Street Portrait Workshop – August 19th

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As I already noted, I am conducting a ‘Street Portrait’ workshop in Bath next weekend. So far 12 people have signed up.
Workshop background is here.

In preparation, I am creating a short PowerPoint presentation – and I will also have large prints available. We are meeting at the bath green Station Market, so space to formally present might be at a premium. So, I am working through some of my notes and work to share.

In 2016, I attended a  Leica Akademie Workshop with Sarah Lee and Justin Sutcliffe. In fact, I was partly to blame for Sarah getting into the ‘Workshop’ business, as she was initially reticent. I learnt a lot that weekend, and so I am using some of my notes from that time, as well as subsequent experience.

First, consider the type of portrait you aim to shoot.  In the Taylor Wessing Prize, ‘Portrait’ may be interpreted in its widest sense – ‘photography concerned with portraying people with an emphasis on their identity as individuals’.  Within this overall definition, there are then three, broad areas:

  1. Classical
  2. Environmental
  3. Documentary

In turn, these three ‘types’ are divided into engaged (looking at or communicating with the photographer) or disengaged (the subject is not aware/not looking at the camera).

So, the ‘teaching points’:

Rule One

  • Have fun!

Making it Happen

  • Ethics
  • Can you make a connection with the subject?
  • Tips on how to engage … be calm, explain yourself, say what intrigues you, offer your card …
  • If the connection is there, don’t be afraid to politely ask the subject to do something
  • Names and follow up, if the subject would like the pictures
  • Know your (legal) rights

Khalid – Engaged

Khalid – Disengaged

Create a Series

  • Aim for series consistency – colour theory, aperture priority, light
  • Shooting wide open – bokeh
  • Colour Balance on camera – I almost always use auto (and auto ISO)
  • Do you want a theme – e.g. hats?
  • Are you, the photographer, an ‘insider’ or an ‘outsider’?
  • Is the picture ‘epic’ or ‘intimate’?


  • Consider the distance from the background to highlight the subject in (3D) space
  • Leading lines …
  • Compose to get rid of background detritus and distraction
  • If you can’t get it right ‘in camera’, consider your post production options whilst shooting
  • Have an eye to the symmetry of your subject’s clothing and background shapes
  • If the setting is symmetrical (e.g. doorway), then be sure it’s equal and straight all around
  • People in the background and around the subject can detract from the image
  • Move around to vary shots and find the ‘best’ one … use your feet not your zoom!
  • Try not to have white at the edge of the frame, as viewer’s eye moves out of the image
  • Sidelights are hard to manage if too much contrast
  • Avoid harsh shadows
  • The ‘trees out of subject’s head’ problem
  • If shooting through glass, try to get something dark behind you to reduce the reflection

Consider opening up the shoot when you have ‘nailed’ the initial images – play

Break the rules …


Your Subject

  • Get close! Use your feet not your zoom lens
  • Focus on the closest eye
  • Hands and feet … ‘in or out’?
  • Careful how dark hair bleeds into dark background
  • Consider shooting low and looking up
  • Try to avoid folded arms … give hands a purpose
  • Are there any obvious ‘props’?
  • Is it an ‘environmental’ portrait?
  • Use subject’s body to cover background distractions
  • Be prepared for the unexpected!

Brenda & Darren – Times Square, NYC

Post production

  • Crop …
  • Eliminate distracting details in the frame
  • Correct verticals (my personal pet hate)

Simon – Environmental ‘disengaged’ … note background details

Simon – Environmental ‘engaged’ … clean background

Header: Mark

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