If you want to learn how to make "real" people look like those in "classic" portraits, you have already been given some excellent technical advice.
If, on the other hand, your problem is that the young ladies all want to look like the ones on the magazine covers, it might be good to collect a few books by real masters of portraiture--Cunningham and Karsh come to mind--and let your prospective candidates see that a good portrait represents its subject, as opposed to a commercial illustration model. There is a big difference between a subject and a model; essentially, the latter is not "real" except in the image. Keeping Annie Leibovitz' Women around to page through has helped to get this across to a number of people who have since become favorite subjects.
Thank you for your replies. I'll read Zeltsman's approach. It looks like a system.
I can't believe I didn't mention this. I'm doing this as part of training for wedding photography.
Basically, I want to get to a point that I see a face with my eyes and know the kind of light it is going to look best under.
The problem I found with books, is that while the pictures are interesting I can't know if that's the model that has a thin face or the split lighting that makes it appear so. At best it gives you a picture with a light setup and ratios, without ever telling you why the person was posed that way or why the light was used.
At worst, it's just the portfolio of the author.
I'm looking for a system.
John, I agree. Very nice work.
"System" is a very good word, Andrey. From the point of view of portraiture, the people of the world fall into 2 distinct groups, namely the 5% or so who like the way they look and the 95% who don't (notwithstanding that among the 95% there may be many whom you or I might consider attractive, or even to be flawless beauties - they don't like themselves!). I therefore believe that successful commercial portraiture is a question of applying a flattering formula with minor variations (and of course developing an appropriate professional manner, radiating confidence and enthusiasm, always concentrating fully on the sitter, never fiddling with lighting or other equipment in the presence of the sitter but engaging them in conversation to put them at their ease, etc.).
Originally Posted by Andrey
This, quite frankly, is why, despite the fact that I am a trained professional and quite happily do live demonstrations of portraiture from time to time at camera clubs, etc. shooting either Polaroids which are passed round the audience or digital pics which are projected on a screen, I don't do commercial portraiture, because I find it tedious to constantly re-vamp the same formula in the way which seems essential for commercial success.
I believe you can develop a system only through practice - if you can find subjects which you can try shooting in five or six different ways (and who don't get bored while you shift the lights and camera about, which as I said I would avoid doing with real clients), I feel you would be well on the way to developing the eye which would enable you to decide instantly what set-up to use for a given sitter.
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David Bebbington is right to say that many clients have a formula in mind, and they all want the same darn thing, and this can get tedious. I found this to be the case when I was shooting performers' headshots for a while.
There are many tricks that can be done with lighting, posing, camera position, retouching and things like soft lenses. You can make a face look thinner with short lighting, or you can make a thin face look fuller with broad lighting, for instance, or you can use a high camera angle to de-emphasize a flabby neck or double chin. Many of these issues, though, are things you might not notice, but that the subject is self-conscious about, so you've got to figure out what their own body issues are.
It's worth noting that classic portraitists like Karsh and Hurrell later in his career didn't use soft lenses. They used sharp lenses and smoothed things out with pencil on the neg. Hurrell even preferred that his subjects not wear foundation makeup--only eye makeup and lipstick--so that he could capture the glow from clean skin and retouch the blemishes later.
Originally Posted by vdonovan
Thank you very much for your responses.
David H. Bebbington, I wouldn't mind the "routine" of being able to make people look attractive.
I've shot 5 models, pretty girls so far. Only one has symmetrical eyes, but crooked smile. Everybody else need to be at an angle and short lit. With one model I couldn't get the eyes to look even, no matter what I tried.
When all else fails, there is always makeup...
A few months ago I was asked by an acquaintance if there was anything that could be done to hide the fact that her eyes are quite different in size; it seems that she was very upset by her senior (high school) pictures, but apparently had no confidence that the photographer would be able to do any better on a second try (it is possible that he had no confidence, either). I was able to suggest the book Plastic Surgery Without the Surgery, by Eve Pearl, which has basic techniques for visually emphasizing or de-emphasizing features. She told me that the makeup worked as advertised, but I haven't seen the pictures so I can't say whether posing or lighting also had something to do with it.
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