Take a portrait picture

Back in 1969, the Vietnam War was raging and the journalists at LIFE magazine had a brilliant idea. They would print a photograph of every American soldier killed in the course of one week’s fighting.

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The story ran across ten pages, showing 242 faces. It had huge impact. Before then the dead soldiers were just a weekly statistic. Their faces brought them back to life.

All your stories are about people.

You will tell them on radio and TV and online — but you will also want to promote them using social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram. These are visual platforms… They need images.

And images of faces are particularly powerful and appealing to people.

Whenever you interview somebody, shoot a great portrait of them.

Here are some tips for taking simple portrait photographs where the environment (the place the person is in) isn’t particularly important or relevant to the story…

  • Get close! You might find this hard at first, but remember the famous quote from photographer Robert Capa: “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.”
  • Try to keep the background simple and uncluttered. No other people in the shot, if possible.
  • It can be very pleasing to blur the background of a portrait shot. It makes it less distracting. Photographers refer to this as having a “shallow depth of field.” What they mean is that only a small part of the shot — in this case the face — is in focus. If your phone allows you to blur the background, then experiment with it. It’s called “Portrait” mode on the more recent iPhones.
  • Get the light behind you. Don’t shoot into light (eg windows).
  • Hold your phone vertically, not horizontally. Once you’ve taken a picture you’re happy with, CROP it to the Instagram square format. This size image also displays well on Twitter.
  • The last picture in the slideshow is taken in LANDSCAPE mode, because I wanted to show more of the environment the person was in. I find these sort of pictures harder to do well because there’s more going on and I tend to avoid them. The rule of thirds can be helpful.

The picture at the top of this page is of Sir Harold Evans. I took it when he visited JOMEC a while back. Here’s his obituary from the Economist:

As you can see, I’m close to him and there’s nothing but colour in the background. Try to do something similar. There are other examples below.

Challenge: Take a portrait photograph of somebody and WhatsApp it to me. Get inspired by looking at these amazing portraits.