Your technical knowledge and skills empower you to take creative control. Understanding the nature of light enables you to manipulate it. Learning about the exposure triangle teaches you the limitations and compromises of digital photography. And the ability to shoot in manual mode means that you are making the decisions for your portrait photography, not your camera’s algorithm. Build your knowledge here in the Foundations section, then go get inspired by the tips, techniques and ideas across the rest of the site.
With hundreds of different camera bodies and lenses to choose from, in addition to a limitless number of accessories, it’s tough to know where to draw the line when it comes to kit; there’s a fine balance between having what you really need and buying equipment that you’ll use only once.
There are hundreds of choices to make when taking a portrait, even once you’ve selected a model and a location. Although this may seem daunting, it provides a creative difference between images taken by two photographers, even if they are shooting the same person in the same place, with the same kit.
An amateur may not know quite why one portrait looks so much better than another one taken in slightly different lighting conditions. A subject will look at a shot of themselves and instantly assess: “Do I like how I look in this one?”, but not necessarily be able to understand what part light has played in their conclusion.
Humans don’t absorb all the detail in a scene or image instantly, but instead we selectively scan it. Our eyes are first drawn to eyes and faces, certain colours and areas of high contrast. To test which area of an image is the main focal point, turn it upside down and note which area your eye is pulled towards. This trick turns the photograph into an abstract, making it easier to be objective.\
Some people are critical of postproduction, thinking a skilled photographer should get everything right in-camera. However, even the famous film photographers used postproduction, burning and dodging to enhance their work in traditional darkrooms. It is simply the second part of the creative process for producing the end image envisioned by the photographer.