What are the key elements of a great portrait photo

Photography is all about light. That is it. Light determines composition, mood, colors, depth, and so on. Without light, all you would see is a black rectangle. However, once the light is cast, more elements come into play. Portrait photography is not about photographing faces. It is about photographing emotions, moments, personalities. If you focus on the face only, you lose depth and story. Face is not the subject here, the moment is. Just like when you photograph dancers, you capture movement, energy, gesture and composition, balance and grace, power and momentum. You do not photograph legs or arms.

model: Anna Mitzel

model: Anna Mitzel

Psychology plays massive part in portrait photography. Your job, as portrait photographer, is to search deep under the surface of social masks that everyone wears. They make people feel safe and invulnerable. You have to learn how to strip them off even just for a moment. Similarly to how street photography is about waiting and predicting a happening, portrait photography is about capturing and evoking split seconds of feelings and moods. Knowledge of body language is as important here as the ability of connecting with another human being. That connection has to be sincere so they feel comfortable and loosen their guard. This cannot be done in a haste, so do not rush your portrait shoots. This is also why I do not agree with charging per hour. It feels like mass production to me. I charge per each final image, and yes, post processing is the second reason here. 

It is said that the best portraits are taken when people do not realise they are being photographed. True, but for me this is a bit too invasive. One of the reasons why I am not comfortable with street portraiture, even though I do appreciate it's raw beauty, is because it feels unfair and even vulgar to invade other people privacy. It does not feel fair to me to steal those moments. I want to witness them, evoke and experience them, be a living part of them. Only then I can truly understand who is that I am photographing. In portrait photography the model knows that she or he is being stalked with a lens. And yes it is way more difficult to take a natural looking photo this way, but that is why a specific set of skills is required.

model: Anna Mitzel

model: Anna Mitzel

Key elements of portrait photo for me would be complementing light, natural body language, undisturbed flow of energy through the photo, and impeccable post processing. Perfect exposure has nothing to do with image being good. Far from it. Mindless following of "photography rules" will also get you nowhere. Photography is an art, not a science, even though there is science behind it. The energy flow relates to all elements including the background,, which is often overlooked and yet so important. Post processing is huge and I would never allow to be photographed by someone who does not edit their own photos. They are either lazy, too focused on squeezing more shoots to make more money, or simply lack artistic vision. I do not just shoot and edit, I shoot with a vision of editing. When I am asked to pass RAW unedited images to a client I am actually being insulted. I do not produce snapshots, I create photographs.

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How to capture sumblime ethereal moments with your portrait phootgraphy

Do you need dreamy meadows and morning sun piercing through the fog to capture very soft and ethereal images with white vignetting around the edges to empasise the softness? Not really. In fact low key dramatic images that remove the background can be even more sublime than anything else. So what is the secret then? The mood and the post processing. And post processing is VERY important. The mood is something that you capture or evoke. It is happening during the shoot. As a photographer you need to build a connection with your models and learn their body language. How they react, behave, their face mimics, emotions and how to spark them, and so on. This is why I usually work alone, one on one with whomever I photograph. For me portrait photography is like ambient music, it is a one giant tunnel you walk into, or a beam of channeled energy that cannot be disconnected. If a model gets distracted, there goes your shoot or at least a theme.

model: Eccaia

model: Eccaia

The post processing is a massively important. Regardless of how soft your lighting may be if you do not know how to deal with harsh shadow transitions and how to accent certain areas like reflections in the eyes, or how to make other parts of the image become less visible and intrusive, you will not be able to achieve this result. It is a combination of mattified skin, smoothed out highlights and shadows, very selective contrasting and balancing the darkest and the brightest tones. Black and white is not always the way to go. Light and mood in your image is like music. Listen to it, and then you will know what genre it belongs to.

Last but not least, the composition must be in symbiosis with the mood and editing. You need to place your model in the frame according to the feel you are going for, or even better so - the feel you are capturing. Sometimes photographers focus so hard on what they envisioned that they are blinded to what is actually happening. Capture images like an artist not like a craftsman. Capture what you feel not what you see. Be like attentive and sensitive to what is going on in front of your lens, and learn how to adjust instinctively. It is good to have a concept for the shoot, but spontaneous moments make the best photos. It should not be your job to know how not to miss them. It should be your second nature and passion.

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How to retouch a male portrait in photoshop - a few quick tips & speed art video

First thing to realize is that you should usually retouch women and men differently. Most of the retouching techniques are identical, but they are applied with different strength or in a slightly different manner. For instance, the most obvious would be skin retouching, which is a huge part of any portrait editing workflow in photoshop. In most cases, for girls, you will emphasize smoothing not only tonal transitions but also invest lots of time on skin texture smoothing, preferably via the taxing process of micro dodging and burning. Now, men usually look better in hard light and with rougher skin texture. Sometimes you will even want to enhance that roughness, it all depends on what sort of effect you want to achieve. Since women look better in soft light (although not always), naturally you will want to make therm appeal softer. That leads to the contrast (for example though macro dodging and burning) and micro contrast intensity issue (it is a rather vulgar comparison but think here in terms of clarity slider), which can be easily cranked up when you work on male portraits. Even tonal transitions can be harsher in male portraits, but this is not always the case. You will also spend more time on removing imperfections and skin blemishes in female portraits. For men, you can either remove them, or reduce their visual impact, or leave them as they are. Regardless on what you decide, always pay attention to the mood and light

quality in the photo, and the purpose the photo will serve. This applies to both sexes. For instance if you are shooting a headshot for an actor, you will want to stick to the original as close as possible, where in a promotional portrait for commercial website, you will want to make your model look as good as possible, and draw the attention of the viewer to their personality and aura, rather than face features. Below video is a speed art of a portrait edit in photoshop that I did for a friend of mine, a fellow photographer John Becker. The aim of the photo was to display him as a professional with a really sunny and outgoing personality (a mixture of confidence with accessibility), which is exactly who he is in reality.. Black and white high contrast edit allowed me to redirect the attention from the face features to face expression and the eyes. I also lowered the tonal value of the background. The light was very soft, so soft you could call it dull. I had to be really careful with skin retouching and I did very little of micro dodging. At the end of the video you can see a RAW file and final image comparison, so you can easily assess how soft the light was (only ambient light was used, no modifiers or reflectors). If you would like to learn more about professional portrait editing techniques watch my full length in-depth 5.5h long tutorial. Here is a link to a quick guide video.

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Understanding the connection between image elements and photo retouching

Portrait photography is a very powerful story telling platform. It expresses not only the style, vision and ideas of the photographer, but if done skilfully it captures the true personality of the model, her or his feelings, and mood. It leaves the door to a personal and private space slightly ajar. Those moments last for split of a second and when combined with complementing lighting and balanced natural body language can be further empowered by post processing of an image. Image editing was always present, even in the film days, but in times of digital photography retouching skills are a very powerful artistic tool. It literally allow us to draw on the image. Used sensibly and with understanding can lead to superb results. Every time I edit a photo it is a new adventure into the world of shadows and highlights, colors and shapes, and just like in a puzzle all the elements have to fit to complete the image. Having an idea of post processing has to be in tune with the elements and the mood of the photo. That is why, I never use tools such as coloring presets, or photoshop actions that do the job for me. Just like a camera set to auto, most of automation in editing is a recipe for disaster. I want a full creative control. It takes time, sure, but all the good things do. It is worth every minute spent in the digital dark room. Photography is a symphony of light, which can be either brilliant or poorly composed. It can be inspiring or painful to look at. If the image is inspiring, it will lead you the right way throughout the post processing, as long as you know the which tools you should use to achieve a desired effect, and how to look at the photo to understand its energy. There is a huge difference between editing the way you can, and editing the way you envisioned the final result in your mind when you pressed the shutter. It is a difference between a craftsman and an artist, a difference between a person who captures what they see, and a person who captures what others cannot. Model: Nami

model: Nami

My Japanese calligraphy teacher - Grand Master Kajita Esshuu (梶田越舟)

I have been studying Japanese calligraphy for about 14 years now, and from the very beginning I was extremely lucky to be accepted by Grand Master Kajita Esshuu (梶田越舟) .as his disciple.  I have spent over 20 years of my life in various schools, including two universities, overseas schools, etc., yet still he is hands down the best teacher and mentor I have ever head. Grand Master Esshuu is so peaceful and humble that one can almost forget how insanely knowledgeable this man really is. He is a descendant of great Japanese Masters, historical Japanese calligraphers, such as Grand Master Kusabe Meikaku 日下部鳴鶴 (1938 - 1922), who had 3000 disciples and was known as one of the Three Brushes of Meiji Era (three greatest calligraphers of Meiji Era), Grand Master Hidai Tenrai (比田井天来, 1972 - 1939), who was known as the father of modern Japanese calligraphy, and Grand Master Kuwahara Suihou (桑原翠邦, 1906 - 1995), who was so respected in Japan, that he was asked by the Imperial couple to assist them to the mausoleum of Hidai Tenrai and introduce them to his works. Here is a portrait of Esshuu sensei that I took recently. I made it into a faded and slightly damaged photo, and contrasted it against his genuine carefree smile, which is something you cannot find on antique photographs. I thought it would bridge between what is in the past and the present times.

Finally found time to take a new updated profile photo for all of my websites

For some time now I was meaning to take a new profile photo, that would be lighter in form, more clear, but at the same time a photo that would stay in the artsy mood and would reflect my personality and character. My current one was a bit too gloomy and dark, and even I was getting scared looking at it at 12am in the evening. I looked a bit like a Frankenstein suffering from s social phobia. Portraits and headshots are really important in the modern age of the Internet, where most of the people will see your photo before meeting you, so it is always good to leave a half decent impression with your profile shot. Browsing the net or social sites, or even professional sites like LinkedIn, one can easily see that there are tons of people out there who really need a new headshot. So I asked my wife to take me a new one and she did a really fantastic job. Now I have to update all 560 million of my websites.... now you know why I was putting it off :-)

Ponte Ryuurui (品天龍涙)

Ponte Ryuurui (品天龍涙)