Easy Portrait Photography – Use Walls
“Easy portrait photography” – is there such a thing? For many it can seem endlessly complicated, especially when it comes to posing. How should you direct someone to pose? It may be easy enough if you are working with a professional model, but what about “normal” (!) people?! One of my favourite easy portrait photography tips to teach on workshops is how to get great images using walls. You can use a wall in various ways and it normally isn’t too hard to find one. If you simply stand someone in front of one then it can give you a reasonable background:
Some walls have interesting textures and colours so can look ok as background for portraits. However, if you stand someone in front of a wall like this then it is hard to get a blurred background. They would need to come away from the wall quite a bit. This too can work, of course. But, I’d like to suggest you try using the wall to help with your posing. If your subject is a long way from the wall then you will often find they don’t know how to stand. They can also struggle to know what to do with their hands. This can result in images that look unnatural and uncomfortable.
Instead, I ask subjects to lean against the wall in a way that is comfortable. This may be with their back to the wall or leaning with a hand against the wall, for example.
If the person feels they are standing comfortably then the pose will look more natural instead of forced. It will make your job easier and take away some of their anxiety over what to do with their limbs. You can look for opportunities such as archways or the end corner of a wall and have them lean against that too:
It can even work for couple shots. Posing couples is a whole other ballgame to just single person portraiture. However, you can still use a wall for them to lean on. You could have one leaning on the wall and the other holding them or holding hands with them, for example. It is also an interesting environment for creating more fashion based images such as this one:
If you move round so that you are facing along the wall then it is much easier to create a lovely bokeh (blurred background) effect. Use a wide aperture (e.g. f/2.8 or 1.8) with a lens in the region of 50-200mm to get a softer background. To get the best blur you normally need the wall to carry on a fair way behind your subject to give some distance.
Or, you can try blurring the wall nearest to you to give a slightly different effect. To do this, you need the subject far enough away that when they are in focus the wall right near you is out of focus. This gives foreground bokeh. You might be able to create both foreground and background bokeh with this technique. For example:
Do take care over what is sticking out of an old wall. You should check that your subject won’t injure themselves on old nails or screws, for example. Also, they may be less keen to lean on a dirty old wall if they are wearing their best clothes. Maybe ask them to lean on it with their hand rather than their back. With a little bit of experimentation, you can easily create a variety of good shots. If you would like to learn more then do read our articles on outdoor portraits and taking portraits outdoors using flash. Or, consider coming on one of our photography workshops or perhaps book a one to one photography lesson.
© Joe Lenton, June 2017