That’s right!  There should be something in this post and the comments that will follow that will benefit every photographer.

I have found portrait photography to be most difficult!  I mean, when I go out to shoot a sunset – I don’t have to worry about getting the perfect facial expression or body pose. No, nature takes care of those details!  When someone comes to me for a portrait, dozens of decisions must be made.  And in order for your subject to be satisfied, those decisions have to be correct!  Inside, outside, beach, park, prop, no prop, unique architecture, beautiful garden, flash, reflectors, head shot, full shot, serious, funny, contemplating, sensical…and that doesn’t even begin to take into consideration the inhibitions of your subject.  It’s my job to put them at ease, extract the perfect expression, deciding what that perfect expression should be, placement of background, blurred or in focus, and dozens of other decisions that must be made on the fly!  How do you portrait photographers do it??

And what makes matters worse?  I’m new to all of this!!  That’s right!  This blog is all about my “journey into photography.”  I haven’t arrived!  I don’t know everything…yet! I say “yet” because I’m determined to learn!  And that’s where you come into the equation.

This is my 2nd official photo shoot.  Well, I guess it really isn’t official because I’m not being paid.  But that’s OK, after all it was my idea.  And may I say, a very big “Thank You” goes to Marissa for acting as my model for this session.

When I first became interested in portrait photography (even though landscape photography is my passion) I purchased one of those all-in-one editing software packages.  You know the ones – where you follow several prompts and, like magic, a beautiful portrait is produced.  Well, it never worked that way for me.  It seemed like the facial features were always changed – even distorted.  So for the past several weeks I’ve been editing everything long hand, using Photoshop Elements.  It takes longer, but I have absolute control.

So here’s your connection.  I know there are several hundred people who follow this blog, and many others who visit.  I invite your comments.  I would love to hear constructive ideas as to what may be good and what could definitely be improved.  As a photographer, whether a professional or someone who dabbles in the art, I hope you’ll share some of your secrets for portrait success!  Even if you’re a casual follower with little or no photography experience, I would love to know if you would be satisfied with this portrait.  And if you can’t think of anything to say, well…maybe you’d like to compliment Marissa!  She did a great job!


So I’m putting myself out there, and hopefully we can all learn something together.  But, please be gentle!


~ by photographyfree4all on January 18, 2012.


  1. I have just begun dabbling in portraits myself. I am interested in comments that might be made here, too.

    As for the portrait… it is very nice. Because of the busyness and all the color, though, I think I would have blurred it out at least a little bit. IMHO.

    Yes, Marissa, nicely done.


  2. You know Sharon, the background was a concern of mine when I saw the image the first time. But certain elements prevented me from moving Marissa a little further away from the background which would have allowed for some blur. But, I agree with you. I know I could blur the background in Photoshop – and I may experiment with that. But I wonder if it might have the tendancy to cause Marissa to look separated from the background – almost in a floating manner. Maybe someone else can comment on this issue.

    Great comment, Sharon! Thanks.


  3. Portrait, engagement photography happens to be my absolute favorite. As much as I do enjoy landscape photography there is something special about shooting people, each person or couple is ultimately unique in look, size, character, etc. Combining the person with either outdoors or indoors or whatever the backdrop or setting provides a most excellent opportunity to tell a story. To me photography, video, anything visual really tells some sort of story. I can shoot the same locations over and over with different subjects and each time I re-shoot at a location it is as if it is the first time because that individual or couple has a different personality and ideas will flow differently for where to place them/pose them etc. I attempt to do as little “posing” as possible, I like to lead my subjects into a specific area where I will ask them to stand or sit, and then I just start shooting and see what they do, as I see different expressions or postures that I like then I will ask them to hey I really like that can you do this or that. Turn your head this way just a little, etc. As far as editing, I use Adobe Lightroom now and love it. I try to keep my editing relatively simple as I really try to just express the moment and story as best as posible. My general editing approach consists of, increasing contrast, increasing blacks and lights (again for higher contrast), dropping the saturation, then adjusting brightness, exposure, white balance, shadows, as needed to make an image that is not overly dark or bright as a whole(sometimes though I do really like an image that is extremely blown out as I feel it really puts the focus on the subject) but that really is all I do, a few basic adjustments to the entire image. That’s my 3 and half cents 🙂


  4. Hey, first of all I think you’ re proving you’ re serious about learning photography because you’ re putting yourself out there. Secondly, I think you did really well with this shot. If I may make a suggestion, I would have put the model farther away from the background and used a high aperture so the background is out of focus. That way, the person stands out more. If you like, you can take a look at some of my photos. I’ m also practising photography, I studied tv and movie directing.


  5. As to the background blur, I would hesitate to do any of that in post unless it is going to be used as some sort of key element in graphic design because it can look extremely un-natural, I am sure you already know this, but shooting at a wide open aperture, especially anything below 4.0, and then using a manual focus point to select just one focus point, as opposed to the full auto focus where it will often choose more than one focus point, will help with that natural shallow depth of field. When shooting portraits I almost always will select on the focus points, then place that focus point over the subjects face(more specifically the eyes if possible) which will ensure the face is in focus and everything else potentially (depending also like you mentioned on distance between the subject and backdrop, as well as the focal length you are shooting at) will be out of focus in a natural blurr. I shoot the majority of my portraits with my 85mm 1.8 lens on a cropped sensor, and try to shoot no higher than 4.0 on my aperture if it isn’t too bright outside. Ideally I love to be at about 2.0 and ISO of like 400 shooting in aperture priority.


  6. I was hoping you’d comment, Tim. Two things I really appreciate about what you’ve said: 1) I love your philosophy of portrait photography! That helps me with my approach. 2) thanks for all the editing detail! This information will be stored for future usage!

    Another great comment!!


  7. Thank you, Oriana! I visited your website/blog – it’s great…I’ll be back! So far, the background seems to be the biggest issue. Having said that, I do wish I could have done something about it at the time of the shoot. But that’s what experience is all about, isn’t it? That’s something I’ll be very aware of in the future. And you’re absolutely right, I am serious about learning and growing. That’s why I put my work out there for people to critique. I can only grow from constructive comments like yours!



  8. Looks good to me! Yes, Marissa is a very pretty young lady!!!!


  9. Thank you, Miss Betty! I’ve missed your comments. Nice to see them again!



  10. I agree with some of your other posters – the colors she’s wearing and the background color make for a very busy scene to my eye. If I was shooting a landscape, all that visual “disturbance” would be good, making your eye move around the frame. In this case, your lovely model is to be the center of attention, not the leaves behind her.

    I’d probably also bring the bottom of the crop up, to just above the pendant she’s wearing. I think that would put some more focus on her face; below the pendant really has no visual purpose to me.


  11. I wish I could be able to capture portraits. Until now “natural portraits” fills most of my blog!!…
    But so far I like looking at others 😉
    It is a beautiful portrait – and a superb model.
    I would choose a different and less distracting background. And crop the image more, so the face takes up the majority of the picture.


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