Mike Martin: How to get started in portrait photography.
Posted: 05 Feb 2020
Mike Martin is a hobbyist photographer based around South West England and South Wales. After having a keen interest in photography for a long time, he started shooting anything and everything, without labelling himself to any style or genre. More recently, however, Mike has taken a keen interest in portrait and people photography, winning multiple awards for his work.
Portrait photography is a genre that can vary in many ways. In its simplest form, it’s taking a photo of a person, however, when you begin to learn more about the different styles and techniques that can be used, it can become an extremely creative form of photography.
So, how do you learn these techniques? How do you create your own style of portrait photography? I’ve created a guide on how to get started and how to get the most out of your portrait photography journey.
Research and learning
You can pick up some of the basics of portrait photography online, taking a look at tutorials and guides that can help you grow. It’s also good to research other photographers’ work to help assist you in finding what sort of style you desire. YouTube is a really helpful site to use, with many tutorials and a wide range of photographers promoting themselves.
Many camera brands have their own associated brand ambassadors, speakers or tutors. It’s good to check out some of these brands, as they’re a good way of getting free tips and advice not only about equipment but photography in general. All the major lighting companies have tutorials demonstrating their equipment, as do software companies, often with their own online delivery channels. Many also have specific ‘hands-on’ days, which are open to anyone to try some equipment before purchasing. These are usually subsidised, meaning you can learn from experts at a fraction of what it might otherwise cost.
Fotospeed runs these education days with the Fotospeed Academy where you can hone your skills in all areas of photography, from image capture through to editing.
There are numerous online trainers for you to take a look at. Some of the better-known ones like KelbyOne, Creative Live and Photographer Academy head-up a multimillion-pound industry. Whilst they do have subscription or fee-based resources, most have some free material or offer a trial membership, available to try and see if they’re helpful to you or not.
Competitions are a great source of information. Looking at winning images and analysing why you like them, what makes them successful and what makes it stand out to others, will help you learn a lot about technique and your own preferred style.
A bit of advice, I always look at the eyes of the model in other peoples’ work. Doing this often reveals a lot about an image. You can find out how it was lit. Figuring that out can also help reveal what type of environment the photo was taken in. Was it taken in a studio? Was it simply done using natural light? Reviewing these types of photos early on gives you an advantage and gives you a wonderful new skill in this field of photography.
Joining a club can assist you in meeting like-minded people, who will be happy to give advice on all-things photography. Being able to ask questions to more experienced members can be a good starting point for becoming a skilled portrait photographer. Once joined up, hassle your program secretary to include some practical studio evenings if they don’t already do so. Even if your local club isn’t predominantly a portrait club, it’s still vital to join a club to help assist with your learnings.
Discovering your weaknesses and deciding on what you need to improve on is a vital step in becoming a portrait pro. It’s important to only attend workshops on areas you know you can’t learn anywhere else, otherwise, it can become expensive! Do you need an introduction to working with models? Posing and Styling? Studio or location lighting? Maybe you want to learn more about a special interest area such as dance, boudoir, nude, fashion, etc? This is where a workshop comes in handy.
So you’ve done the training and learning, you’ve looked at a wide range of photographers and photographs, and have come up with a portrait interest. You may or may not have bought some gear and are raring to go, but need a model... how do you find one?
It’s not worth going out finding/paying a model when you’re just starting out. Everyone has friends or family, who I’m sure would be happy to help out while you learn to capture your style and perfect your trade. This is a great place to start, however, if you want to progress beyond this, there are things you need to consider...
What is the model wearing?
What is the model doing?
Where are you taking the photo?
How is the location lit? Is it lit correctly?
What do you want to portray beyond their likeness (for example, mood, emotion, purpose, etc)?
By considering all this, soon enough you’ll see a huge improvement in the standard of your images.
Team up with other photographers
A really handy part of portrait photography is the collaboration of different areas of the genre. Search out local groups on social media that organise ‘meet up sessions’. This is where make-up artists/models team up with photographers and work in exchange for pictures rather than payment.
These are often organised around a specific theme or style and you may find this style may not be the style you’re trying to achieve. If this is the case, it’s still good to attend. It’s a great way to practice on the job and a good way of making connections. If there isn’t a local group near you, consider forming your own group and invite other local photographers, MUAs and models to get involved.
Local studios tend to offer introductory or starter sessions. The studio arranges the model/theme and invites a number of photographers to come and try out their studio – there is usually someone on hand to help out with equipment, lighting, etc. All you need to do is turn up and pay. This is good practice, especially if you haven’t been to a professional studio before, and again, it is another good chance to meet like minded people.
Remember to share your work so people can see what you can achieve, AND HAVE FUN!
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