Portrait Photography tips I wish I would have known before

Posted By odedwagen / March, 14, 2014 / 0 comments

Here are 7 Portrait Photography tips I wish I would have known before

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1. Ask yourself, do I understand what a portrait is?

“A Portrait is a painting, photograph, sculpture, or other artistic representation of a person […] the intent is to display the likeness, personality, and even the mood of the person” (from Wikipedia)

While this is a very basic definition of the concept, it can help us to understand the true nature of good portrait photography. A portrait must tell a story. What kind of story? the story of the person in the image.

How can you tell a story of a person in one image? You can’t! You can never capture the whole story, because human beings are too complex. You can either choose to highlight a specific emotion expressed by the subject or by yourself. I call this first method “highlighting”, in which you highlight a specific story at a specific time

For example: when I took the photo of the Japanese girl  I was trying to highlight this specific moment, when she held her mother’s hand, when she had not yet decided whether to leave or hold on tight.


2. Look for emotion

Someone’s exotic face from some remote tribe is nice to look at, but for it to be a true visual storytelling portrait, this face must evoke emotion.

Steve McCurry called this the “unguarded moment”. Which is the essential soul peeking out. It can be happiness, fear or excitement. Emotion is the best way to create a bond between the image and your viewers.

The best way to “catch” emotion on your camera’s sensor is by choosing the right moment to click the shutter. Be on the lookout for a specific powerful moment that can evoke the story on the person’s face.

wagenstein portrait

3. Start with your comfort zone

Going out to the streets to shoot portraits of strangers is not an easy task to start with. The best way to hone your craft is by starting with a person you already know. By skipping the need to “break the ice”, it will be easier for you to think about other important elements in your portrait, such as: the light, composition, posing and color. You don’t have to travel far for interesting face; you can start with friends and family.

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4. Get out from your comfort zone

A day without learning something new is a wasted one. One of the most important things to note when dealing with portrait photography is that usually, the problem is with us.”I do not want to hurt/ I do not want to offend/ I do not want to invade someone’s privacy” are all excuses which we tell ourselves on “why we photograph people with a TELE lens, from a distance”. So, if you truly want to take your portrait photography to the next level and be able to evoke emotion in your work, you must, as my mother says: “fake it till you makes it”. it is not as complicated as it seems in your head. Get out to the streets, find an interesting person and just go for it by saying: “Hello, I am a photography enthusiast and I would like to take your photo…I would love to send you a copy as well”. You might be surprised  by the results. In using this technique, the worst thing that can happen is that you will get a refusal and then just move on to the next person.

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5. Choice the right focal length

“What is the best lens for portraits?” is a very common question among my students.

And the answer is simple: there is no one best lens for portrait photography. You should adjust the focal length to your working style. When considering your next lens, you should take into account the following elements:

- The distance you usually like to photograph people from

- The weight you are willing to carry around

- What is the maximum aperture for low light photography and for shallow depth of field?

- And, of course, price.

For me, most of my portraits are done with an 85 mm or 24-70 mm lens.

6. Choose the wrong focal length

Try this creative exercise. Go outside and take a portrait with a lens you are not used to working with. If you always work with a telephoto lens, try using a wide angle one. If you prefer to get close to your subject, take a step back and wait for the decisive moment. A good photographer is a flexible one.

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7. Experience variable depth of field

We all love portraits with that sweet low depth of field, which makes everything blurry in the background. In portraits, shallow depth of field is usually good because it leads the viewer’s eyes directly to the subject by making it sharper than the rest of the image- YET, please note that there is such a thing as a too shallow depth of field. In this case, the sharpness by the AutoFocus may be on the eyebrows or eyelashes instead of the eyes. Practice in order to understand the elements that affect the depth of field: the distance to the subject, focal length and aperture.

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Want to learn more about my portrait photography?

I would like to thank Linda Burnette and Jane Cowan For their assistance in the preparation of this post

שלכם, עודד וגנשטיין

Best lens for portraits?

Posted By odedwagen / January, 25, 2014 / 7 comments

Best lens for portraits?

What is the best lens for portrait photography and is there such a thing as a “portrait photography lens?”

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With so much variety to choose from and with confusing concepts such as focal length, aperture and image stabilization to try to understand; no wonder many people are confused about deciding which lens to purchase to achieve high quality portrait photography. In this article I will go through some of the questions you can ask yourself that will help you to answer the big question:

What is the best lens for portrait photography?

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Question One: What is the comfortable distance I like to photograph people from?

After we have decided that we want to get ourselves a new portrait photography lens, we often tend to delve into technical terms such as aperture or lens chromatic distortions before we ask ourselves the most important question of all: What lens is right for me?

You should buy gear according to the photographer you are (or want to be) and not by which lens is the “best” on the review sites. Now, that we understood that we need to buy lenses based upon our style, let’s discuss different styles of a portrait photography work:

Some prefer to shoot portraits from a distance using the “hidden photographer technique” while others prefer to be close and connect with the subject. Each method has advantages and disadvantages.

If you are or wish to be a professional photographer who deals with family portraits, baby or wedding photography, there is no reason for shooting your subjects from a distance. Therefore, there is almost no reason for you to get a big, heavy and expensive telephoto lens. The same goes for those when doing travel photography love to approach and connect with their subjects. For this kind of photography, you might want to focus on simple prime* lenses, such a 24mm, 35mm or 50mm. alternatively, you can choose a wide focal length zoom lens such as a 24-70 (for full frame) or a 17-55mm (for crop factor), both are marvelous lenses!

*Prime refer to a fixed lens in which you cannot change the focal length (i.e., you cannot zoom in or out).

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Oded wagenstein

On the other hand, you may prefer to shoot people from a distance for a variety of reasons, such not wanting people to be aware of the camera or being uncomfortable at the thought of approaching strangers. In this case, it is better for you to get a long telephoto lens. You can choose between a prime lens, such as a 85mm or 100mm or go for a zoom lens such as a 24-70mm, 70-200mm, 18-135 or 24-105mm.

Creative exercise: Get out of your comfort zone

The first lens I had when I started my photography hobby was an old fixed 28mm film lens my brother gave me. I didn’t have the money to buy a better, longer telephoto lens. So, over time, I taught myself how to work with what I had and at the same time learned how to photograph people from a close distance. The ability to shoot people up close eventually became my style and today I almost never use a telephoto lens for my portrait photography. So if you have a preference for shooting with telephoto zooms, try shooting with a 35mm prime for an entire week to expand your photographic horizons.

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Question Two: What kind of portraits would I like to create?

In order to create a good portrait, let’s start by understanding what a portrait is:

“A portrait is a painting, photograph, sculpture, or other artistic representation of a person,[...] The intent is to display the likeness, personality, and even the mood of the person.” -Wikipedia.

This sort of “dry” definition is our answer to what a good portrait needs to be- A good portrait must tell a story: the story about the person in the image and you can tell a story in many different ways:

When we usually think about a portrait, we think about the “classic portrait“: close up of the face, from the chest up, as artists used to draw kings and dukes, or as the great National Geographic photographer, Steve McCurry shot the world famous Afghan girl image. You can read the interview I did with Mr. McCurry on his approach to portrait photography here.

In any case, this is not the only way to tell a person’s story. For example, you can shoot an “environmental portrait” that captures the person and his environment. This method is one of my favorite. Not only does it manage to tell the person’s story, but it also tells the story of the place and the culture in which he lives.

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oded wagenstein

Oded wagenstein

Another option is the “Details Portrait” in which you tell a story by highlighting a specific element of the person. You can read more about the detail shot here.

So, in terms of choosing the right lens for portraits, a prime (fixed) 50mm lens is the traditional choice for creating a classic portrait, but it will probably won’t do the job for environmental portraits as it is not wide enough to allow you to capture the environment around the person. Therefore, you can use a wide zoom lens, such as 35mm or 24mm.

Oded wagenstein

Question Three: What about aperture?

Without going into too much technical detail, the aperture in the lens affects two major elements regarding portraiture photography:

  • 1) The amount of light entering through the lens.
  • 2) The ability to create a shallow depth of field, which can be seen as the ability to blur the background (behind the subject) and the foreground (before the subject).

Therefore, if you choose to buy a lens with a wide or large aperture (small f number) you will be able to:

  • >A) Work in lower light conditions.
  • >B) Create a shallow depth of field, which for portraits is usually recommended as we want to lead our viewer’s eyes right into the sharp eyes of our subject.

So is it worth to spend an extra $2,000 to buy a lens with aperture of 1.2 instead of 1.4? No one knows besides you. If you know you need or love to work in low light conditions, such as in: night photography, weding photography, etc., another stop of aperture actually means double the light entering the camera. But if you are shooting portraits mainly outside when there is enough light, you don’t really need an expensive lens due to the low F number.

Note regarding using low F number (large aperture) in portrait photography:

We all love that shallow depth of field in the background that makes the eyes of our subject look really sharp. But, it is important to note that when shooting with large aperture, even from F 3.2 or lower, focus might be tricky. Meaning that you might get the focus on the eyebrow instead of the eyes, because the larger the aperture (low f number) the shallower the depth of field, meaning that less is in focus.


Question Four: How much do I want to carry?

Weight is something people rarely consider when choosing a new lens. The weight of the lens is crucial, especially if you intend to use it for travel photography. You should choose the lens which is easy for you to carry all day long, as I know from many people that their heavy and cumbersome gear actually makes them to go out and shoot less, which is exactly the opposite of what we want.

For example, a 70-200mm lens may be amazing for studio portrait photography or fashion portraits, but less so for travel and street portraits. If you are thinking about taking a small and light lens on your travels, you may want to take a prime lens, such as a 24 mm, 35mm, 50mm or 85mm.

There are so many other considerations to take into account when buying a lens such as chromatic aberrations, perspective, image stabilization and more. In order to keep it simple I focused on the things that might not come immediately to mind when buying a new lens for portrait or travel photography.

The most important thing to take away is to fit your new lens to yourself, to your photography style and to your financial situation. And don’t forget with whatever lens you choose it’s not the end of the world. In the very near future you will most likely want a new lens and will be able to choose again…so everything will be fine.

So to answer the question, what is the best lens for portrait photography, it is what suits you, your style, and financial situation the best after asking yourself questions like the examples I’ve given. And is there such a thing as a “portrait photography lens? Well yes, it’s the lens that you can take the best portraits with!”

You can read more about my Portrait photography in my eBOOK: The Visual StoryTeller, 78-pages about creating stronger stories in your images.


ODED WAGENSTEIN

I would like the Assistant Editor for this article- Mr. Nicholas Orloff.

שלכם, עודד וגנשטיין

Inspirational reading for the weekend- “The Visual Storyteller” My first eBOOK

Posted By odedwagen / October, 17, 2013 / 0 comments


The Visual Storyteller Ebook

It’s finally out! After a year of preparations, my first eBook is ready:

This eBOOK is all about helping you creating stronger images, by training your eyes to see visual stories while you’re out in the field.


In this 78-pages (!) eBOOK, with my “no secrets” approach, I share everything I wish someone had told me when I felt my images were not what I wanted them to be.

It doesn’t matter which photography field is your favorite: From Portraits and Travel photography to Wildlife, Landscape and even weddings. Visual stories are your secret weapon to leaving a strong emotional impact on your viewers.

With this eBook, you will:

- Gain understanding of the core elements of visual storytelling through creative exercises.

- Learn how to create magazine-like images without expensive equipment.

- Understand how to choose the best equipment to tell your visual story, including my own full gear list.

- Learn professional methods and techniques for “seeing the light”, as in working with natural light, reflectors and flash in the field.

- Get in-depth and practical techniques of Visual Storytelling in portrait photography.

- Learn about editorial storytelling and publishing your images, including a one-on-one interview with Daphne Raz, My editor at the National Geographic magazine (Israeli edition).

The guys @ craft and vision (the publisher) have decided to make their eBooks accessible to almost everyone, so they price each of their books is just $5.


Get a copy  of the Visual Storyteller eBook.

So this is where I need your help guys! If you find my photography, tips and stories inspiring, I would appreciate it greatly if you could spread the word to your friends, F.B and blog friends by sharing this post.

Thank you so much.

Oded Wagenstein


Reflector: my secret weapon in outdoor Portrait Photography

Posted By odedwagen / September, 18, 2013 / 4 comments

Enhance your portraits using equipment that costs less than a movie theater ticket.

לקריאת פוסט זה בעברית, לחץ כאן

Hey guys!

If you’ve followed this blog in the passing year, you probably figured out already that I’m a freak of making portrait in natural light. You could say that 99% of my portraits are done under natural light only.

However sometimes, as you all probably know, natural light does not do what he’s told. So here comes into action what I like to call my secret weapon in outdoor Portrait Photography.

It is cheap, easy to carry and especially does not frightens my subjects, who themselves can be a little intimidating at times.


Reflectors for portrait photography

Reflector: It is just that! It reflects light. There are hundreds of different types of reflectors, which differ in sizes and colors (i.e. white, silver, gold, etc.). A reflector Is usually a reflective fabric, stretched over a bendy ring, allowing it to fold, and easy to carry.

With so many types of reflectors on the market, I cannot review them all. This mini-guide, will focus on the main reflector I use for my work.

12 ” in size, and costs less than a movie theater ticket.

I sometimes use other larger reflectors (mainly in cinematography productions), but this 12″ reflector suits my needs in travel photography;  Mainly because it is small enough, allowing me to hold it with one hand and the camera with the other.

Why use a reflector in portrait photography:

1- To fill up shadows:

We all love taking pictures at sunrise and sunset. But when dealing with the harsh mid-day light, a reflector is almost a must.

In this picture, taken in the western Indian Rabari tribe, for the National Geographic Traveler magazine (Israeli edition), our model was sitting in a dark mud house. He was sick; therefore it was not an option to move him outside.  On the left wall of the house, there was a small window (as can beautifully seen illuminating in the background), My trusty camera assistant Hardik Pandaya, held a silver colored reflector below the subject ‘s face in order to fill any shaded areas such as under the eyes.

This picture was taken on the border of Afghanistan and Tajikistan. Please note that although the woman is standing in the shade and the background is  bright , the woman is not a black silhouette and the background is not burned out.  I measured the light from the background (using spot metering). In such a situation, without using a reflector, the character will turn out completely black (silhouette) but with a reflector held on my left hand, I was able to light up her face.

This is 80 years old Getho. A fisherman from the small community of Sea Gypsy living in, Thailand. This image is a little bit complex in terms of lighting, because there are three sources of lighting here. Just like in the studio, my main light source (key light) was the house door (right side of the frame). The light was coming from a 45 degree angle, creating this dramatic volume on Getho’s face (you can read more about “sculpturing” with 45 degrees light in this post here).  In my left hand I held the small Silver color reflector,  filling the shadows  (fill light) on his faceת and behind him was an open window for additional  light on his beautiful white hair (back light).

Sometimes a reflector is the only option to shoot under strong sunlight, as you can see in this picture.

Useful tips on working with reflectors:

Choose the right color:

Most reflectors come in multiple colors. In this picture, taken in Western India for the National Geographic Traveler magazine              (Israeli Edition), I wanted to preserve the golden- brown color which was dominate in this scene. So I asked Hardik to hold the reflector on its golden side giving the woman’s face a golden glow.

Choosing the right distance: It is important to keep in mind that the closer the light source is to the photographed subject, the stronger and less soften it will appear. Thus, a small reflector is easier to carry and hold; however it will be not as soft as a large reflector.

2- Creating that catch light:

A “catch light” is an interesting spark in the eyes of the subject, “pulling” the audience to look straight at them. There are lots of methods to create a catch light in the subject’s eyes. For example using a flash or a flashlight. However, as we are discussing on the usage of natural light, a reflector can become a great tool for creating a catch light. Just place the reflector under the person’s face.

You can see some catch light examples here:

Exercise your craft

One of the most useful techniques, in order learn how to work with natural light in my opinion, is by observing the images of other photographers. Try to guess the direction of the light and the position and color of the reflector in the images below:

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If so, I would appreciate it greatly if you can share this with your friends. If you wish to get more articles and “how to” guides on portrait and travel photography, add your email here to get my blog’s weekly update.

Oded Wagenstein

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