lengthy explanation on Ultimate Photo Tips:

Photography Rule of Thirds

 

Or if you prefer video, here's Ted Forbes again: Composition: Rule of Thirds

 

and D4Darious with some great examples of both thirds and central framing in modern cinema:

Mastering Composition

Composition: Thirds

Assuming you’d like your images to be seen, to make connections with other photographers or models or galleries or potential clients, you’ll want some kind of online presence.

 

Having your own website and blog has the advantage that it’s (mostly) your own space. Your own url and pages to design as you like without a dependency on the whims of Facebook or Twitter. Although you probably will still rely on services for building and hosting the site, you’ll still have a lot more freedom than within social media.

 

So far I’ve used Wordpress, Blogger, Weebly, Zenfolio, Smugmug, Squarespace and Wix. Wordpress gives the most freedom, but with more complexity and the likelihood of some maintenance work when updates are issued. I’m currently switching from using both Squarespace (portfolio and blog) and Smugmug (client galleries) to just using Wix.

 

Why blog? Maybe you just want to show off your portfolio. The advantage of blogging is that it helps the ranking of your site on Google, Bing etc. It shows the search engines that your site is current and active, and helps clarify what you’re about (to the search engines but also to your readers and maybe yourself!).

 

Social media is tricky because it can be a very useful tool, and it can be such a big distraction. Instagram is the obvious choice for photographers, but I know photographers that have built their business around Facebook, Twitter and Google+. There’s also EyeEm, VSCO, Ello, Vero, Snapchat, 500px, Pinterest and Flickr. And probably many others. Don’t try to do too much. One is probably plenty if you’re going to do it well. You’ll share more that you might on your website but still be selective, show your best work and engage with the community. If you decide Instagram is your thing, here are a few suggestions from Zed Pro Media:

 

Tips on Boosting Instagram Presense

Website, Blogging and Social Media

It's tricky to pick a genre of photography then give specific advice because following recommendations or established techniques will inevitably lead to images that are similar to those of other photographers.

There are a few common techniques for both portraits and headshots:

The eyes should be in focus, most importantly the leading eye

Soft lighting (large light source, near to the subject)

Slightly above subject to emphasize the jaw line, or slightly below to give more of a sense of power and authority.

A headshot is typically close in (perhaps even cropped into the hair, but should still show the neck and shoulders at least) but a portrait could be much wider, such as an environmental portrait showing the surroundings as well as the subject.

A few of the masters of portrait photography are Arnold Newman, Richard Avedon, Yousuf Karsh, Annie Liebowitz and Gregory Heisler among many others.

Here are a couple of excellent videos with Gregory Heisler to check out, the first providing some general thoughts and advise, the second giving some live feedback on images on Scott Kelby's show:

Master Series: Greg Heisler

The GRID Photo Critiques

If you're on an iPhone or iPad, there's also an excellent app showing Richard Avedon's work, simply called Avedon.

For a more contemporary approach, here's some thoughts from Mango Street:  How to Pose Friends Who Aren't Models

For headshots, Peter Hurley is one of the most well known, although personally I'm not keen on his posing techniques. Jeffrey Mosier I think is a very good headshot photographer.

If you photograph models specifically, this is a good book on the subject:

Mastering the Model Shoot

Portraits and Headshots

Keep shooting. Try a few portraits and see if that's something you enjoy. It can feel a very different experience depending on how well you know your subject and whether you're in a studio or outdoors.

From an inspiration perspective, here are a few excellent documentaries:

Harry Benson - Shoot First

Finding Vivian Maier

Abstract (particularly episode 7 with Platon but the others are good too)

Everybody Street

Practice

There's an expression, "Expose for the highlights" or 'Expose to the right". It basically means to get the highlights in the image right as a first priority, allowing the highlights to be bright without being blown out (i.e. allowing the brightest parts of the image to be close to, but not absolute, white). It doesn't always hold true (you might choose to over-expose the sky for example in order to correctly expose the face in a portrait). Here's Adorama TV with more detail and how to use the Histogram in your camera and editing software:

Using the Histogram for Better Exposure

Histogram, Shadows and Highlights

At a wedding or an event or documenting a street scene, you want your subjects to be clearly visible and ideally stand out in the composition. One method of achieving this is to establish a strong contrast in brightness or color between them and their immediate surroundings.

 

Here's street photographer Eric Kim with some examples:

Street Photography Composition Lesson #2: Figure-to-ground

Composition: Figure to Ground

For many years after the release of color film, black & white was still the only accepted format for 'real' photographers. Color was seen as a novelty, for snapshots. This started to change when William Eggleston exhibited color work at MoMA in 1976. Some photographers still favor black & white while many shoot exclusively in color, but there are times when one format might suit a particular image.

There are really two main approaches for deciding whether an image will be most effective in color or in black & white:

 

1. If your overall preference is for black & white, does the color add anything to the image? Is it the color that makes the image work? If so, use color. 

2. If your overall preference is for color, does the color distract or detract from the intention of the image? If not, use color.

If you're shooting RAW or color JPEG, there are usually a few methods to convert to b&w in most editing software:

 

1. Move ‘Saturation’ all the way to the left (i.e. desaturate all colors)

2. Apply a black&white preset

3. Select the b&w option panel

 

The last options is the most powerful, usually allowing you to adjust the brightness levels of the grey tone for a given color in the original.

Black & White