“Paul is an absolutely brilliant mentor, giving me freedom to make mistakes and learn…”

After more than 15 years I am still hooked on photography.  Not a day goes by that I’m not reading a photography book, watching a photography video or DVD, or practising photography and image editing.

I love taking photographs and post-processing photographs and I love working with people who share my passion for photography.  So, I’m very happy to be working with my latest ‘protege’ Darren, who is very new to photography but has a burning desire to learn as much as he can.  I am confident that he will evolve into a confident and competent photographer.

Last Saturday he suggested that we take a drive to New Brighton as he wanted to try some outdoor portraiture and landscape photography.  Aswell as photographing people I love photographing coastal scenes, especially boats and lighthouses, so I was looking forward to seeing if I could get a decent shot of the Perch Rock Lighthouse.  I had never been to New Brighton before, so didn’t know what to expect, and I was pleasantly surprised.  Fort Perch Rock was built as a coastal defence battery during the Napoleonic period to protect the Port of Liverpool.  Perch Rock Lighthouse is a tower similar in design to the Eddystone Lighthouse and stands off New Brighton on the opposite side of the River Mersey to Liverpool.

Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t very kind to us, being a mix of rainy spells with the occasional blue sky now and again.  Nevertheless, we set out to make the best of it.  Darren’s friend Lisa was the model for the day and she did an admirable job.

If you’re venturing out with your camera, some tips for taking good outdoor portraits include:

1) Think about the location and the background

Choose locations and backgrounds that help your photograph and don’t cause distractions.  You really want the person to be the main subject of the photograph, so choose a location that is sympathetic to the overall image you’re trying to create.  In the background watch out for things like telegraph poles ‘growing’ out of the person’s head.

2) Try to throw the background out of focus

This is a great way to focus attention on the person.  The most common method for this is to select a large aperture on your camera, such as f/2.8 – f/5.6 (rather than a small aperture such as f/16).  Lenses with longer focal lengths will also help to blur the background better than a wide angle lens.

3) Think about composition

When you are framing your photograph consider where you can place the person for a more dynamic picture.  Ideally, you don’t just want them static in the middle of the frame as this can sometimes look a bit boring.  Perhaps have them off to one side looking out of the frame.  Also consider whether you are going to hold the camera upright or horizontal for a ‘portrait’ or ‘landscape’ orientation.

4) Light your subject

Consider how you can get some light on their face and in their eyes.  That doesn’t necessarily mean having the sun shining right at them as this can cause them to squint their eyes.  Having the sun behind the person, back-lighting them, can be a great way to add interest to your image and you can add some fill-in light onto the face with a simple reflector or use of fill-in flash.  There may be a natural reflector nearby, such as a white wall or a white vehicle, which can help to bounce enough light.

5) Work your ‘model’

Work with the person to get the expression that you want from them.  This doesn’t come easy to everyone, but can make all the difference.  And, no, it doesn’t mean asking them to say “cheese” at the camera.

Portraiture takes a lot of practice and is a combination of exposure, lighting, composition and, most of all, people skills and coaching.

We all had a great day at the the coast.  Darren learned a lot, and I even managed to get a photograph of the Lighthouse!  I now have other shoots arranged with Darren and am looking forward to seeing how much progress he makes.

Here are a few of my photographs from last Saturday (click to enlarge).  Thanks for reading.

Portraiture at Perch Rock

Portraiture at Perch Rock

Portraiture at Perch Rock

Darren and Lisa

Perch Rock Lighthouse

Perch Rock Lighthouse


Categories: photography

2 Responses so far.

  1. Darren says:

    Hi Paul,
    Had a brilliant day at New Brighton with yourself and Lisa. I’m constantly learning something new each and every time we get together. Your experience, skill and patience make you a fantastic mentor. Your passion and dedication to all things photographic constantly motivate and inspire me to better myself to deliver that one great shot.
    I realising great composition can elevate a shot into something magical way beyond photographic technique. To hold ones attention and perhaps even pull the minds eye into the image. A little bit of an analogy would be to listen to a classic Beatles track. Poorly recorded with minimal production but the overall effect works because the compositions are so strong. This is similar to some of the grainy dark photography of the 60’s. I believe these images would not have worked with modern day DSLR’s, but instead would diminish the effect of that dirt and grit. Same can be said with LP’s and CD’s. think about it!
    thanks Paul for a great day.
    Darren & Lisa

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