How to Shoot Someone

Holding a camera gives you a lot of power over your subject. When you’re shooting someone’s portrait, you can make him or her look great if you know what you’re doing, or awful if you don’t. Or, really, really hideous if you know what you’re doing and are a jerk.

I have always used a point and shoot little camera, and never fussed with any of the dials or settings beyond the playback function. In our multimedia journalism class this quarter, our instructor Lisa Strong showed us how to compose and shoot a good portrait.

As the photographer, you get to make choices about a ton of things:
-how to light the subject’s face,
-what angle to shoot from,
-what to include in the shot,
-whether to blur the background,
-how to compose the image.

But before you can get that far, if you’re new to the art, you have to cover the basics. Is your eyepiece or screen telling you honestly what the photo will look like? Is your camera letting in too little light, making the image dark,  or overexposed and out of focus giving you this?

Once you’re in focus and have your aperture and shutter speed adjusted to allow just enough light in (or have given up and set the dial back to auto), you can start thinking about what the picture is actually of. Where do you want your audience to focus their attention? A busy shot with lots of things in the background can be overwhelming or disorienting to your audience, and your subject can get lost. Is this a portrait, or a kitchen, or a big white door, or some bicycles?

The eye is usually drawn first to the brightest part of an image, which in this case could be the white door or the overhead light or the window–not the person. Also, the lighting is not helping.

So go someplace where the light will help you. Outside in the morning or evening is great.

Ok, but now there’s an ugly railing hogging the shot. So, move around and switch the angle you’re shooting from.

…keep trying…

Better. And the hills in the background are a little blurred, too. Now for the composition. Even in a portrait, the person’s face doesn’t necessarily have to be right in the middle of the shot. By scooting over to one side and getting a little closer, we get a picture that looks more put together.

But someone doesn’t look thrilled. Getting this stuff right as quickly as possible is important because unless you’re working with a professional model, your subject can get tired of being “the subject.” If the person isn’t in it with you, even the most fantastic lighting and composition does not a portrait make. So talk to them, get them laughing, make it a fun experience.

Well that’s about the best I can do so far. Getting that perfect shot is a lot harder than it looks.

Many thanks to my wonderful and very patient bf for being a marvelous model.


About szubryd

I come alive when I talk about science. Whether I'm asking about marine ecology or writing about endocrine-disrupting chemicals, I light up. I've found myself vehemently defending evolutionary theory from inside a bathroom stall, sitting at a bar holding the interest of self-proclaimed potheads with an explanation of endogenous cannabanoid receptors, and discussing the causes of eutrophication in streams on a second date (he was a keeper, by the way). It took an astute college mentor and the challenge of reporting about bisphenol A to point me toward science writing as a career. I had a hard time believing I could make a living doing something so interesting, so much more rewarding than listening to marketers pitch the environmental benefits of their latest drain cleaner—the one with "Toxic" on the label. What could be better?
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One Response to How to Shoot Someone

  1. amahl says:

    What a fun and well written/illustrated blog. Your boyfriend is cute too!

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