If you haven't been following the series, you can always start here. But if you'd like to start at the beginning of this series, click HERE for part 1 and HERE for part 2.
Now on to Composition!
Oh, this is a big one and a VERY basic photography skill. There is the “rule of thirds” that is the first thing a photographer learns in class (or via the internet, if they’re self-taught). Picture a tic-tac-toe grid over your image. Those places where the lines cross… those are focal points. Our eyes are drawn to thirds. If a couple ist looking out over the ocean, they should be in a third line (unless it’s a close up, center crop). So if the subject of an image isn’t centered, then it should be in thirds. Too far to one side and the image is unbalanced. The same goes for slightly off center. So, thirds. Centering is fine, too. And there is a triangle that photographers should be looking for, as well, in group photos. The faces should form a triangle. Or several triangles. It is more visually appealing. A straight line of people lacks interest. Yes, I’m simplifying this to a laughable degree, but once you start really looking at images, you’ll start to see it and will have that “Ah-ha!” moment that will forever change the way you see portraits. No, I’m not kidding. Speaking of thirds, though… if a subject is in thirds, that leaves two thirds of the space unfilled by the subject, right? Yeah, that’s called “negative space” and it’s a good thing. Unless the subject is facing away from that space. Then it looks like your subject is leaving the image (see above). And unless that’s the message (depressing, right???), then you’ll want to always see a subject looking toward (or walking toward or angled toward, etc) the negative space. Okay, that’s a lot of compositional information to wrap your head around. There is SO much more to consider, but this will at least give you an idea of what strong composition should look like (and weak composition… run, don’t walk, if you see major compositional errors).
Speaking of errors, blurry faces are a big one! It’s a sad fact, but some people have a $3,000 camera and still can’t figure out how to focus the thing. No kidding. I’ve seen it so many times… the family is smiling and adorable, but all of the faces are out of focus… the button on the front of the kid’s shirt is sharp as a tack, but his eyes are out of focus. The baby is smiling and making the sweetest face! It would be such a great picture if the focus were on that face, and not on the knee of the baby. Yeah… the problem is rampant. Hey, we all start somewhere, right? And if you truly don’t care, there are tons of amateurs looking to build their portfolio by practicing on your family. Feel free to help them out! Seriously. We all value different things and I am not one to question your values. But we’re discussing finding a quality photographer, right? Then this is a no brainer. The face closest to the camera should be sharp. Period. If it’s a group photo, look at the eyes that are the closest to the camera… are they tack sharp? If you zoomed in, you should be able to see the lashes. No joke. Look for this… you can’t fix blurry faces in post processing. It has to be shot correctly in the camera or the image is a wash. You spend so much time and energy preparing yourself and your family for the session, not to mention the travel to and from the actual shoot, as well as the energy you put into the session itself. Choose wisely… time can be spent, but never refunded.
And since we're on the topic of spending time... posing is SUCH a huge thing and can be time consuming. Some photographers pose every aspect of the subject, while others capture natural movement. Both work just fine if you know what to look for and what angle to shoot from. I find myself doing a little bit of both. I let people do what feels natural, then move a hand, arm, leg, shoulder, face, foot, etc. until I get the set-up that looks best. But go look at images and see what you like. If you see a family photo and you’re a mom, decide if you would be happy with the angle and pose of the mother’s body and face. Because that will be you! Did the photographer notice that she was slumping? Did the tog notice that the arm was pressed to mom’s side, making it appear to be much larger than it was? Did dad have a pocket full of keys and change bulging in the picture? Attention to detail is such a huge part of portraiture and body angles are the biggest part of the details. Everyone has angles that make them look amazing. And the most gorgeous, glamorous people have awful angles (look at some of those rag magazines that trash the famous people… yeah, they’re great at finding the worst angles). Point is, you want your photographer to find your best angle! Look for awkwardness and stiffness in images… if you see it, it will be present in your images, too. Instead, find someone who is able to capture the emotions, while still finding the best angles and poses. The image should look relaxed, natural, and beautiful.
Next topic will be harsh lighting and shadows, along with how to talk to your photographer about their gear...
"Lori is an exceptional photographer, and was my first choice for capturing images of my son for his senior pictures!! She made him feel at ease immediately, traveled to the locations he was interested in, and captured who he is perfectly!" ~ Tonia R.
Lori Stead is a fine art portrait photographer in Corpus Christi, TX. She enjoys creating maternity, newborn, seniors, couples, family, children, and boudoir portraits. She is also a wife, mother of four, and adventurer.