No Overthinking – Vivid Photos in a Snap

Photographing someone with glasses can produce unwanted reflections. Be sure the subject’s face is tilted slightly away from direct light or raise the back end of the sides of glasses to tilt the lenses downward to reduce glare. The side lighting adds interest and shadow to this portrait. A blurred background, even when busy, enhances the color of the subject’s shirt with complementary tones. Sony RX10 camera, 117mm focal length, ISO 125, Shutter priority mode, 1/100th second, f/3.5.

Sometimes, the perfect moment happens, and you need to capture it quickly. Most likely, you’ll whip out a cell phone and snap the shot. Then later when you’re browsing your gallery, you may tweak that shot with any number of free effects filters, face-smoothing or body-thinning applications, and color or text enhancements. The post-production options are endless, but what if you want vivid, natural photographs that don’t require more than cropping?

A few basic principles will help you create truly great photographs that stand the test of time. We chatted with Robert Dumon, a professional photographer in New Bern, North Carolina who has used a variety of single lens reflex cameras and specialty lenses, a high-powered camera drone for aerial photography, and occasionally, his cell phone. These days Dumon has gone mirrorless and is shooting with a Nikon Z7. Here are some of his tips for natural and posed portraits.

The Natural Portrait – No Props Required

Natural beauty doesn’t need props or fancy settings. A simple, dark background offsets the light in her face. Here, the subject is framed off center, shoulder forward and chin slightly down, her gaze connecting directly with the camera. Blur the background by using a wide aperture, e.g., f/1.8, f/2.8, etc., creating what photographers call BOKEH, and focus on the closest eye. Nikon D810, Nikon 85mm f/1.8 lens, Shutter priority, 1/125 second, Aperture f/2, ISO 64.

“Know who you are photographing,” Dumon recommends. “It may sound like a simple tip, but the key to a truly great portrait is capturing someone’s personality and passion.  While getting to know your subject, observe their body language, expressions, and subtle gestures. Actively LISTEN to them to gain a better understanding of aspects you might want to focus on while shooting.”

“Here, a father and daughter share the same captivating smile. I focused on how their smiles light their faces in these outdoor shots,” he says. When taking photos outside, “Time of day matters. Morning light is soft, while strong midday light will produce harsh downward shadows on a face. If you must shoot midday, find some shade in which to place your subjects. Try to avoid shooting in bright sunlight. Late afternoon offers interesting possibilities, with side-lighting on one side of the subject and warm shadows on the other.”

He continues, “Pro photographers know how to utilize light during the twice-daily magical ‘Golden Hour,’ about 30 minutes after sunrise and 30 minutes before sunset when the light is most flattering.”

The Posed Portrait

“When taking a posed portrait, you don’t need props,” Dumon says.  However, to add interest to a portrait he says, “Find a natural ‘frame’ within the shot. In these portraits, the subjects’ personalities are reflected in the pose and pops of color in the image. Both images were taken in natural light, which enhances skin tone and picks up highlights in the hair.”

Photo of a teen girl. Nikon D750, Shutter priority, 1/100 second, f/3.2 Aperture, ISO 100, 35mm focal length.