I was invited to a surprise birthday party for Jake this past weekend, organized by his wife Ashli. It was a photography themed birthday party. Beyond the coordinated black and white snacks and the rolls of film used as a centerpiece, the real fun was taking photos of the models that Ashli hired.
Jake is part of my circle of photographer friends in Austin. It was nice to meet some of my other buddies at the party. But I had to admit, I had a blast shooting the models. It’s been a while since I’ve done portraits and while you know I love to shoot cities and architecture, there’s nothing like shooting some beautiful models from time to time.
There were 4 models and 4 separate photography areas. The studio out in the garage had the most elaborate setup with a large black backdrop and a huge soft box, all radio triggered of course. There was another two light setup in a bedroom and two more naturally lit areas in the living room.
This was the first time I got to shoot the Canon 6D for portraits. I used the versatile 24 – 105mm f4 as my only lens. The focal range works nicely for portraits as well as candid party shots. I tried hard to shoot the models at at least 70mm, for a more flattering view, but I didn’t always succeed. Part of the problem was the available space to back up. But the more likely culprit is that I’m naturally a wide-angle shooter. Between my street photography and architecture, I’m usually set way under 50mm.
I have a tendency to shoot wide and move in closer. This, of course, is not the preferred way to take portraits. The smaller focal lengths distort — not at all good for faces and body parts. Go with the longer focal lengths and the distortion works in your, or the model’s, favor. At 70mm or more facial features get compressed which tends to flatter most people. Also when you zoom in, you tend to get a shallower depth of field, which better isolates the subject from the background.
Being a full frame camera, even at f4, I can get some decent shallow depth of field. The 6D’s high ISO performance really helped too. For the natural light shots, I had to up the ISO to 2000 or more as the lighting levels dropped. The sets lit by strobes were, of course, fine. I set my camera to ISO 100 for those. I’m also really pleased with the performance of the 24 – 105mm lens and the focusing of the 6D. Most of my images were tack sharp, the focus locked on the eyes, which is generally a good practice with portraits.
The strobes were setup by the other photographers so all I did was shoot. I found the natural light shots more challenging from a lighting perspective. Ultimately though, it’s the non-technical details that make a really good portrait. Knowing how to pose a model, which I don’t really know how to do, and most elusive of skills, building rapport. Making the person feel comfortable so that they loosen up and they go beyond the typical model poses. That’s where I would like to be someday. For that, I know that I need to practice a whole lot more.
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