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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Harmony between soft and dramatic light in balck and white portrait photography

Two extremes co-existing together in perfect harmony. Symbiosis in dichotomy. This photo is from a recent shoot with an American artist and model Mandy Jane. We set the shoot for 7 am in Yokohama. It was gloomy, rainy and cold, so we had to shoot anywhere with a roof over our heads. Most of the shots are from the underground tunnels in Minato Mirai. We searched for any place with good light, be it natural from outside, artificial or mixed. There is no perfect weather, light or place to shoot. If you understand how light works and how to control it or use it to your advantage, then you can shoot anywhere and anytime. But you can go even one step further, and reshape the light or change the quality of light in photoshop. This is why the skill of shooting with a vision of post processing is so important in my workflow.

Taking a great photo is as complex as sensing how to post process it. This shot was lit by natural light, with delicate influence of artificial ambient light. Light is soft and supple. It was coming through a huge entrance to the underground passages. Now, the light on Mandy's face is soft and delicate, just like her distant and remote expression. Light on the metal blinds at the background, is also soft, but their shape creates dramatic conversation between light and shadow. I purposely softened the light hitting the model even further, because I knew that I want to change the light quality of the background to much more powerful and hard. Parallel horizontal lines create another contrast, because they introduce stability and harmony. This photo expresses a quite intimate moment in a powerful and dramatic setting, but cocooned in a strong vignette which encloses the scene. This is also why I photoshopped out the bottom line which was too bright, and darkened the top one, and also warped the whole left hand side of the photo outwards.

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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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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)

Black and white photography photoshop retouching workflow (speed art)

I love black and white photography in portraiture. There are no distractions, only 256 tones, and it looks clean, simple and has a great visual impact. It all depends on the type of portraiture, but most portraits look best in black and white. Below is a short video showing my Youtube channel though, and I will be creating more full length in depth tutorials, so make sure you check it out! I took this photo some time ago. I am currently revisiting my older work and re-edit some of the photos. I love photo retouching, I love giving my work new fresh look, and every photographer should review their portfolio once in a while. I do it almost every 6 month to a year, as my skills in editing and vision and style evolve. It is good to keep your photography portfolio up to date and consistent, so the clients know what to expect and they are not getting confused by contradicting styles.

model: Jamosa Ladiva

model: Jamosa Ladiva