Instagram,  Portraits

#DCFocused Pic 5: Taking your portraits to the next level

What makes a good portrait? An interesting face is always a good start but there are techniques and compositional considerations that can take your portraits to the next level — the way today’s contributors have done.

Follow today’s contributors on Instagram at @kaitlinjanephoto, @nanagyesie, @lukasnorth@sturniolo and @frenchieyankee. To be featured in our Pic 5 selection, tag your photos #DCFocused.

1. It starts with the eyes — Kaitlin Moreno | @kaitlinjanephoto

There are a lot of great things happening in this portrait. The late-afternoon backlight creates a wonderful rim light on her hair and helps separate her from the background. The shallow depth of field, which blurs the background, does that, as well. Putting the light behind the subject also keeps the light from creating shadows on her face and is an important consideration in deciding how to position your subject. But it all starts with the eyes. If you want a great portrait, find your subject’s eyes and nail the focus on them. In this case, you can also see that Kaitlin put her subject’s eyes a third of the way down from the top, which is a compositional sweet spot.

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2. Get rid of the clutter — Nana Gyesie | @nanagyesie

‘ The Marabout’ • Jan 2016 • Nima Highway, Accra • ACCRA: Urban Life Vol 1 • Marabouts are proclaimed seers who balance Islamic mysticism with local traditional practices. If you’ve seen legendary Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembene’s ‘Xala’, you would have noticed that most of the important people or VVIPs as Fela would say, consulted Marabouts. This is similar to going to a fortune teller or clairvoyant and whipping out your AMEX or Visa to pay for services rendered. Perhaps an atheist has an easier time not being tied down to any belief system, no? Or the Buddhist monk who lives a life focused on meditation has it much easier, right? Or better yet the Sadhu in Varanasi who has given up on worldly pleasures has it figured out? Or finally, Neill de Grasse Tyson can explain the atomic basis for the gravity inducing mic drop? Either way- it appears most people may acknowledge a world beyond the three dimensional realm regardless of their philosophical or religious orientation

A photo posted by Nana Gyesie (@nanagyesie) on

Having an uncluttered background is essential in most portraits because your goal is to make sure the first thing that grabs our attention is the subject. You can use a shallow depth of field to blur the background or you can make sure there are no distractions behind your subject. That’s not always easy for street portraits but in this case, Nana placed the Ghanaian mystic in front of a windshield. The bottom line is to pay attention to what is going on behind your subject. Is there someone walking into the frame? Take a second and wait until they’ve cleared the scene. And don’t hesitate to reposition your subject until you get the background right.

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3. Have fun — Lukas North | @lukasanorth

Some of the best portraits are those that give us a sense of a person’s personality. Keep it light and relaxed. Executing a carefully planned concept is great but sometimes the best images come when you and your subject are being spontaneous.

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4. Lead us — Carmen Sturniolo | @sturniolo

The thing to point out in this clever self-portrait is how Carmen used the leading lines to draw us into the frame. Roads and sidewalks by their very nature provide excellent leading lines. It’s also a reason why portraits in alleyways work so well.

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5. Ignore (mostly) everything you just read — David Santori | @frenchieyankee

Sometimes photography is about ignoring the rules and finding your own way. The background here is distracting. The subject (another self portrait?) is not on a compositional third-line and is nearly lost at the bottom of the frame. You can’t really see his eyes. But it just all comes together and works really well. The negative space is interesting. The blue scarf stands out against the monochromatic background. And there’s a wonderful synergy between David’s gaze and whatever the round object is sticking out of the wall.

Multi-media story teller, non-profit do-gooder, international street photographer, serious poker player, intrepid traveler.