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Portrait Sessions – Jess and Airell

Dustin Abbott

December 2nd, 2015

Portrait Sessions – Jess and Airell

Today’s share is from a recent engagement session I did for Jessica and Airell.  They recently got engaged, and so they made the trip up to my community for me to do their engagement photos.  We got a mixed bag with the weather, and the biggest challenge was gusts of cold wind (it was late October).  One tip I want to share is the importance of you as the photographer dressing appropriately for the conditions.  Your subjects may need to look good, and, while you need to look professional, that doesn’t mean formal wear for you.  Stay warm so that you can focus on maximizing their time.  As I mentioned in the previous article, I brought a blanket for them to huddle (and cuddle) in while I switched things around in between takes.

Engagement shoots are easier than family shots because 1) there are fewer people and 2) they interact very easily and lovingly (you don’t have to pose them as much).  I have two goals when shooting sessions with couples – I try to make them laugh (become comfortable with me so I cease to be a threat/distraction) and get them to focus on each other (forget about the camera and become more natural).  One of the highest compliments I get from portrait sessions is when they tell me how much fun it was!  Portraits may not seem fun, but a good photographer can make the process fun instead of awkward or frustrating.

One other note to photographers – develop an instinct for the personalities and unique relationship qualities of your subjects.  It’s great to have some “go-to” poses that create the backbone of your shot, but often the best shots will come from watching the dynamics of your subjects and then giving them mild directions that build upon those existing dynamics.  The resulting shots are more natural, more “real”, and will often be favorites of the clients.

We shot in a few different environments, and I also did a bit of “prop shooting”, including shots of the ring, a personal note, their hands, and, knowing that he played the guitar, I had asked that he bring his guitar to work into some of the shots.  One of my favorite shots of the day is of him playing the guitar while she leans over on his shoulder, listening.

Gear notes:  My go-to kit for couples and individual portraits is the Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 VC lens mounted on a full frame camera body.  Many people use the Canon or Nikon equivalent lens.  I went for the Tamron over the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II for a couple of reasons.  The first was that the image quality was a bit better – the Tamron has better bokeh and is slightly sharper save at the very end of the focal length.  The Canon has better autofocus and build, but the Tamron is highly accurate and has a nice build…just not as nice as the Canon.  The Tamron was also more than $500 cheaper, and that sealed the deal for me.  I used it for about 90% of this shoot, and I use it extensively at events and weddings.  It has been a very reliable tool for me.  I have the Canon 135mm f/2L, an amazing portrait lens, but the versatility and the image stabilizer on the Tamron often tips me in that direction.

Large aperture zoom lenses are big and heavy, but the trade-off is the ability to produce shallow depth of field images that help to separate the subject from the background.  Here’s a little tip – the smaller the aperture you are shooting at (f/4, f/5.6, f/8 etc…) the more space you need between your subject and the background to get separation.  Often the amount of depth in your scene will be more important than its beauty.  People want to stand next to things in photos, but it’s better to have space.  Move them forward and get a little separation!

Finally, just to illustrate that you don’t have to use expensive gear, I used an old, beat up Helios 44-2 lens that I paid less than $30 for beside my $1500+ zoom lens.  Several shots from the Helios are in the gallery, but you will be hard pressed to spot them.  I use an inexpensive adapter from Fotodiox Pro that enables me to use old M42 lenses on my modern DSLRs.  You can find my full gear list with links below the photos.

Jess and Airell were great to work with, and I was pleased by the results we got. Enjoy the photos!


Gear Used:

Canon EOS 6D DSLR Camera (Body Only)
Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Zoom Lens for Canon
Metz 64 AF-1 Flash units
Lite Scoop Lite Genius II
Adobe Lightroom CC Software for Mac and Windows (Boxed Version)
Adobe Photoshop Creative Cloud 1-Year Subscription
Alien Skin Exposure X (Use Code “dustinabbott” to get 10% anything and everything)

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