I love taking people’s photo’s to capture their mood and personality. These are my favourite type of travel photos as I think they say so much more than a pretty landscape. Back at home I’ve dabbled with portrait photography as well, doing several newborn baby shoots and a few weddings for friends and family developing my skills which are all entirely self-taught. I highly recommend ‘The lonely planet guide to travel Photography’ There is a great section in there about portraiture and I’ve learnt a lot by reading it cover to cover several times. It’s also incredibly easy reading compared to some other drier photography books I’ve used.
But to get you started here are some top tips for getting some incredible travel portraits yourself!
- Invest in a DSLR. It doesn’t have to be expensive and they are easier to sue than you’d imagine (see book recommended above) but it allows so much more creative control!
- Once you have your DSLR practice practice practice! Get used to changing your settings quickly and know what works in certain lighting etc. Rope in your friends and family as models or even use a pet as your subject! Animal photography follows many of the same rules as portrait photography so if you’re really at a loss for subjects to practise on, take a trip to your local animal park or zoo! I will be doing this to get some practise in before I go to the Galapagos in October!
- Invest in a decent lens if you can afford it but don’t worry if you can’t as you can still get a great picture with a kit lens with the below tips. Fixed focal length lens (where you can’t zoom at all) are cheaper but brilliant for photography as they give great bokeh (where the background looks all blurry.)
- If working in dark lighting, get a tripod. Gorilla pods are great for travelling as they are small, light and can even be attached to fences and trees!
- Ask permission! Not everyone loves having their photo taken even if you are a selfie-queen!
- Get the desired bokeh (background blurriness) to make your subject ‘pop!’ There are several ways to do this. Firstly use a lens with a wide aperture (low f-stop number) preferably at least 2.8 or below. (Confusingly wide apertures= small numbers!!) Widen your aperture as much as the light allows (if too wide in bright light your photo will be overexposed.) If your lens doesn’t have a low F stop, they other way to do it is to use your zoom! Step back as far as you need to go and use your zoom with the lowest f-stop number you do have, zoom in and Bam! There is your gorgeous bokeh with your subject in sharp focus and the background looking dreamy behind them! This is the most important tip for taking portrait photos!
- Use the rule of thirds! Possibly the most effective and easy photography rule ever created! Most people will naturally put the subject bang smack in the middle of the photo! But actually the human eye finds off centre images much more pleasing. Follow the rule of thirds and your pictures will instantly be 100x better! Mentally divide your picture into 9 boxes (some cameras will do this for you) and place the subject on one of the lines hence they will be a 3rd of the way into the picture. Try to use their eyes as the focus point. And if you can put the subject (or their eyes) on a horizontal and vertical 3rd at the same time even better! Hint: This also works for landscapes and other types of photography.
- If the person in the portrait is looking away, try to put space in the direction they are looking. It’s not always necessary (see above photo) however in general it looks more pleasing (see below.)
- Don’t make the mistake of assuming smiling is best. In fact all of my favourite pictures are a lot more serious. There are a few exceptions of course such as a couple photoshoot I did recently where they are laughing at each other which looks natural and not posed or forced. But remember the photo’s mood is important. You want your picture to be atmospheric and to portray a message whatever that message may be. Is your subject sad? scared? Angry? Puzzled? Thoughtful? Someone looking directly at the camera and smiling just says to me they’ve been told to say ‘cheese!’ You want your photo to tell a story!
- Always make sure the focal point is the eyes! After all eyes tell the best story! Don’t rely on your autofocus for this unless you manually control it with the arrow keys (usually the area of focus is lit up with a tiny light when you look through the viewfinder.) You can choose to manually focus using the lens itself or use an autofocus point, lock it in with the A-E-L button then recompose your picture how you want it. This can be fiddly but they key is practices and more practise!
- Remember your lighting! Whilst I like the above photo, it frustrates me that there is a shadow crossing his face. A shift to the right and this wouldn’t have been the case. This photo was taken several years ago and all photographers are always learning!
- Finally remember rules are made to be broken! Follow these rules 80% of the time but as you develop your ‘photography eye,’ be willing to break them occasionally all in the name of creativity and originality!
I hope this has been beneficial for you and now you feel ready to go out there and take some AWESOME travel portraits! Why not comment and tell me about the favourite travel portraits you’ve taken before or feel free to ask questions and I’ll answer as best I can!