Portrait Tutorial – Kitchen Portraits – Part 3

In this part I will demonstrate the typical mistakes done in portrait photography using natural light. The end of part of the article contains successful shots for reference.

You probably want to first read the previous parts of this portrait tutorial:

  • part 1 (rules of portrait photography, setup, post processing and examples)
  • part 2 (auto focus, don’t be afraid to shoot in high ISO, colors are important)

I have used exactly same location, my kitchen, and same model, my wife in this part as well. This time, thanks to a good reader feedback, I took intentionally bad photos to illustrate the typical mistakes. Instead of totally doing things wrong, I decided to make minor mistakes to make it more realistic. So fasten your seat belts, there are some horrible photos coming up!!

Wide Angle Rarely Suits Close Up Portraits

Even though Panasonic 20 mm F/1.7 is my favorite lens, it rarely suits taking portraits at very range. Even a slight wide angle as this lens (equivalent of 40 mm on a full frame) distorts the perspective enough to make it noticeable, especially if shot really close to the subject. It makes those body parts which are closest to the lens larger than life, usually emphasizing the size of the nose. While those body parts which are further away, look smaller than for real e.g. ears look small. You maybe obtain better results taking a few steps back and cropping the result, but I rarely ever crop photos in post process (99 % of my photos are not cropped). Now in this tutorial I have also broken this rule and you can see some photos cropped to 1×1 ratio.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Panasonic 20 mm F/1.8, 1/60 s, ISO 800

It Really Matters Where You Place Your Subject

I intentionally placed my subject in the wrong location under the fluorescent lights so that the shadows and light fall unpleasantly on her face. Even worse position would have left her eyes completely in shadow/too dark.

Just mere 2-5 cm makes a huge difference, so experiment and try what is the best setting for you!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Olympus 75 mm F/2.0, 1/160 s, ISO 1600

Getting Exposure Right Matters for Image Quality

Even though it is possible to adjust exposure a lot in post process, especially if you shoot in raw, getting the exposure right matters a lot for post process. Here I got the exposure wrong by almost a full stop. Adjusting the exposure back and while the original was shot ISO 2500, meant a serious loss of image quality as can be seen below. The colors look flatter, the skin lacks detail despite DxO Optics Pro PRIME could remove the noise remarkably well. Normally such adjustment, increasing exposure value, and shooting high ISO using a small sensor camera like my Olympus OM-D E-M5 would have resulted a very grainy image in the shadows.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Olympus 75 mm F/2.0, 1/200 s, ISO 2500

Adjust the White Balance when Shooting under Artificial Light

All the shots were taken under a single fluorescent light in the ceiling. No additional lights, nor flash or reflectors were used and it was pretty dark outside. Now first I will show how the colors look straight out of the camera’s auto white focus and then using manual white balance. If you have trouble setting the white balance try using 2850 color temperate as your basis as this is the most typical white balance value for modern lights.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Olympus 75 mm, F/2.0, 1/160 s, ISO 2000, original colors
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Olympus 75 mm, F/2.0, 1/160 s, ISO 2000, manual white balance

Creative Angles Require Talent

The general rule of portrait photography is to shoot from the level of the eyes and focus on the eye closest to the camera. Now let’s break these rules. The following two shots are intentionally shot at low angle, which is excellent way to peek inside the nostrils and count the nose hair and an upper angle, which is a good way to illustrate the potential male type baldness (my model doesn’t have it). I didn’t use too aggressive angles to underline my point.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Shot about 30 cm from below the eye level
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Shot about 30 cm from above the eye level

Too Cropped because of too Small Room! Or Don’t Show the Mess!

My house is old and my kitchen is quite small, so we ran out of space. I have used an old wooden door as the backdrop of every photo above. Now you can see too much of the door. And if I would use a wider angle lens and reveal more, you would see the mess in the kitchen.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Olympus 75 mm F/2.0, 1/100 s, ISO 1600
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Olympus 75 mm F/2.0, 1/160 s, ISO 4000

Better Photos

I really apologize my dear wife to make her look so ugly in these photos. So let’s now watch some better photos taken exactly same day and just few minutes between the bad shots.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Olympus 75 mm F/1.8, 1/160 s, ISO 3200, custom film emulation
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Olympus 75 mm F/1.8, 1/160 s, ISO 3200, custom black & white film emulation
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Olympus 75 mm F/1.8, 1/100 s, ISO 1000, custom B&W film emulation
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Olympus 75 mm F/1.8, 1/100 s, ISO 1000, custom film emulation
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Olympus 75 mm F/1.8, 1/100 s, ISO 1000, custom black & white film emulation
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Olympus 75 mm F/1.8, 1/200 s, ISO 3200, custom colors
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Olympus 75 mm F/1.8, 1/160 s, ISO 1600
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Olympus 75 mm F/1.8, 1/160 s, ISO 1600
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Olympus 75 mm F/1.8, 1/160 s, ISO 1600
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Olympus 75 mm F/1.8, 1/160 s, ISO 1600, custom black & white film emulation

Please tell me what you think.

Stay tuned for part 4, which will discuss the troubles shooting small kids at similar setting.

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