In addition to being personable so the model is comfortable with you, successful portraiture requires that you be comfortable with your equipment and technical skills. Slowing down to figure out settings can halt the natural flow of working with a model. Hannan says that learning in the beginning to take the camera off of auto was a "massive eye-opener," and whether shooting inside or out, he always uses manual settings. "I never shoot on less than a 1?60 shutter speed," he explains. "It's almost impossible to shoot handheld with anything slower than that. Also, don't shoot slower than your focal length; shoot 1?50 or faster with a 50mm, 1?85 or faster with a 85mm lens and so on."
Adds Hannan, "Bouncing light indoors can produce some really great results, given the light slightly softens when bounced off most walls/ceilings, which can give skin tone a softer feel. I open up the ƒ-stop more inside than I do outside. I don't like using flash, nor do I enjoy grain, so to shoot indoors with some satisfaction, I'll open her up to one stop up from fully open to preserve some sharpness. Outdoors, I'll typically shoot anywhere from ƒ/4 to ƒ/13—too much bokeh can lead to so much depth that it can seem overdone."
Correct white balance is also extremely important to Hannan. "The color of white looks so different in a variety of settings—warm, blue, stark, washed out, yellow." He explains about how important it is to reset manual white balance every time he changes a setting. "One of the cheapest and yet most important things I always carry with me on a shoot is my Lastolite EzyBalance 18% foldable gray card. It folds to a little larger than a 7-inch vinyl record—I'm showing my age—and opens up to about 20 inches. Before I start rattling off any shots, I take a few off the gray card to set my own manual white balance."
Hannan always works in RAW to maintain the most leverage for working with captures during the editing process. "I'd rather have total control over an uncompressed RAW image," he explains, "than forfeit that level of control for the sake of a few seconds of importing/exporting a workflow." He works primarily in Adobe Lightroom, his "playground," to manage his shoots and to do small edits while browsing to select the best shots.
Image editing is where Hannan adds the professional polish his unscripted portraits are known for, but he says that adding too much processing to the final image can make his images look overdone, but just the right amount and the images will stand out above the crowd of point-and-shoot candids. "I think there's always room for a little tweaking or retouching," he adds.
Suggestions and tips aside, Hannan says that his first rule as a photographer when working with unscripted portraits is to avoid convention by stepping as far out of the proverbial box as he can, even in high-pressure situations like a wedding where the natural inclination is to shoot safely and fall back on what you know.
"I've found that letting go of what the books tell you is the first step into discovering what you're really capable of," he explains. "When I'm shooting what I feel and not just relying on what I see, that's the beginning of nailing the unscripted feel that I'm aiming for."
To see more of David Kerry Hannan's photography, visit davidkerryhannan.com.