All photos © Hernan Rodriguez
My approach to making portraits is simple: I want to capture natural and recognizable images, in which I can grasp the true essence and true identity of each individual. For me primary lenses are the ideal type of lens for this type of photography. They offer a more accurate perspective for what I'm looking for as an artist, giving me more of what my eye sees, especially when I'm turning from low angles to more convincing compositions. In my gearbox now: the Tamron SP 35mm F / 1.8 VC, SP 45mm F / 1.8 VC and SP 85mm F / 1.8 VC lenses. Knowing how to handle these tools, as well as keeping some other basic tips in mind, can help you get out of a session with convincing portraits.
1. Know when to touch in which main objective.
I like to confuse the first numbers I use, depending on the scene in front of me. I choose the goal for each session based on who or what my subject is and what I'm trying to convey in the portrait. The 35mm or 45mm lenses give me a more environmental look, for example with a little more depth of field. The 85mm, meanwhile, allows me to take the same shot and create a more artistic and pictorial image.
The individual perspectives that each goal offers will train your eyes to see you as a photographer. Know your style and try to develop it, and find out which goals work best with this, and even if you know it, continue to expand your work using a variety of goals. It will allow you to create a specific story or story that you may not have thought of doing differently.
2. Build trust with your subjects.
Working with my camera is the last thing I do; the first thing I do is to let my subjects relax. This could involve a drink, talking about family, anything that arouses the interest of both the photographer and the subject. It often happens organically, when you are simply talking to your subjects. Let them dictate the conversation. Once their expressions begin to light up, take your camera and keep listening. This is one of the most underrated suggestions in portrait photography and one that might suggest some of your best photos.
3. Let your backgrounds complete your subject.
The background can take away or add to the photo, and must always support the subject. I like less distracting backgrounds, unless you create a portrait that supports an athlete or someone whose job or other characteristics are important to show in the narrative I'm creating. For example, if I'm photographing a basketball player who pulls a few circles on the street, I'll use a first one like 35mm because I do not want to erase that background environment. If it's a situation where I want to focus exclusively on my subject, I'll create blocks of color in the background – a garbage can or a car or a colored wall – and we'll use the 85mm to create that focus. .
4. Choose the lighting that completes your subject.
Who is in front of your camera for a portrait determines the type of lighting you should use and how you should direct it. I often choose to use natural light, especially with older subjects: it is softer and more tolerant, with longer shadows. You can use a softbox or umbrella to imitate the light that is already there. If the subject is younger and has good skin, on the other hand, you can choose to take noon for harder shadows, using a grid and a snoot to focus the light.
Try to keep your lighting simple and controlled. Umbrellas can offer different types of light: if you put a black reflective fabric behind an umbrella, for example, you will get the most intense light on the subject; remove the reflective fabric and bounce softer. In the meantime, if you completely collapse it, you'll get a more direct light.
5. Take a handle on your white balance.
Skin tones are essential in portraiture and I recommend using a custom white balance to make sure you're all right. I have an 18% gray card in my backpack for every shot, and it's always accurate. Especially if you're out for your session, lighting conditions may change, so you'll want to be able to make a gray card before each shot.
6. Make sure your direction, or "pose", functions for each individual subject.
Begin to analyze the subject as soon as they present themselves for the session, since each individual has a different body language. See how their body transforms or leans. You can place the subject on a chair to begin to see how they sit, then perhaps refine a head tilt here or a slight shift of the body there. When you keep the positioning aligned with the way you normally sit or stand up, this makes them less nervous and the picture seems less artificial, which translates into more natural portraits.
The subject may also have a bizarre trait, such as constantly playing with the change in his trouser pocket. Work especially if you can do it easily. I also make a driving motion where I instruct my subjects to swing their arms from their pockets to the back of their neck in slow motion. I will often find a pose from the natural aspect during this movement that seems natural.
7. Change your observation point for various effects.
The perspective adds a lot to the final result of your image. I try to stick to what I do best, which is traditional, classical portraiture, like a painting. Position yourself at eye level with the subject, so that the gaze reaches the viewer directly. You can also direct the subject to look from one side. In every session of portraits, I make at least one shot that seems slightly more voyeuristic. Simply direct the subject to look at the camera but slightly away from the lens.
However, if you want to make your subject more powerful or larger than life (useful if you're photographing an athlete or a male portrait), crouch or kneel and shoot from a lower angle. Prime lenses are fantastic for this. I can use 45mm, for example, to represent the strength I'm trying to show, but without distortion.
8. Clean up your portraits during post-production.
First look through your galleries for "money" shots. This includes eradicating both the technically weaker images – blurry photos, for example, or those where the lighting did not exit exactly as I wanted – and even those where your model might not be as relaxed as possible. You want images in which the subject is completely present in the image and connects with the viewer.
Once you've searched through your finals, it's time to do some tweaking. How much you do will depend on your personal style. In my case, I only do a slight tweaking. I will free myself from the imperfections, I will make sure that the white balance is where I want, and I open the shadows if necessary. I'm not involved in many of the high definition retouching techniques that are fashion now. I want my work to be timeless, not obvious that it's something I did in 2018. Try to keep things simple!