Sunday, January 15, 2012

Tips for taking portraits at home

Senior portraits

While I was in Virginia last week, I took some pictures of my beautiful niece Jane for her "senior pictures". That genre had escaped my notice, except for having seen her elder sister's pictures last year. I still don't really know if they are supposed to express something in particular. I just wanted to get some shots of her in her familiar surroundings and since I was staying with my sister that week anyway, we had time for two sessions.

Every experienced photographer will tell you that it's much easier to get pleasing pictures if your model is pretty. Well, that was the case here. The only stumbling blocks we occurred were 1) the cold weather, which pretty much precluded our shooting outdoors for extended periods of time; and 2) my limited equipment. For all the tutorials I've watched on one-light portraits, I still wish I had had a second one and my good Lastolite Trigrip reflector set. My umbrella and flash tripod would also have been helpful, but I was travelling light, so I had to improvise. One light only!

So as you see in the picture above, I wanted to capture her in settings that were important to her. Since practically everyone in our family is an artist - Jane included - we got a shot of her with her great brushes.

The nice mirror on her wall seemed like it would make a good frame for a photograph, so I set up the flash and a piece of poster board to the right of the mirror, the flash pointing into the large white surface to create a soft light and nice big catch lights in her eyes. But the light isn't what I like best about this picture; it's her pose!

Jane learned very quickly about looking into the light, keeping her eyes open and chin down. We were shooting with very little ambient light, so her pupils look large in the pictures.
For the next shot I put the flash behind her. I wanted a dreamy look, so backlighting seemed to be the way to go. The flash had enough power to light her face as well. Again, the natural pose here makes the picture what it is.

For some of the poses, she chose to smile sometimes and close her mouth for others. What a difference that makes! Here I prefer the nice, big smile!

Another big part of Jane's artistic and athletic life is dancing. She will graduate with honors in dance from the Culver Academies in June. So we took some pictures of her as the ballerina she has become. I like this introspective pose.

And here I put a snoot on my flash to create a line of light along her extended leg and her arm. It was also important to get some light on her left arm, too.

These last two pictures and the following one looked better in b/w than in color because you concentrate on the person and composition rather than the surroundings. The following picture shows Jane brimming with confidence, which is what a full-front portrait does.

Finally, here's the picture which Jane has chosen as her facebook profile picture. It's full of confidence, glamour, beauty and kindness. What more could you want in a niece?


  1. Good shots Jim - the last one is my favorite too, though I really like the "environmental artist" photo up top with her paint brushes and the introspective ballerina shot in black and white... that one really carries an emotional feeling to it that makes it a very strong image.

  2. Thanks, Brian. I agree with you on the emotional strength of the b/w image. It grabbed me as soon as I saw it.

  3. Knowing your family for years, I am thrilled to see your work, Sarah's daughter, and another wonderful CGA dancer in her element! Jane is a beautiful young woman, and you, a fabulous photographer! (Thank you for the tips.) I am only sad that your Dad's passing was the reason you were in Richmond.... My best to all the Martins... Cindy Kilduff

  4. Jim and Sarah and Jane: What beautiful pictures and the narration is so beautiful too. It's clear to see the love between family members at you tell the story of the photo shoot. Thanks for sharing with the rest of us. Cousin Nancy

  5. Thanks Cindy and Nancy for your kind remarks!
    She does indeed look like Sarah, Cindy! I was so happy to be able to take these pictures! You learn from each photo session!