For a portrait photo with personality, making a connection is key

  • Camera
  • Sunday, 17 Nov 2019

If you're trying out portrait photography for the first time, experts recommend choosing a model whom you know but don't deal with every day. — Christin Klose/dpa

The ability to take a great portrait photo isn't solely reliant on the camera communication is by far the most important element.

By far the most important element of portrait photography is communication. Real interest in the other person makes more of a difference than technology or craftsmanship. "The person and the emotions are at the forefront," says photographer Daniel Hammelstein.

Photo designer Markus Hauschild agrees. The decisive factors are cooperation, trust and closeness, he says. It's important for the person behind the camera to lead and accompany their model. At the end of the day, you're not trying to take a sterile passport photo. The portrait should depict an interesting person and what makes them unique.

Hammelstein, who gives workshops on portrait photography, explains that many people who take photos are unsure of themselves at first. But "the person in front of the camera is perhaps just as insecure because he has never done it before," he says. His tip is to put the camera away, have a cup of coffee and talk before starting.

Psychology plays an important role during a portrait session. According to Hauschild, the people being photographed should not start to think about whether they are smiling or what they look like. So distraction is everything, and requests can be considered entertainment. "Will you just look a little to the left, please?"

Hammelstein advises that the photographer and model go through the photos together during the session to see how things are looking.

"Portraits are a joint production," he says.

If you're trying out portrait photography for the first time, Hammelstein recommends choosing a model whom you know but don't have to deal with every day. If you're willing to invest a little money, you can book a model who has experience before the camera – and who can give you tips. Photographer Olaf Gallas, on the other hand, suggests experimenting with friends. "You're more relaxed and you can talk around," he says.

Suitable places for first attempts at portraiture are apartments with large windows, or out in nature or a place in the city. Interactions with architecture can make for exciting connections.

Photography beginners can use their camera's automatic portrait function to get a feel for it at first, Hammelstein says. If, like Hammelstein, you're working with daylight, the lenses are important. In this case, he recommends fast fixed focal lengths, a large aperture and a low ISO value. Gallas advises focusing on the eyes.

The best light is soft and indirect, recommends Hammelstein. Under no circumstances should you place your model in the blazing sun.

If you've got someone to help, you can use a white cardboard to perfect the light outdoors.

Sometimes music can relax both the photographer and the subject. Make-up might also help people feel more secure. But Hauschild warns: "The people photographed should not look too painted and should not shine." He advises, above all, to always have colourless powder available if you're working with flash. – dpa

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