avatar-shiro Portrait Photography
Article by Shiro Ang, Singapore

I was told that I have a very classic portrait photography style; how true is that? I will leave it to the viewers to decide, as I believe art is very subjective and sometime down the road you will further develop your style or a change of style altogether. As long as you like it, it’s good enough. Photography is supposed to be fun and a means to express yourself.

My portrait style core focus is on the subject’s expressions and emotions; on the eyes, lips, facial contours, hands, legs, and body language. On the ability to bring it out with real feelings and emotions, to portray out what the character is feeling and what they would do in a particular script or version (cosplay-wise). Pose and portray like you really mean to, as photographers can usually feel if one is doing it half-heartedly or is doing his/her best. It does make a big difference in the outcome of the photo.

Of course, both the art direction from the photographer and the relationship with the subject are equally important for the end result of the photo. Therefore, the ability to communicate well with the subject is definitely a plus. For example, during the pre-shoot, discussing about what both sides want to achieve or attempt in the shoot, or learning and understanding more about the series and character the cosplayer is going to portray, along with the pros and cons for both photographer and cosplayer. It’s like a learning process, building a relationship, gaining mutual trust, and, sometimes, making compromises, because no one is perfect.

Portrait Photography, article by Shiro Ang
Smallw as Olivier Mira Armstrong (Full Metal Alchemist)
Photo by Shiro Ang
Portrait Photography, article by Shiro Ang
lolitaMYangel as Police Panty
Photo by Shiro Ang
Portrait Photography, article by Shiro Ang
Hukoyee as Rin Kagamine
Photo by Shiro Ang

Light – This is one of the most important aspects in portrait photography; the ability to read the light, the power of the light, and the warmth of the light. How strong or how dim do you want the light to be? Fully balanced on the model? Half? Partially? There’s no right or wrong answer, it all depends on how you envision your image. Just experiment and try to achieve the image you had in mind. Generally, my favorite kind of light is the early morning soft light, and the evening golden light – or, in short, what they call the “Golden Hour”.
Other traits of my portrait photography style consist of fitting into a harmonious background for the overall photo mood, and, to a certain extent, of looking to achieve a vacuum/spiraling effect and patterns that will “suck” the viewer into the photo.

Currently I’m attempting to do more of a “movie poster” kind of shot, dynamic, of impact, and “WHAM!” in your face shots. I find it very interesting and fun to try it out!

2 Main Lighting Styles

Natural lighting

This is usually the case for most of my outdoor shoots, as I prefer working with natural light, especially on a day with good weather, and nice soft light with blue sky.
It will be easier and with less manpower options to shoot, since we are primarily working with the sunlight and the surroundings.

Which is a good thing, as you can spare yourself the extra weight and equipment you need to bring, and, of course, the costs of your overall equipment.

But I almost always work with a reflector if I’m shooting in this scenario, to fill in for the subject’s face when I’m shooting with side or back lighting, to eliminate ugly shadows or to manipulate the amount of light I want. (The reflector also doubles up as a huge fan + umbrella, too; trust me, the models love it!).

Portrait Photography, article by Shiro Ang
blacklash90 as Sweet Pea
Photo by Shiro Ang
Portrait Photography, article by Shiro Ang
Jesuke as Miku Hatsune (Love Ward)
Photo by Shiro Ang
Portrait Photography, article by Shiro Ang
Arisa as Hitagi Senjougahara (Bakemonogatari)
Photo by Shiro Ang

Artificial lighting

Though I don’t really use lights in my shoots, I do have some experience working with them, from using cheap supermarket LED torchlights, to professional video LED lights, and even candles in one of my shoots.
Artificial lighting is almost a must if you want to do a night shoot, or a specific kind of shoot in other situations.

But the ability to shoot at night or in dark places is a huge plus, as it is possible to get the similar feel to a certain series or to a character which is depicted in a night or dark scene. And it is also possible to incorporate vibrant colors, from cityscapes, streets, moonlight, to ambience light from the surroundings, which makes it an interesting factor to the image.

With all the good things and flexibility to play with, good lights don’t come cheap or light-weight (with all the accessories and setup) in any form (speedlights, strobes, or LED lights), and one also needs light stands or tripods to mount them onto.

The extra weight to transport all of them is also another big factor to consider, especially if you are using decent strobes and LED lights.


1) Equipment

I will present some camera equipment, specifically for portrait usage.

For beginners and those on a budget, the following lens choices are a good and affordable add to your arsenal (assuming you already have a kit-lens) for most of your portrait range usage.

I will be discussing mainly on prime lens, which I consider to have a great value, good image quality, light weight, and big aperture. The pro quality f/2.8 zoom lenses (14-24/16-35, 24-70, 70-200), which come at a much higher price range than those I’m going to recommend, are heavier, and still lose a stop or more of aperture compared to the prime counterparts.

As for portrait photo-shoots, you have the time to change the lenses and the space to move in order to “zoom”; well, in most situations you can.

Portrait Photography, article by Shiro Ang
Weon Haur as Osiris, Kazuko as Isis
Photo by Shiro Ang
Portrait Photography, article by Shiro Ang
Kazeki as Nelliel Tu Odelschwanck
Photo by Shiro Ang
Portrait Photography, article by Shiro Ang
Astellecia as Ragnarok Online: Banshee
Photo by Shiro Ang

(Recommendation made for Nikon and Canon users, but I believe most manufacturers do have this range of lenses, or at least with similar focal length)

  • 50mm f/1.8 – All beginners have this lens, one of the cheapest (and good!) prime lens ever! Image quality and big aperture at that price range, nothing to complain at all. I highly recommend all beginners to buy it and try it out, even if you dislike it after using it; it’s not much of a loss even you decide to sell it afterwards.
  • 35mm f/2 – Standard focal length for both full frame and crop users.
  • 35mm f/1.8 – For Nikon APS-C crop users only, cheaper and better than the f/2 version if you are not going to use full frame anytime soon.
  • 85mm f/1.8 – Ideal classic portrait range on full frame and crop. For those looking for more compression, bokeh, and image quality over the 50mm f/1.8.

Below, there are some recommendations for those who prefer ultra wide angle lens, or want something wider than their kit lens. But this is where most lenses in this range start to get pricey, so I will recommend some mid-range priced ultra wide lens (that still produce good results nonetheless) in this category.

  • Canon 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 – Widest Canon zoom lens for APS-C crop users
  • Nikon 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 – Widest Nikon zoom lens for APS-C crop users
  • Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 – For those who absolutely want the widest possible lens, for full frame users
  • Sigma 8-16mm f/ 4.5-5.6 – Same as above, but for the APS-C crop users
  • Tokina 16-28mm f/2.8 – For full frame users that need the constant f/2.8 aperture
  • Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 – Same as above, but for the APS-C crop users

But for those who know exactly what they want or/and can afford, go ahead and get the pro grade lens; it’s a one off buy and most likely they will not let you down. Of course I’m speaking of those f/2.8 zoom lenses, and f/1.2, f/1.4, f/2 prime lenses.

Portrait Photography, article by Shiro Ang
K-iricos as Gumi
Photo by Shiro Ang
Portrait Photography, article by Shiro Ang
Houkiboshi as Snow White
Photo by Shiro Ang
Portrait Photography, article by Shiro Ang
Kotani as Edward Elric (Full Metal Alchemist)
Photo by Shiro Ang

2) Techniques

  • Shutter speed – Standard guides will tell you to follow the 1/focal length rule (crop users: do remember to factor in your crop factor multiplier). But of course it’s just a guideline, so do try out and see what is the slowest shutter speed you can handhold before the motion blur caused when handshake kicks in. With lenses that come with Image Stabilizer (IS) or Vibration Reduction (VR) (or other naming conventions for different manufacturers), you should be able to handhold better by a couple or more stops of shutter speed compared to those lenses without that function.
  • Auto-focusing – If possible, always use the focus points nearest to where you want to focus on, so that you will have lesser rate of off-focus due to user error. If none of the focus points is near where you want to focus, do remember the movement, as the recomposing of the image will be either up or down, left or right. Never tilt the camera, as the plane of focus will be off from your initial focus. Many beginners might make this mistake, me included when I first started shooting. Especially when you are shooting at a low number aperture like f/1.2-f/2, the depth of field will be paper thin, and more likely than not, this will make your photo to be out of focus.
  • Firing the shot – Hold your breathing when you are going to take the shot, as you will be able to take a better handheld shot. But do practice and regulate your breathing, as you don’t want to be gasping for air halfway through a shoot! For those who went through military training, this would already be second nature.
  • Bump up the ISO! – To get a faster shutter speed, in order to prevent the motion blur due to the user’s handshake at a slower shutter speed. In my opinion, a noisy but sharp photo is always better than a clean but blurred photo. All the recent camera models, even the entry level ones, have good high-ISO noise control, so using ISO 1600-3200 is not a problem at all. Nothing a noise reduction program can’t solve (to make the image cleaner); and there are many noise reduction programs (e.g. Neat Image) available to use during post-processing. I’m currently using the built-in from Adobe Lightroom, which is good enough for me.
  • Clear the objects – I usually choose a “cleaner” background (unless the shot needs a specific scenario), so it will be less distracting for the viewer. If you really need to use an area, but it’s not stark enough, clear some of the objects in the foreground or background, be it trash, or leaves, and, most importantly, move away the luggage and bags so they won’t get into the shot.
Portrait Photography, article by Shiro Ang
Hoshi as Elise (Sound Horizon 7th Story CD 「Märchen」)// Photo by Shiro Ang

Remember, these are only guidelines; just follow your heart and do what you feel is right.
Get your basics and fundamentals down, go out to shoot and experiment more, and develop your own style.
Lastly, have fun shooting!



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