I do not travel to see the epic monuments built by man. I travel to meet the people that built them. I can read about the history about the great cathedral in Milan on Wikipedia, I can google the story behind the skatepark in Venice beach. But the only way to listen to the thoughts of the caretaker in the Duomo or the dreams of the twelve-year old boy on his worn skateboard is to be there, right in front of them. Leaving the rest of the world for a short while to listen to their story and to see the nuances in their eyes shift while they dream about the future and the past. Capturing the portraits of people you meet is the most complex part of your work as a photographer and it takes a long time to master. But the return when you succeed is enormous. Let me give you a kick in the right direction.
This is the hands-on, three step quick-guide to a better travel portrait. Use it as a place to start, then expand it by experimenting.
1. The background
Find a clean and calm backdrop. The simple rule is, don't let anything shoot out from the head of a person. No antennas or wires sticking out. Take a look at the portraits from Steve McCurry. Notice how he almost every time puts a blank background behind the subject. Like a small frame inside the picture containing and pointing out the most important thing of the image, the person. If you follow McCurry's lead, creating a calm area around the person, you'll be able to use the rest of your canvas to fable more about the model and still be able to point the eye of the viewer where to look first. Start out with just a blank wall, a face is often interesting enough to stand alone.
2. The light
The. Single. Most. Important. Component. I can't stress enough the significance of being able to see the light as a photographer. If indoors, find a large window and let that be your main light source. If the light comes from directly behind you, the face will look flat and you'll lose many of the amazing features of the face. You want the light to hit your model slightly from the side. Pay extra attention to how the light falls around the eyes. It takes a lot of practice, but when you start looking for how the light works you'll slow and steadily learn to master it.
3. The subject
On some of you the back of your head are going to explode when I say this, but do not ask your model to smile. I know, we are manically raised to smile the moment we notice the presence of the lens of a camera. But now is the time to stop. A smile will usually cover every gentle expression in the face.The human face is an amazing source of moods and expression and there is nothing wrong in exploring even the sad and worried features. It will take some work but learn to work with all kinds of facial appearances.
Want to continue reading? Maybe The Art of Connecting is a good post to continue with?