The other week I went down with friends to Sorrento Ocean Beach. It was mid-June, and in true Victoria fashion, the weather was changeable and shifty, so that when the sun was out it was warm enough to strip down to t-shirt, and when the clouds rolled across its face and the wind blew, you were hugging your jacket. I took the camera for a walk to see if I could get some landscapes, and I got a handful, but the light was a long way from ideal, so I quickly called it a day.
However the same flat light which makes landscapes a bit dull is ideal for portraiture. Strong sunlight gives faces angles and contrast, while softer light, especially diffused through a thin cloud layer, is just what you’re looking for; there’s a reason flashguns often have a diffuser on the front. It gives enough light on the foreground to make subjects stand out, but little enough that features look smooth and natural.
I was with friends J. and A., and A.’s four-year-old daughter, M., who spent most of her time climbing up rocks and waiting to get helped down, exploring caves and holes in the rocky foreshore. She also succeeded in misjudging one leap and landing two feet into a rockpool (I take considerable blame for this), and managed a pretty impressive tumble down a series of rock platforms (she and I are clearly kindred spirits on some level). While the tumble did trigger tears for several minutes, the beauty of children and their frustratingly short attention-span is that before too long, the tears and their cause were forgotten, and life went on. I think we big important grown-ups could learn a lot from our youthful little counterparts…
I had fun shooting with A. and M. M. is completely comfortable with the camera and didn’t pay too much attention, and they were both really good sports about my photography addiction. I like natural, spontaneous shots first and foremost, but on a couple of occasions mum and daughter lined themselves up nicely and I had to ask them to hold their positions for a few seconds while I reeled off a couple of shots. I was shooting with my beloved 85mm f/1.8 , a standoff lens ideal for candid and natural-looking portraits, and when it’s wide open, the bokeh is delicious- crisp, sharp detail on the subject and a beautifully-blurred background.
It still takes me a bit of courage to delve into the world of portrait photography. It helps having friends like these who let me practice on them, and I hope that over time it’ll become more natural and comfortable for me. For any other aspiring photographers out there who want to get into portraiture, I can’t stress how important having the right equipment is. Most compact cameras focus far too slowly and inaccurately to be able to fire off spontaneous spur-of-the-moment portraits at that beautiful moment when everything works right, while shooting with wide-angle lenses that distort features or low-quality zoom lenses that blur the moment the light drops off a smidgen will tend to frustrate and discourage. I have found both with my 60mm f/2.8 and 85mm 1.8 that having a fast, responsive lens with narrow depth-of-field has made portraits a joy, and almost every portrait I feel proud of has come from these lenses.
Now stop reading, get out there, and start shooting!
1. Mum and daughter pose atop a rocky rise beneath a windswept moody sky.
2. M. works on her ‘Supergirl’ pose.
3. A. & M. pause on the rocks in front of the southern ocean. One of those shots which turns out almost exactly how you wanted it to.
4. M. gets a spin from J. on the foreshore.
5. Scrambling on the rocks.
Thanks J., A. and M. for being such good sports!