Enhance your portrait photography skills: Tips and hints from Ion Paciu

A commercial photographer and tutor at Photoion Photography, Ion Paciu teaches the portrait photography workshops within the school and embodies an infectious passion about the subject itself.

Ion has put together some hints and tips to relax your model in portrait photography environment:

As a professional and passionate photographer, I photograph many different types of subjects such as products, architecture, landscape and portraits. Each type of image commands a specific knowledge and the photographic tools and techniques can generate different challenges with each portraiture.

Portrait Photography Course led by Ion Paciu

The most challenging aspect of portrait photography is getting people to feel comfortable in front of the camera; not everybody is a natural at the modelling required to get that all important great shot. It is important for the photographer to establish a relationship with the subject and help them to feel relaxed and at ease and most of all, encourage them to enjoy the experience.

A photographers people skills are paramount.

Portrait Photography Course led by Ion Paciu

  • When pointing the camera towards a person, you are in fact recording a character, a story; not just flesh and clothes. You need to help your model to send their feelings, emotions and expressions to the camera. When working with inexperienced models, this can become challenging and it is imperative that the photographer creates a comfortable atmosphere. No matter how good a photographer you are, you won’t be able to hide the emotions of a tense and self-conscious sitter; be laid back, genuine and encouraging.
  • Be confident and affirm the sitter that you know what you are talking about; stay in control at all times.
  • Forget about silence! Laugh, speak and joke with your model and do a little bit of digging to find out what makes them feel good and relaxed, allowing them to then be open to give you what you are looking for. Perhaps using a little bit of meditation is a route to go down; encourage the model to travel into space or a different world, an environment to them that is soothing and a ‘happy place’.
  • Don’t allow the model to get bored- tell them what you are doing. If they understand the method behind what you are doing they won’t slip into autopilot and you won’t get a photo with an empty expression.
  • Don’t leave the model alone- be well prepared beforehand so you don’t have to fiddle with equipment and take the lead when establishing a strong rapport. Your sitter won’t know how to pose effectively without your direction so allow them to feel confident in your knowledge .
  • Avoid malfunctions- if your equipment has a failure it can be really off putting to the subject. Check the most important settings on your camera and lights.

The following is a recent portrait of a subject called Simon which was taken in my kitchen; you don’t always need to have a studio.

SimonSimon wanted to look natural and relaxed, confident and trusty. He also wanted a soft look, so for this image I used the classic combination of natural light from the window and the soft low light coming from the kitchen.  The natural lighting in my flat is plenty and soft, it is reliable and it is free. For the background I also used the small spot lights from the extractor fan above the cooker. It worked well.

A small 60cm horizontal silver reflector was held below his lap to gently bounce light up into the eyes.

The camera was used in Aperture Priority mode with the lens zoomed in at 100mm and the aperture open to f/4. The ISO was set at 400 and that combination provided 1/200 shutter speed, just about right.

Most importantly, Simon felt at ease seeing me confident in an informal environment. After a few test shots we knew we had a good portrait that he could use on his social media profiles, CV, websites and promotional materials.

Patience, passion, confidence, control, involvement, communication, awareness, these are key elements needed in portrait photography, otherwise you will fall victim to the infamous saying:  “The camera never lies”.

The camera may never lie, but the odd fib is a good thing in portrait photography.

Take a look at our London portrait photography courses that can help you to develop, grow and enhance your portrait photography skills.