Portrait Photography: How to Pose Your Subject | Luke Atwood Abiol | Skillshare

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Portrait Photography: How to Pose Your Subject

teacher avatar Luke Atwood Abiol

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

7 Lessons (31m)
    • 1. Intro

    • 2. Assignment

    • 3. Environmental Portraiture

    • 4. Lighting

    • 5. Studio Portraiture

    • 6. Full Body

    • 7. Commissions + Close

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About This Class

This class helps to break down the process of posing a subject or subjects in order to create impactful portraits. The focus lays in the three portraiture styles that I work in most often; environmental portraiture, studio portraiture and commissioned portraits (which can be fine art, fashion or editorial in nature).

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1. Intro : My name is Luke Atwood Abiola, my photographer and creative director based in San Francisco. And this is a course on posing and portraiture for a skilled share. I can give you a little background on me and my work. I started making photographs when I was 16. I got my first camera from a teacher or mentor. That was, uh, I was learning sculpture from and moved on to medium format systems. After that hustle blood in ya, Sheika and, uh, progressed into using this thing here, which is a four by five. Um, field camera. For about 15 years, I've been making photographs of people, architecture, interiors, objects. Um, and a lot of the time, people will ask what my favorite thing to shoot is. And I would have to say photographing people is by far, um, by far my favorite thing to do. 2. Assignment : the assignment for this course is going to be the production or the creation of between three and five. Portrait's first option is gonna be that you can photograph a complete stranger or a handful of strangers if you want. Um, second option is that you can, you know, if it's more comfortable for you and you don't feel like pushing too far out of your comfort zone, I'd say you can stick to people you know, coworker, your partner, your kids, um, a neighbor, just anyone that you're familiar with and you have a level of comfort with that could help you to actually, um, explore posing and explore the process of making portrait's without having the stress of trying to, you know, wrangle a complete stranger on the street or someone you meet on the bus, for instance. Um, it's it's ah, on the flip side, you know, the first option of shooting a stranger is is a challenge that I'm proposing to you, which, which for me, it's it's really good practice to get in the habit of shooting someone you've never seen before. You took your camera. It's, um it's a really huge challenge, both on the technical end and also on the on the more social end, it's, you know, you'd find that it's not as easy as it would seem. But if you're made for it, you know you might find that it's actually easier than photographing people. You know, it really depends in regards to the assignment. I'm going to talk about making images, um, for a sequence or for a Siri's rather, um, for the assignment we're gonna be doing either photographing the stranger, as we said or photographing someone you know. And so anything more, then I'd say one photograph. If it's two or 200 that would constitute, um, a Siri's. And it's not that easy to make photographs, paintings, sculpture, silkscreen prints. Um, in a way where the sequence or the Siris of works that you're creating to be shown together , a place together in a book or even in animation. It's not that easy to create work for that, Um, a lot of artists were creative. Photographers will create work over a span of years and then sequence them together for the purpose of this course. We're gonna be creating work, and it's going to be premeditated and we're going to consider that we're gonna be showing these in a sequence or we're creating a series of images as opposed to making a one off and sequencing them after the fact. Um, both ways of working are totally valid. Um, it really depends on what you're creating and what you're creating for a same time. Why not throw another challenge in there for you? Um, I had teachers that threw me curveballs every day of the week. I still have peers and mentors that do the same to date. And so I'm going to carry the tradition on of just of being difficult here I have ah, book that was recently published by, um, by my good friend and creative partner, my brother Chris Graves. Um, it's titled Winters Berlin. It's a Siris of work I made over the last eight years living in Germany. I almost approach this portrait, and the other portrait's in this book like I was shooting architecture or like I was shooting a structure or even shooting a monument. I had the subjects posing in a way that was very direct, making eye contact with not me, but the lens of the camera in creating a series of photographs in creating a series of portrait. It's, um it's not always important to be consistent in terms of composition in terms of your use of the frame, Um, or even in terms of whether you're shooting color or black and white. Um, Or if you decide to shoot studio portrait environmental, it's it really depends on whether or not you're able to take all of these elements and bring them together in a way that is, uh, for lack of a better term, I'd say cohesive. Um, you might want to. I mean, it could be you could leave it up to creative license whether or not you want it to be going. So it's really not necessary to follow this as a template for creating Siris of of Portrait's. But this is this is how I do it. I'm really kind of oh CD in my process, very, very thought out, very meticulous. And, um and so the examples I'm showing, you know, are you see that there is a very, very deliberate consistency and constitution between the images that I have in the book 3. Environmental Portraiture : now moving into the more instructional part of this course, we're gonna be talking about the three types of portraiture that I tend to focus on in my work both personal and commissioned work, the first being environmental portrait. So keep in mind as we go through these different styles of portraiture, um, we're gonna be considering how to pose your subject on how your subject is fitting into the environment or the surroundings, even if that means the surroundings are very controlled studio space or or a makeshift studio studio space. Um, so the first being environmental meaning when you're photographing a person in a situation , uh, that, you know, they're clearly either outside or inside they could be in a train. They could even be sitting in the seat of a car. Um, but the environment and their surrounding it's clear in the portrait that they're in a space. Um, which is interesting, because in environmental portraiture, they're really great ways that you can play off. Um, you know, other people that are walking by, um, you know, things that are out of your control traffic, for instance. Uh, commuters, you know, coming and going, um or even If the space is void of of any person other than the person you're photographing in yourself, there's a way to to create a situation in that space where you're making best use of the space for the portrait. Um, so I'd say, um, some examples of environmental portraiture that I've done, um are are mostly commissioned where I'm I've been hired by a publication, for instance, to go to a part of a city wherever I am and photograph somebody that the writing a story about. So when you're actually in the process of planning to shoot a portrait on Environmental Portrait, it's really important to consider the space that you're going to be making the portrait in . So take, for instance, a situation where you're shooting someone, Um, for a designer that where you're creating images for look book. Um, you're maybe in an old cemetery or you are in a park or you're in the woods, um, to find a way to accentuate both the person. What they're wearing and the environment all at once is always a challenge, but it makes things. It makes the process that much more interesting because it becomes more of a collaborative , um, collaborative effort to create this portrait or this, you know, a picture of a person. Um, the way I usually approach that is to actually just take the subject, walk around the space, get comfortable. We find, um, a situation where it's more of a dialogue. The creative process becomes more of a dialogue, as opposed to Hugh. Just giving direction the whole time. At least, this is how I've found success in making portrait's in different environments. Um, I like to you might find that there are photographers and I admire this actually that are really assertive when they're there giving direction to the model or to the subject as far as how they want them to appear in in the photograph. Um, I was recently doing production on a commercial shoot and the photographer really gifted woman. Um, and just, like, really a pleasure to be around and to work with. She had this wave, like screaming at the model, you know, um, and both when she approved or disapproved of what they were doing, um, and I had to sit back and taking the situation and, uh, and reflect on my own process and see that I would be really uncomfortable in screaming at the top of my lungs at a man or a woman that I want them, that I want them to do something for me that is conducive to the creation of a really beautiful portrait. Um, because in this is this in this instance, it was commercial work, and it was the purpose to be there to create something beautiful. Um, we can go into that later. You might not always want to make a beautiful portrait. It might be appropriate for the for the project or for the assignment to make, um, Macon Ugly portrait. So I That's also something to keep in mind as you're photographing for your assignment. Do you know the assignment that we're working on now is more of a guideline? Um, there's no riel, strict direction. There's no artistic or creative direction that we're giving you car blush. You could do really whatever you want with this. Eso keep in mind, you don't have to make a pretty picture of someone. You can make a really depressing dark portrait of someone you can make a portrait of someone that you think is really unattractive. Um In fact, I like shooting people that don't that aren't models that are have never had a history of being photographed before. These are the portrait's that I love most, and they come out genuine. They fuel authentic. And in general, they just more interesting When you're photographing someone in a new environment, um, you should consider the background as Justus important, you know, as what you have in the foreground being subject. Um, you you might find through practice that when you're shooting outside or inside with a person to make an environmental portrait of them, that the background can really end up taking away from the strength of the portrait. So it's even more important than posing someone in a space you really ought to consider. Um, the background Is it going to be crowding? Is it gonna be distracting? Um, and for that matter, is the color gonna be a little overwhelming? Or is it gonna be in focus? It's gonna be out of focus. These these are all things that you might want to be considering as you go, um, or you could just take a 1,000,000 photographs, do something different in each one, take notes I I've been known to take really insane crazy notes when I'm shooting, especially when I'm shooting in situations that I'm not, you know, I'm not comfortable with or that I haven't had any experience with prior. Just so I can, um, you know, it becomes a discipline, you know, you start to control more when you're in a situation where it's actually out of control. 4. Lighting : another element of studio portraiture that's really quite important is considering lighting , um, looking at daylight in a studio situation. Or even if you're using hot lights or strobe toe light. Your subject. There's there's a way to use the light in combination and or in relationship to how you've posed your subject that can best accentuate the form or the figure of the person in my studio practice photographing people. Um, I found a way to sit the subject down in front of the tungsten lights I was using or column hot lights. Um, call them hot lights for a reason. If you're sitting down in front of one of these lips for an extended period of time, you get really warm. They're bright, you get hot. It's not very comfortable situation, especially if you're not, um, used to doing this as a job. Um, if it's your first experience sitting in front of one of these things or a handful of them , for that matter, it has a way of, um, of breaking, breaking you down a bit. Um, you know, you, you the discomfort of it, and then you're just trying to bear it, and then you end up just giving it. And so at that point, I used the hit the shutter release to take full advantage of the moment. Um and so using using the studio lights, uh, you know, in relationship to posing, um, to get an outcome, you know, that that is preferable or ideal is a good way to do it. It's, you know, I feel like their ways that you can strategize. You know, how best to implement the technical aspect, the social aspect, opposing someone, and also the creative side of it. Which would be which would be, I guess, the design side of how you're going to design that photograph. 5. Studio Portraiture: So the second type of portraiture we're gonna be looking at is the studio portrait. And when I say studio, I'm saying it doesn't necessarily have to be studio meant for photography. Could be any controlled environment. Um, where you're shooting either with available or controlled lighting, um, strobes, hot lights, daylight, which I love the challenge of using available light to make photographs, especially of people. Um, I'd say this is where if you're looking at studio photography, this is where the practice of opposing your subject becomes really important because you don't have any environmental. Or, I mean, there aren't any other elements other than the person and the background that you choose. And for that reason, it's It's much more of a intimate connection that you're having with subject. And you might find that in this type of situation, it doesn't become kind of an unspoken conversation where your a t least for me as I told you in the last section, you know they're photographers that love to give direction they're overbearing or the very assertive with their direction of how they like to pose. Subject. Um, I prefer to get into a flow or rhythm where you're able to, um to both get and give what you feel is necessary in order to have the best possible outcome. And I feel like that's That's just how I am in everyday life. So of course, that's what I bring into my professional practice. Um, so, yeah, as as we were saying, um, in studio photography in studio portraiture there, there are many ways you can go. If we're looking at the angles, we can start there. When you have somebody straight on, that's it's quite confrontational. You know, you're photographing somebody, they're facing you and you're facing them. I contact can be a part of that. They could be looking off. It really is up to you. It's really up to the situation in the needs of the situation. Um, again, there are other angles. I'd say a 3/4 view is also quite a flattering view. It depends on what you're interested in. Um, straightforward eye contact with the lens can get a little awkward. I mean, it could be uncomfortable. Teoh get repeatedly photographs in that way, so sometimes as a strategy just to break it up. And also I found that 3/4 view of somebody is also one more flattering. And two. It's also lends itself to more of a dynamic, um, use of the frame so you can essentially have more options when you're creating a composition of somebody where they are. The only thing in the frame 3/4 is is a great way to go. Another angle you might want to make use of is the profile. I photographed profiles of people often. If I shoot a straight on portrait of someone, I often like to mix it up and shoot a profile profile would be, as you see in the classic mug shot, you have one the straight on shot, and then the profile would be the subject, looking to either the right or the left of the frame, which is which is an interesting way to observe somebody. It almost feels like they don't know you're there. Eso you can look a little closer and be you know, it's It's kind of this, uh, there's, ah voyeuristic aspect to photographing someone when they're not looking at you. Um, and often times you know it could help. To post someone this way can help ease them into making mawr oven. Intimate contact with you in the camera. Um, you know, I've found that in trying to pose people, um, control, trying to control their gestures and trying to control that situation too much. Um, as speaking strictly on their physicality, it is, um it might take longer for you to get them to the level of comfort that is helpful for what you have to do. So I would say, getting them toe warm up a little, you know, shoot profile, shoot the back of them, you know, shoot the 3/4 views. Um, and then you can lead into kind of naturally progress into photographing them straight on, which is can oftentimes be very striking, very engaging way. Um, for essentially the viewer because, you know, in making portrait's, we have our process. We have a creative process. We have the connection with the people were shooting. If it's a commercial job, you have art directors. You have producers. You have all types of people on set that are also helping Teoh create on energy. You know, at that moment where you're getting what you need from the person you're photographing. So I'd say in order to you know, make make best use of the time in space and the energy and all the collective efforts, um, find a way to help people to be comfortable in front the camera. 6. Full Body : another aspect of portraiture in general and in particular, when we're talking about studio portraiture, um, you have to consider that you might find yourself in a situation where you have to photograph somebody from head to toe. Um, you call this a full body shot, and, uh, it's a great way. Well, commercially, there are other benefits, you know, if you have to have somebody styled, they have on maybe a hat all the way down to shoes that you need to have shown in the photograph. Um, it would really help you if you are looking to take on, um, any commercial or commissioned work As a photographer, you really ought to get comfortable in shooting full body. That's something I had to learn as well, coming into commercial situations where I'm used to my own language when I'm photographing people I always prefer at most from the waist up, usually even a bust shot were just even what you might call the head shot. Um, those were the most common, um, I guess ratios or proportions for me when I'm building a picture of someone. And so when I first had to make, um, full body portrait of someone. I I just was really uncomfortable. How do I How do I approach this? Um, it was a very completely different undertaking then, making kind of more of a strict portrait of someone or a bus shot of someone. Um and And when you're posing the subject of full body for a full body photograph, it is, um, if it's not a person that's comfortable with being photographed and they don't have experience if you don't have the experience to direct them, it could be difficult. Um, depending on what it is, if you're making a photograph of, say, a chef or congressman, you know, find you could just have them standing in friendly camera. You can have them sitting in front of the camera, Um, and you talk them through it. But if you're talking about posing someone that is either wearing something, we're trying to present present articles of clothing or something that's been designed for either commerce or for art purposes. Um, this is this is something that you might want to focus on and take a great deal of practice to get good at it. Um, if it doesn't come naturally and, uh and it's it's really important 7. Commissions + Close: so next. This isn't exactly a style of portraiture, but it is really important that that we discuss it. Unless we're going to talk about when you have somebody, either for a publication for personal uses or for commercial purposes commission you as the photographer to make a portrait of of the subject of a person of a personality. Um, you might find yourself in a situation where they want, um, both sides of what we've been talking about already. Someone might. You might have a photo director contact you and say, We need a portrait of on athlete and we need them photographed in a studio situation. But we also want them photographed training. We want them photographed, um, sitting in the bleachers. And so in both of those situations, it's interesting. You can see that in an environmental situation, you can implement controlled lighting, although what you have primarily would be, um, you know existing light daylight, and you might find yourself in a studio situation where you have a whole bank of windows or skylight, and you can at that point make use of daylight while you're inside in a controlled situation, Um, so finding a way to manage the expectations of whoever's commissioned you to make the portrait is pretty important and posing. Being able to give direction to the subject at that point is also really important. You might be photographing someone that's extremely difficult and trying to give this type of person, um, direction is not always easy. So you have to be able to We don't have to. You can be totally unprofessional if you want. I mean, burn a bridge, do you think? Um, but if you want to keep a client, if you want, if you're interested in, you know, the harmony between you and your team between you and the client, I'd suggest, you know, keep your cool, stay professional and, you know, be understanding of the situation. You know, a lot of the time people have pissed off because they have to be there and they have to get photographed for something that they have no interest in. You have to keep that in mind, especially when you're talking about commissioned portrait of someone. So, you know, managing the expectation, managing time, um, posing, being, you know, having a good amount of exposure and experience with posing a subject is really important because I've heard stories. I heard a story from a guy who photographs Obama. Post election. He had about three minutes, Uh, maybe 15 minutes of something to set up lights before head. I mean, what a situation you find yourself in. You know, you have between 30 seconds and 90 seconds to make a portrait of somebody and clearly President, and whoever commissioned this portrait, um it was also clear that it was really important to the And so if you're coming into a situation where you have to pose someone like that in a matter of, you know, a couple minutes, if you're not prepared, then you might as well not show up. Best is you don't respond to the email that the request is in. So, um so, yeah, in these situations, to be clear, this is less about posing than it is being able to manage, manage the situation, you know, and to be able to provide direction. And this part of the job in this part of creating photographs of people has everything to do with confidence. Well, thanks for your time. Thanks so much for taking the course. I'm looking forward. to seeing what you guys are going to make for the assignment and, um, really excited. Teoh, Have you all share what you've made with skill? Share community?