Photography experiments: Portraits

by Ka Edong on August 25, 2006

I’m an amateur better-than-average photographer. I’m a make-do-with-what’s-available photographer. I’m a trial-and-error photographer. I’m an experimental photographer.

And sometimes, I come up with some pictures that look quite nice.

I started experimenting with portraits after seeing Markku’s portraits. He used a flash-diffuser that looked like a white plastic cup, pointed to the ceiling and not to the subject. This softens the light from the flash and brings out a light, “sunny” look to the photo. He also zooms in for a tight face or half-face shot. Nice huh?After appreciating Markku’s portraits, I tried capturing some portraits myself, but with whatever point-and-shoot camera I had.

I tried it first using a Sony Powershot. I tried using night-light without a flash for softer colors from the overhead restaurant lights. It didn’t work for me, the subject was too dim. Worse, my zoom wasn’t powerful enough to fill my frame with the face.

This week, I used a Mavica with a writable mini-CD for storage. And I was pleased with my “experiments”. Here are my tips:

Fill-up the frame
More of the face, less of everything else makes for striking portraits.

Ric all smiles

Tilt the frame
I don’t know why, but I like the way portraits come out in a diagonal shot.
And there’s a bonus: when tilted photos are downloaded unto a computer, it usually doesn’t need any more switching from horizontal to portrait layout because they can work both ways.

Block the distracting background
Hide the distracting backgrounds by blocking them with the subject. There were other people behind my subject. I didn’t want them in the photo so I brought the camera lower and took an upwards shot so that the people in the background were hidden behind my subject.

Use the zoom
Sometimes, a photo is washed-out in the brightness of a flash especially when the photographer is too close to the subject.

One trick is to back-away from the subject and then just zoom-in using the camera’s zoom. I observed that when a subject is 5 to 8 feet away, the flash doesn’t wash out the photo as much as when the subject is 3 feet away.

Another plus: The subject is less conscious about the photo because the camera isn’t in the subject’s face.

Use sepia
Ah, my favorite newly-discovered trick: sepia-plus-flash. The flash lights up the photo but the sepia softens the colors.
Last tip: experiment experiment experiment
We’re in the digital age and it doesn’t cost much to just keep on shooting and shooting and shooting. I change the way the photo is framed, I experiment with the flash, with the settings, with the zoom, with the effects and everything else I can get my hands on.

When I don’t like the shot, I just delete it. Simple.
But when I DO like it, it’s like striking gold!

Keep on shooting, bebe!

ka edong
portrait of a lone mage


  • Wow, special mention ako. 🙂

    I love portrait photography, and I really love doing those zoomed-in, intentionally-cropped shots. Kunwari sinadya. 🙂

    A new thing I find very helpful is the use of various light sources. When there’s a window or other light sources, try to position the subject to produce the desired highlights and shadows. This helps in making better portraits once you get the hang of it.

  • hey markku! siyempre, special mention. i saw your article about finding backdrops: “look up!” . I use that style too! 🙂

  • dasli

    its interesting…thanks

  • anon

    Bad, bad tips.
    An unfilled frame can create an equally beautiful picture, never take pictures from below it makes a person look fatter. You don’t need to remove the background totally on candid shots, it’s what show’s how unique they are and helps to capture the atmosphere and Sepia is always AWEFUL just because you like it doesn’t make it good.

    “I’m an amateur better-than-average photographer”
    I beg to differ you are amateur at best.

    • hi anon 🙂 . Fun!

      Thanks for taking time to write your candid comments. I could learn from some of your tips.

      keep on shooting!

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