Photo Portrait Tips from Sara Lando

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Sara5 Photo Portrait Tips from Sara Lando

Professional photographer Sara Lando has a way with portraiture and fashion photography. We love her work (and her Blurb books). Recently, we caught up with Sara and asked her for her tips on how to get the perfect shot. Here’s what she had to say.

Blurb: What is the most important consideration when photographing someone?

Sara: Every person is unique and I’ve never met anyone who isn’t photogenic (even though there’s no shortage of bad photographers). I think the most important thing when taking someone’s picture is to actually take the time to create a connection with him or her, to allow his or her personality to shine through.

Every portrait is collaboration between the photographer and the subject, and you should make sure you have the images you want, but it’s your responsibility to make sure your subject has the pictures he/she wants as well.

Sara1 Photo Portrait Tips from Sara Lando

Blurb: What about self portraits?

Sara: I’ve always taken a great amount of self portraits, and I really think they help you grow as a photographer immensely. You’ll feel dumb at first and you should really soak into the experience of being uneasy on that side of the lens, because that’s how people normally feel when they have their picture taken and they don’t know what to do.

It will take time and a lot of experimenting, but the great news is that you don’t have to show the bad photos to anyone. Taking your own picture is a great way to test out new settings, to take pictures of people at 3 a.m., and to explore concepts that you’re not completely sure about, yet.

Sara2 Photo Portrait Tips from Sara LandoBlurb: Props or a blank canvas?

Sara: I don’t see it as something that should be a choice. It really depends on what you’re going for. You should always start a shoot with a couple of ideas and what you want to achieve in mind; research photos, sketch concepts and share them with your subject – so that they already know what they’re going to face.

When taking pictures of someone who’s inexperienced in front of a camera – and if you are not a black belt at posing people – starting with props can give them something to do and help you get more natural expressions.

Sometimes props can be an integral part of the image and make it really stunning, but always make sure that they make sense, and fit into your whole concept. It’s always a bit weird having a photo of a person on seamless white, casually holding a watermelon. Unless they sell watermelons and that fits with their website, or something…

Blurb: For those thinking of going pro what expert tips can you share from your experience with photographing people?

Sara: Most new photographers spend a lot of time and energy worrying about the technical side of taking someone’s picture (not so different from taking pictures of a chair, a suitcase or a jacket), and not enough time connecting with them. They also stop taking pictures as soon as they get something they like, but that’s actually when the real work starts.

It’s also very important to remember that as long as the subject is having a great experience, those images are more likely to be good.  If they think they’re judged, they start feeling uneasy and that shows through the images. This is why you never chimp through images and make weird faces, or say that something is bad or not working. Even if what you mean is “this light sucks”, they ‘ll hear “you suck as a model” and it’ll take a lot of time and work to loosen them up again.

Sara3 Photo Portrait Tips from Sara LandoBlurb: Tips for indoor shots?

Sara: If working with flash, make sure everything is set up and ready before the subject arrives – using an assistant or a prop acting as a body double – so that you won’t be spending too much time messing around with gear and settings instead of talking to the person or people you’re photographing.

Double check that you’ve marked the spot where your subjects (or subject) need to stand, so they can go back to where they need to be if they start wandering around. Have them bring their own music, so that they don’t have to awkwardly stand just listening to the sound of your camera clicking.

If you’re working in a small space, having the light bounce around too much can be hard to control. To combat this you can paint one side of a foam core with black (and use the other side as a reflector). You can also flag lights, duct tape black fabric to a wall to stop light from bouncing, or use foam core to block light coming from a window.

Whatever it takes, make sure you’re the one who controls the light and not vice versa. You don’t need specific gear to do this kind of stuff – cardboard, clamps, fabric and duct tape are a photographer’s best friends.

Sara4 Photo Portrait Tips from Sara LandoBlurb: Tips for outdoor shots?

Sara: Get some bug repellent!

No, seriously. Do. You don’t want to Photoshop a gazillion mosquito bites from your models legs, arms and face. Also, make sure your subject is going to have somewhere to change (can be the back of a car or a pop-up cabin).

Depending on the kind of mood and look you’re going for, make sure you shoot at the right time of the day. Use natural reflectors (asphalt, a wall, the side of a white van) to shape and control light, or a diffusing panel and an assistant to hold it over the model’s head to create some shade, if you need some soft light at noon.

Check your borders. Double check for a rubbish bin in the background or dog poop, and trees sticking out of people’s heads. You can Photoshop stuff out of a photo, but it only takes 10 seconds to recompose, zoom in to exclude something, open up your aperture or move your subject around, where it might take hours to clone out the drunk guy puking in the background. Be lazy.

This should be obvious but often it isn’t – if it’s cold and you’re taking pictures of a semi-naked girl, bring a blanket for her to keep warm between shots. And maybe some hot tea. Always have water on set. Check that your model is comfortable. Unhappy people make lousy portraits.

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  1. [...] might want to read my series on photographing people I wrote on strobist first, or read a couple of interviews that might give you an idea on how my head works. If you read italian, hop over to my blog: most of [...]

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