Behind the camera of Portraits

This month's topic covers portraits and what goes into making them. I tend to get compliments on my self-portraits and sometimes I think people assume I just throw some clothes on and put the camera on timer and BOOM...portrait complete. The truth is, there are 4 major things I do to get my portraits to look the way I want. And it’s the same four things I tell my clients. So lets cover each one.


The first thing I do is Prep. Being prepared means having a vision and knowing all the steps in between to accomplish that final product. It includes knowing; location, best time of day to shoot, whether to use natural lights or studio strobes, appropriate apparel, hairstyle, poses, etc. Now I don’t use makeup, but if I am working with a female client, I also know the makeup style I want to incorporate. Being prepared is the difference between a successful shoot, and a lucky shoot.


Next, I begin equipment setup. I assess the space to determine lens choice, and what sort of depth of field I want for me. For self-portraits I obviously use my tripod to hold my camera. But before I set it up I think about where I will place myself and adjust everything off that point. Next I determine face height so I can get the camera set for a well composed photo. Then I determine my lighting..Do I require studio lights? Or am I going for a more natural feel? Regardless of what I choose, I normally go with a Rembrandt Lighting setup for my self-portraits. It makes the final image more dramatic and compelling. The great thing about this lighting setup is it can be accomplished with both natural and studio lighting. Once all the main equipment is set, I bring in an additional light stand and pop on a styrofoam face. I adjust the height to where my head will be and I position it in the exact spot I will be sitting or standing. I go back to my camera and I manually focus where the face is. This is done so I don't have to worry about autofocus 3D facial tracking or blurred images/eyes. Once I have all my equipment setup, I run through a few practice poses and test shots until I get the pose, lighting, and focus exactly where I want it. Once the setup is complete I shut everything off and leave it where it is so I can go get ready, which leads into the next point. Grooming!


Grooming is extremely important. Hair and makeup can make or break an image so that is why I get ready after I set up my equipment. Can you imagine how hot it would be trying to set up equipment in a half or full Tuxedo? Half or Full Tuxedo? Yeah I am not wearing pants in my Tuxedo shot...just SOFFEE Ranger Panties, and my Tuxedo top! I like to keep it fun and formal. I digress, the point is, I want to look fresh and for my shot, not like I just got done running a 5K. So I take a shower, and then I get my beard and hair styled using my grooming products. My personal recommendation for men is to use 18.21 Man Made. I personally love their products because they hold my style better than anything else I have tried. I also like that the scents match. What I mean is I have purchased all their Spiced Vanilla products like the soap, balm, and deodorant and shaving glide, as well as their entire Sweet Tobacco smell line. 18.21 Man Made is also the only male grooming product I keep on set for my male clients. In fact I provide my male clients, the following link to 18.21 Man Made if they need some hairstyling ideas and tutorials. If you want recommendations for female products, here is a list from Angelique my lead MUA. Keep in mind, Angelique focuses on a timeless style. She wants her clients to be able to look at their photos now and again in 10-20 years and be proud of what they see. She never wants them to have a, “Hahaha OMG look at my makeup” moment. She keeps her supplies updated regularly and uses all natural products for the most part, like Jane Iredale. But she also has fashion forward brands such as Urban Decay, Trish McEvoy, and Morphe cosmetics. For more information go follow her on Instagram @Angelique417_MUA.  

Once I am clean and styled, I make my way back to the set, and run through my poses one more time.


It's important to know I only shoot in manual. So camera settings are necessary to understand to get the right type of shot. If you shoot automatic and are confused by what I am saying, this section may not pertain to you. If you are wanting to learn how to shoot in manual then keep reading.

If you are looking to achieve a super sharp studio shot….shoot between f8 and f11 then adjust your shutter speed, ISO, and lighting power accordingly. If you are looking for some bokeh behind you in your image, Shoot f2.8, and I like to shoot HSS. This allows me to increase my shutter speed beyond 1/250th of a second, so I am not blowing out my photos even at ISO 100.

Always focus on the eyes which should have been achieved during equipment set up. Set your camera to timer, and then get into your pose. SNAP Photo is complete. If you have a remote trigger then feel free to use that instead of the timer.


A few things I have learned and/or wished I had while doing my self portraits. The first, is a remote trigger. I have a Nikon D5 and a D810, they both utilize the WR-R10/WR-T10/WR-A10 Wireless Remote Controller Set (Shutter Release). The second is a tether cord. A tether cord would allow me to shoot from my camera and data transmit my image directly to my computer. This way I could turn my computer towards me as I pose and see how the shot turned without having to move and recompose between each shot. I am also making my own hand painted canvas backdrop, so I can get more consistent images for my portfolio as I transition into more contemporary portraits for that timeless look!

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