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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

10 Keys To Unique Portraits

How to use location, lighting and creative thinking to improve your portraits

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5. Go back in time
Okay, this location is going to raise eyebrows, and may not be available to everybody, but you never know what’s near your home. I’ve scouted around my town for countless hours looking for new locations to shoot portraits. One day I decided to go just a few more miles down a road I had scouted in the past. Around the next corner, I discovered a perfectly reconstructed early 1900s maximum security jail cell in a field. There also were Old West buildings, stores, tractors and windmills. It turned out the owner liked collecting these items and had turned his field into a museum of old structures. He was more than happy to let me set up lights and a smoke machine to create a portrait in his jail cell.

Many towns have historical sites that offer lots of great portrait locations. You might be surprised what’s in your own town.

6. Try the rooftop
Interesting perspectives also result in portraits outside the box. Just think how many images you’ve taken standing up photographing your subject at eye level. Try getting really low or high for a fresh perspective. I frequently use a step ladder to get a high perspective for portraits.

Another great location is a building rooftop, and many cities have high open gardens, restaurants and viewing platforms as well. Since my town only has a few tall buildings and none with accessible space, I shoot on the top floor of a parking garage. This high angle allows great views over the town. I like to shoot at twilight to burn in the city lights and capture dramatic skies in the background.

7. Shoot at night
When most people think about creating a portrait, they think of well-lit studios, bright beaches, sunny streets—scenes that have lots of light. But what about shooting at night? Scenes transform into mysterious shadowy locations at night, which may be just what you need to create an interesting portrait of your subject.

Look for glowing streetlight scenes, colorful neon building fronts and reflecting water on the street—or add your own. You’ll need to add some flash to this image; a single unit is all you need. Experiment with different angles of flash and exposures to burn in the street and neon lights in the background. Adding colored gels to the flash will open up even more possibilities shooting nighttime portraits.

8. Go out in bad weather
I recently was on a shoot in Moab, Utah. We had lined up mountain biking models, scouted locations and charged up strobe packs. Then the snow started falling...and falling. Holed up in the hotel room the next day, we decided to shift gears and try shooting some lifestyle snowshoeing portraits in the snowstorm. We drove to a forested location, and the models starting stomping around in the snow.

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