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Portraiture, as an art form, is much older than photography. Great portrait masters have spent their lives learning this art. Vikas Sharma, a self taught photographer, finds himself in the same pursuit. He shares some of the rules of portrait photography, with the hope that one breaks them.

1. Eyes do the Talking

They are the foundation of a portrait. What do you want to do with them? Strong eyes, spontaneous, piercing, dull, happy or sad? Eyes looking away from the camera? Or closed, perhaps? Look at the subject’s eyes and decide what kind of story they speak. You can read the subject’s mind just by looking into their eyes.

2. Composing the Story

Just as an artist draws on his blank canvas, think about how will you compose within your viewfinder. Are you going to show the surrounding or just a blank background? Again, this will be dictated by what you want to show in your portrait.

3. No Talking at the Back

The strongest portraits are the ones, which emphasise the subject by using a simple blank background. Keep things simple, unless there is something really exciting in the background that complements the story. If you are unable to control the background due to the limitation of a studio, use a shallow depth of field to blur out the background.

4. Light-up Your Thoughts

While this is an infinite subject in itself and the most important one too, keep it simple. Keep it soft. Look at how great artists like Rembrandt have played with it. Think about what you want to achieve. Will it be flat? Is it low key? Or high key? Will, it has the dimension or will it have drama? Will it be warm or cold? Or perhaps a combination of all these. Whatever you decide make sure the picture is about the subject and not your lighting talent.

5. The subject of the Discussion

Know your subject, make them comfortable. They should enjoy and have fun. Nervous or uncomfortable subjects don’t make good portraits. Don’t even show them a camera unless you know they are ready for the picture. If possible meet the subject in an informal setting before the day of the planned shoot. Get to know them and listen to their stories. It will give you ideas on what kind of portrait you want to shoot.

Also if you are a begainer, then make sure to:

a) Invest in a good portrait lens

– 60mm to 135mm is a good focal length range.
– Get a fast lens with the aperture of 2.8.

b) Pre-plan on lighting

– Be ready with a reflector if you are shooting outdoors.

c) Shoot a million pictures

– You definitely can with a digital camera.
– Try different angles, get high or down low.
– Focus on the eyes.

d) Use an aperture setting

– Between 1.4 to 8, depending on the lens.

e) Always shoot camera raw

– Do not apply any in-camera filters like contrast, saturation etc.
– Keep all those things for postproduction in Photoshop.

f) Learn Photoshop

– It’s your darkroom of the digital age. Commercial images today are 30% photography and 70% Photoshop.

Published in Issue 17

We tried to capture the time of chaos and confusion we all are in. How it inspires and influences creative thoughts. Starting with the cover design by Ankur Singh Patar, who captures the duality in the way we treat women. Followed by a conversation with Italian illustrator Giulio Iurissevich who explores beauty behind this chaos. And many more inspirational articles to explore.

 

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Even with the conquest of digital technology in every realm of life, something is best enjoyed the traditional way. A portrait, for instance. Pencil artist Aakash Ramesh sticks to the old style and sketches out the realistic portrait of a popular personality. He shares the steps of the process.

Step 1 – Papers and References

Selected a good plain sheet of sketching paper. Placed the smoother side of the sheet over a plane. Chose the best reference picture with good shades and lightings. Took a print out of the reference picture in an A4 sheet by scaling it to the size planned. Grid the reference picture with a 2H pencil to avoid darker impressions, at the dimension of a 1-inch scale as shown.

Step 2 – Outline

Used the grid lines to fix the position of each element of the portrait falling into the perfect size while sketching the outline. Made the outline of the portrait with an HB pencil, which was lighter and could be erased and corrected at any point in time. Once the outline was finished, took up detailing using the shades of 2B and 4B pencils. To have a good start with the detailing, as a practice, always begin with the eyes as they are the most important factor and an element of a portrait.

Step 3 – Eyes

Used ‘Paper stumps’ or ‘Paper Tortillions’ to smudge the darker parts of the eyes as the character in the portrait had used darker eye cosmetics. The reflections of the eyes are very important as they make the eyes look real. Sketched the eyelashes individually and smudged it using the stumps. Made the shades below the eyes subtle so that the pencil strokes would not be visible. Took up the eyebrows and made them sharp at the edges as per the reference. It’s advisable to use a dusting bristle brush to wipe off all the pencil powders around the portrait in order to produce a quality output without messing it.

Step 4 – Nose

Used the stumps instead of the darker pencil strokes to detail the nose. It was the only projected part of a portrait and the shades should have been very subtle so avoided darker lines.

Step 5 – Cheeks, Lips and Skin

For this particular portrait, there were several shades required to create the cheeks, like in the reference picture. The character in the reference had a smile. To get the skin texture, used the ‘tissue papers’ for smudging the pencils strokes made over the side portions of the face. Gently rubbed the sketching sheet with the tissue paper so that the strokes smudged and smoother shades appeared.

 

Be careful to have no patches or dark shades while smudging with tissue papers, especially of your own fingerprints. Lip lines had to be darker while the shades were to be lighter by smudging. After finishing the shades in the lip, gave details to the texture of the lips with gentle strokes, using the 2B pencil.

Step 6 – Hair

Hair was the trickiest part of this portrait. The reference picture showed how darker and the deeper the shades of the hair were. Every hair had to be shown in detail to make it look realistic. At the beginning, strokes had to be made with the flow of the hair from the root of it because only by this an illusion of creating the hair with perfect shades could be attained. Made sure not to shade at the parts where it had to shine or glow.

 

Used various pencils to show the depth of the flow. Used 4B and 6B pencils, had them sharpened and made gentle and firm strokes. Took care not to make an impression on the paper by not giving it a harder press. Details that were required to make the hair look real were also making all the single hair look separated. This would make the hair to wave through the air.

Step 7 – Detailing

The final objects of the portrait would be the neck and the dress. The texture of the dress used in the reference picture varied due to the lighting. So used different pencils to show the difference in the shades. Strokes should not be visible as they would make the portrait look messy. Smudged the strokes until the texture cloth was created. Kept it gentle as there were chances of damaging the sheet due to over smudging.

Step 8 – Finalising

Used the ‘kneaded eraser’ to show the highlighted regions of the portrait. There was a small reflection of the lighting near the right cheeks. Used the kneaded eraser gently to wipe out the shades and make it look like a glow. Took off all the grid lines from the sheet as a last step. Erased all the unwanted shades around the portrait. Arrived at the final image.

Published in Issue 17

We tried to capture the time of chaos and confusion we all are in. How it inspires and influences creative thoughts. Starting with the cover design by Ankur Singh Patar, who captures the duality in the way we treat women. Followed by a conversation with Italian illustrator Giulio Iurissevich who explores beauty behind this chaos. And many more inspirational articles to explore.

 

Order Your Copy!