Add a retro film look to your portraits

Vintage-style images are all the rage right now so here’s a simple technique for tweaking colour tones and adding a vignette for that fantastic old-fashioned film feel. Most photographers have now fully embraced the digital revolution, reaping the benefits of LCD screens, low-cost shooting and instant image review. But despite the obvious advantages to digital cameras, many of us look back at the days of analogue with great fondness, and miss that magical je ne sais quoi quality of film.

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Use symmetry to create surreal portraits

If you want to take portraits that make people smile and are real conversation starters, then this is exactly what you’ve been looking for. There are very few portrait techniques that make people laugh out loud, but this is one. Rather than being something people want to avoid, everyone will want to try it.

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Make a textured portrait

This technique is a great example of combining shooting and editing, so that you end up with an image that’s much more than the sum of its parts. The look is similar in style to a traditional multiple exposure, but the way the image is created – taking a basic but effective portrait and layering it with subtle textures and other images – offers a lot more subtlety and control over its constituent parts. An in-camera multiple exposure is a fine creative technique, but it comes with certain random elements. Here you’ll have full control over everything.

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Play with scale for surreal results

Composite images might look like highly complicated flights of Photoshop fantasy, but in fact they’re easy to create and the most important thing isn’t some piece of digital trickery, instead it’s the visual logic. The example shot here has been spiced up with nice lighting, an interesting location, and by adding props, but it’s all built on the foundation of two correctly captured photos – the first for the wider scene and the second for the enlarged subject.

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Set up your home studio in 15 minutes

Studio lights might look technical and high-end, but they’re actually extremely easy to get the hang of. In fact, the majority of consumer-level flash heads have an on/off switch, a power dial, and maybe one or two other buttons, so you should be up to speed within half an hour or so. Not only this, but your camera settings will be identical for virtually every portrait image you ever take. This is because unlike natural light, studio heads give a very consistent power output every time they fire.

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Make your model levitate in the air

People have dreamed of flying unaided for centuries. And while it’s still impossible, that doesn’t mean we can’t use photography to make it look like a reality. Making someone appear to levitate is a technique that places equal emphasis on shooting and post-processing. There’s no way we can separate the two. The end result looks like a complex montage, but in most cases levitation images are created using just two shots – one with the model reclining on a stool, ladder or another object, and a second of just the empty scene.

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Get in a spin with slow-sync flash

Portraits are traditionally static, with people sitting or standing, and that’s exactly why we should inject them with movement and a sense of fun. A combination of sun, flash and a roundabout are the perfect recipe for unique portraits where movement is just as important as the person being photographed. The technique used here is called slow-sync flash, which is where you combine a slow shutter speed with flash. The result is a dynamic blurred background with a sharp and well-lit subject in the foreground. The great thing about using flash is that you can take perfectly exposed shots with the sun behind the subject, like our example shot.

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Conquer the strobist technique

There is an approach to portrait lighting that has really gathered pace over the last few years. It’s known as the strobist technique, where flash and natural light are used together in the same shot for really dramatic results. Essentially, you’re setting up a pop-up photographic studio on location. Usually, strobist shots are underexposed by a stop or two to create atmosphere, then the subject is correctly exposed by the flash, helping them stand out. All of this is possible because flash is daylight balanced, meaning it can be mixed with sunlight without causing white balance issues.   

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5 creative studio lighting patterns for flattering portraits

The real challenge with studio portraits is where to position the lights for the most flattering result. Many lighting setups, often termed ‘lighting patterns’, only use a single light, while others use two or more. Different patterns suit different faces, so consider who it is you’re shooting and what the image is for. If you’re taking a headshot, a clean, straightforward lighting style is the way to go. But for artistic black & whites, an edgy setup with shadows looks great. As a general rule, keep the lights around forehead height for women, and about 6in higher for men. In most cases, the light should be around 3ft from the face. Let’s check out five common lighting patterns for portraits. The first three use only one light, and the last two a second light. Experiment with different setups to find the most flattering looks.

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