Attention attention!

Eleven golden rules of shooting portrait

 Here it comes: Cornelia wants us to teach something about shooting portrait indoor and outdoor. What does she think is most important in doing that stuff:

1. The light

Don't believe in those guys who want to tell you, that the sun must be in your back. Some of the best photographers (was it Kirk Tuck, Ming Thein or Thorsten Overgaard???, I actually don't remember) wrote just two weeks ago something like: There is noooooo light, except the light that came from the Front. Shot the pics against the light! Is there any other light?

Against the light. Olympus E-Pl 1. Lens: 40-150 mm Zuiko-M  1: 4.0 - 1: 5.6 @ 102mm  f 1: 5.0   1/200s   - 1/3 EV. The Camera did the "against-the light-correction" by it´s own! At the opposite of the next pic, this was more a kind of luck!

2. The light

You need assistence for the light. Someone who holds (something like) this for you: Delamax 5in1 Faltreflektoren Set - 107cm Ø - gold: Amazon.de: Kamera & Foto

Also a nice alternative: Some Styrfoam Plate about 3 foot in Diameter as they use it to save some ikea stuff (Tables). Ask your lokal dealer for a donation.

3. The light

Be afraid of direct sunlight. It doesn´t work. The sonsors of the modern digicams can´t handle this. If you have no light assistence AND no shadow and no against the light situation: Just forget it.

4.The light

Point and shoot can´t do it. They use algorithms to find out what light situation you are in. This is just a rough estimation. You can become happy, but just in 2 percent of your shoots. It's random shooting, nothing else.

You have to use an exposure measuring and an exposure lock, so you are the guy who tells the camera what to do and not the exact oposite!

If you have an exact measuring on the skin of yor subject, something like this could be the output:

German Family on a ferry from Kos (Greece) to Bodrum (Turkey). This was taken with exact light measuring under a very difficult light situation and without a EVF! Olympus E-Pl 1. Focal lenght 25 mm; 1/500 s; f 1: 6.3

5. The light

And of course this tip, just for free: FLASH OFF!

Don´t use a flash if you haven´t a professional equipment and know exactley what you do (Like Wolfgang Lonien as an example). The flash would kill your pictures, not the slight unsharpness which could look so natural an smoothy!

If you note Tip 5 perhaps sometimes you will get one of this "once a lifetime" shots like this one, taken on the 8th of January 2010 with my Fujifil F 50, just with the light of a 75 Watt Bulb (or an ugly flourescent lamp, I can't remember but now it is a 75 Watt bulb inside the lamp) at ISO 800.

Holy family

I don´t like the F 50 so much (under low light conditions the Canon IXUS 430 (4 Megapixel!!!) of my wife does a much much better job!) but I have picked it up for EUR 99,--  - so I could not resist the price.

6. The bloody lens cap

Don´t use a lens cap if you do street shooting. It kills the situation. I have learned this from Thorsten Overgaard. Will say: I was so glad, that I found out, that this genious man teaches his students exactley the way I use my camera in the street: You have to be damn quick!
If you are fast enough and take Baby with you, situations like this could become true:

Fyodor Dostoyevsky in Bodrum (Turkey) 2012-04-25

7. Be nice!

Be nice to people! Do it as Kirk Tuck says: Why make people feel uncomfortable?
If you talk to them you can be part of the situation, even if the situation only last some seconds.

Old Lady on Kos (Greece). Focal length 29 mm

Old Lady on Kos (Greece). Focal length 35 mm 

Talk to the people, even if they don´t understand a word (and you don´t understand a word of what they say!)!  Both Pictures were taken with the Canon digital ixus 430   @ -0.7 EV. Ciftlikköy near Bodrum (Turkey) 2012-April-20

I have had to shoot the following portrait because of the increadibly shining trousers. Aktually the trousers have been shining much more than a Photo could ever tell! Think! The other woman is the mother of the trousers-woman...and the sister...(!)

The true story here in german words, sick of writing english:

Wir hatten eine Wanderung gemacht Bärbel, die Kleinen und ich.

Am Rande eines Bergdorfes in der Nähe von Bodrum sahen uns die beiden türkischen Frauen. Sie lachten sich total über das Tragetuch kaputt in dem eine zornige Cornelia saß. Sie kamen aus ihrem Haus angerannt, wollten das Tragetuch unbedingt in Augenschein nehmen. Sie waren ganz vernarrt in Cornelia, dem Mädchen "im Rucksack". Ein blauäugiges Mädchen zu berühren bringt nämlich Glück, da es gegen den bösen Blick schützt. Bärbel erklärte mir, dass der muslimische Teufel selber blaue Augen hat und deshalb alle blauäugigen geschützt (und damit Glücksbringer) sind. Sie lachten und lachten und kriegten sich nicht ein. Kein Wort Englisch oder Deutsch. Ich fragte dann höflich, ob ich sie knipsen dürfte und sie schienen nichts dagegen zu haben.

Natürlich ist gerade dieses Bild nicht mit der genialen Olympus E-PL 1 entstanden sondern einfach mit der 7 Jahre alten kleinen Canon IXUS 430. Leiches Gepäck eben.

Be nice or just do it like the genius Kai Wong: take some shoots of buildings etc., play the game as you were interested in anything else but to shoot the person(s) you really want to shoot!
Look at 6:00 min in this great competition:
Panasonic GF2 vs Olympus E-PL2 - which is better? - YouTube

8. Find your own perspective!!!

If you want to shoot children then nothing is easier to do and more self evident as to go down on their ground level. So you can find a nice angle where you can shot them "face to face".
But what if you´re subjekt is proud of something he is playing with. He wants to show you his newest toy: Then you have to find an even more extreme perspective! The bike is the thing Julian wants to show the world! So the Camera has had to go down to the green grass. The focal lenght was 8 mm. The angle equals something like 34 mm on a 35 mm Camera. Who says Portraits needs 85 mm????


9. Work with colours, contrasts, Gamma etc.

I will write something more about this in June. As an example I like to work in the wrong colour space:I am using my Olympus E-PL 1 in adobe RGB color space and look at the pictures as if they were shot with sRGB. Espacially with reds, the result is so much more natural than the actually correct setting. That doesn´t mean that the Olympus E-PL 1 creates ugly colours!!!! No, the E-PL 1 colours are some of the most natural worldwide! Look at the results  Olympus PEN E-PL1 Compact System Camera Imatest - Full Review
But: The sauration is about 103.4 %. This is far better than any of the Canon or Nikon stuff. But it is not 100 % - Espacially in he reds!

Anyway I am not one of (probably) a majoity of people who want something like oversaturated colours, but to respond to strong colours very sensitive.

I like this one (taken in the adobe RGB colour space)

taken in adobe RGB interpreted from your browser as if it would have been taken in sRGB
The raw file has no colour space at all. It is now developed as an sRGB file. The correct setting fo watching that with stuff that has no adobe RGB abilities (as an example your web browser). Seems to be a little bit more on the warm side and more saturated also. I prefer the wrong colours of the upper picture: Perhaps nearer to the physical truth.

People like Ming Thein or Thorsten Overgaard create their own brillant "Colour style" with Adobe Lightroom. Try to learn as much from them as you can. he shoot sometimes 1000 frames a day and they know quite exactly what they do.

10. Shoot RAW (and don´t ever use the delete Button!)!!!

Shoot in RAW! Only this will give you a way back if something you tested out, doesn´t please you. Only the RAW files gives you back at least 2 aperture steps of exposure at least.

If you save your mediocre files also, you can learn from the things you have done wrong and you will see in which context the files stood, that you have shot. It is a bit like the work of a national geographic photographer. Not only the picture that has become famous is important, also the context is!
Look at this for an example:
 Ein Foto mit vielen Geschichten | Geschichte auf ARTE | Die Welt verstehen | de - ARTE

11. Don´t believe in anything I have told you!

There is no truth in anything I have said before. It is all lie! There are definetely no rules in Photographie! Or can you explain the reason why that picture, taken by my friend Stefan (who is a great artist and tavel phptographer with thousands and thousands of clicks in picasa) is as great as it is?

It is shot just with a point and shoot camera (Olympus SP 350) and he uses the DIRECT LIGHT of the IN-BUILD-FLASH! He shot as if he wants to say: fuck the rules, fuck the perspective. And I can assure you he is not nice all the time (espacially when he will see his picture in my blog!) - but the picture is great! No need to mention Stefan´s a roman catholic (like me ;-)).

Mother Mary was a man!

So I have written enough for today. Fuck the rules! Kill your ideals and... have a smoke!

Ah, and no need to say: The Picture on the very top (the black and white one - Attenion attention!) is a self portrait - just one of the 2 percent good ones the point ´n shoot (a Fujifilm F 50) could produce! This is no contradiction to rule No. 4!



  1. Hehe good one Thorsten! And wow; another article where I was mentioned - and then even together with living legends. Thanks for that as well, I'm feeling honoured.

    You also showed rule #12 in this article about portraiture and family photography, something most photographers seem to not even think about: don't forget to include yourself in the frame from time to time. Your kids probably won't care about the used equipment later, but will cherish those rare images of their fathers...

    1. Das Fluchen werde ich dann mal zukuenftig unterlassen Schwesterlein! Und schöne Bilder hast Du da auf Flickr! Und die Canon EOS 500 ist eine echte ok-Kamera! Jetzt dauerhaft in Australien???
      Immer nur das Beste,