(This is based on a talk I’ve delivered to number of groups in southwest London. I took the pictures while doing the talk.)
On holiday or at a special event like a birthday party or wedding most of us are willing to have our photo taken – it seems appropriate because it’s special. Pull out a camera on an ordinary day and you’ll often be met with a wave of complaints, ‘I haven’t washed my hair’ ‘I’m too tired to smile’ ‘I’ve got a spot’! Mostly it never even occurs to me to take pictures of ordinary scenes on an ordinary day, but I’m determined to more. I think it’s the portrait photographs taken, or just ‘snapped’ at home on that wet Sunday afternoon in October that in years to come may become some of the most treasured.
A good time for an arm-lock
It might take bribery or perhaps a threat, but you just have to take control. Make them do it and make them move, they’ll forgive you. Work out where you want to take the picture and if necessary move the furniture and open the curtains. Natural light makes the best portraits; a north-facing window can give a lovely, soft but directional light. With the subject placed side-on to the window the shape and form of their face will be nicely modelled without casting any harsh shadows. Consider getting someone to hold up a piece of white card to act as a reflector if the shadows are too strong.
So don’t get too flashy
Keep it simple is good advice; don’t use a flash unless you want that hard flat light for aesthetic reasons. Many cameras have a ‘scene’ mode and ‘portrait is always one of them. This will tell the camera to automatically select settings that are more likely to produce a good picture. A narrow depth of field helps reduce distractions from the background. You need a large aperture or low ‘f ‘ number. Move back from the subject and zoom in. Using a wide-angle lens can give them a big nose. If they actually have a big nose no amount of zooming will remove it, unfortunately.
Trevor Aston works in Richmond, Southwest London and Surrey as a portrait, event and editorial photographer.