Ep 340: How to shoot great portraits under extreme time pressure or poor lighting conditions

Great portraits can be easy to shoot when you have beautiful light and time to experiment.

This is often the case when we are shooting to build our portfolios or learn new lighting techniques.

Unfortunately, amazing photo opportunities are often sabotaged by time constraints or poor lighting,

In this episode, we discuss the best ways to shoot under extreme time pressure, find or make the best lighting and nail the perfect shot.

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Great portraits can be easy to shoot when you have beautiful light and time to experiment.

This is often the case when we are shooting to build our portfolios or learn new lighting techniques.

Unfortunately amazing photo opportunities are often sabotaged by time constraints or poor lighting,

In this episode we discuss the best ways to shoot under extreme time pressure, find or make the best lighting and nail the perfect shot.

Scouting locations

  • Look for locations that give you multiple options
  • Scout first at the time of day you will be shooting
  • Early morning is easier than late afternoon
  • Sunsets are overrated
  • Simplify your background choices

Understand daylight 

  • Backlight or move to open shade
  • Make your own shade
  • Expose for the skintones and let the background go
  • Look for the direction of light 
  • Importance of directional light

Fill flash

  • Choose the right modifier
  • Soft light is the easiest and most forgiving under pressure
  • Double diffused modifier is most forgiving
  • Hard light modifier is tricky/not recommended for fast shoots
  • Make it easy on yourself and your models shoot backlit or in openshade
  • Watch out for blown highlights on fair hair and bald heads
  • Look for the light and fill in the same direction as the light
  • Don’t overlight
  • Add shape
  • Fashion-blow out background +fill
  • Arty under expose + add fill light

Posing and directing

Be Authentic: Always ensure the words you are speaking are yours. Just because you once heard a photographer say a certain phrase that always worked, doesn’t mean it will work for you, particularly if the style, language and tone isn’t similar to yours. The most important thing to remember is to be sincere and authentic in everything you say. Don’t say, “OMG, you look amazing in that dress” if you don’t believe it. There will be something in your tone or body language that will give the lie away and your model will lose trust in you.

Try looking for something that you truly believe. It may be that you love the colour of their eyes, the way they laugh or their shoes.

Lower your voice, speak clearly and confidently

Okay, this is harder than it sounds. I can still remember trying to stop my voice shaking with nerves when I was a young inexperienced photographer. The only way to get through this was to shoot, A LOT! The more shooting and directing I did, the more confident I felt and the easier it was to control my voice. Oh, and the other thing I noticed was the louder I tried to speak the more shrill my voice became, so the simple trick of lowering my voice made it easier to control and I sounded more confident.

Slow down and breathe

The biggest mistake new photographers make is they tend to shoot and speak too quickly because they are afraid of making people wait. I know I did this a lot when I was starting out because I thought if I went too slow I was wasting people’s time and they would think less of me.

This isn’t the case, getting the shot right is the most important thing here. If Bob is looking awkward at the back then ask Bob to move and get the shot right. It’s better to take a few extra minutes during the shoot than waste everyone’s time by not getting a good shot in the first place.

Forget about what everyone is thinking about you, they aren’t 

Okay, this would have to be the best advice I’ve heard in the last 10 years. Seriously. I wish I knew about this when I was a teenager. We spend most of our teen years and half of our adult life worrying about what people think about us. The truth is, they don’t think about us at all because they are too busy thinking about themselves.

So the next time you’re feeling nervous or intimidated about speaking to someone for fear of how you will be perceived, know that the other person has exactly the same reservations.

Instead of spending the majority of the exchange trying to be interesting, try to be interested instead. Genuinely and sincerely noticing, and listening to another person is one of the kindest and most generous acts and the easiest and quickest ways to develop a rapport.

Keep your energy positive

I know this sounds a little “woo-woo” but your energy levels are really important. By energy I don’t mean you need to slam back 20 espressos and bounce off walls to be effective. Good energy means being vibrant, and loving what you do, sincerely. This can’t be faked and the results are mirrored in the faces of the people you photograph. 

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Gina Milicia is one of the most widely known and respected photographers in Australia. She is the master of capturing that ‘magical moment’... READ MORE

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