Joey Phoenix Media
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Salem, MA Portrait and Event Photographer

Get Closer: Portrait Photography Tips

Original Post Published on "If your photos aren't good enough, you aren't close enough."  ~ Robert Capa

Salem Portrait Photography
Salem Portrait Photography

Everybody who has been in photography for a while is probably used to some of the basic rules of good composition:

  1. Rule of thirds
  2. Use of leading lines
  3. Filling the frame

These rules exist for a reason; namely, to help you take better photos. Sure, there comes a point where artistically breaking these rules leads to beautiful results, but typically, adhering to them is the key to producing quality photographs.

Getting closer to the subjects of your photographs means that you’re eliminating details which distract from the focus of the image, forcing the viewer’s eye to move directly where you intend. There is often a big discrepancy between what you see through the viewfinder and what shows up on your screen later, in editing. What you think was the focus of the photograph will seem unclear to everyone else if you’re too far away.

So basically, if you think you’re close enough, take a few extra steps closer. Or, if you can’t physically get closer, use the tools technology provides for you.

Use a zoom lens to get closer

Every individual has a personal space “bubble” which exists as a barrier between photographer and great photographs of the person. This is even more of an issue when photographing animals. If you’re physically close to them, this level of discomfort will show up on their faces and in their behaviors. So how do you fill the frame without activating these natural defense mechanisms?

Simple. Change your lens.

Stepping further back and using a telephoto lens to zoom in on your subjects will work magic for your photos. Not only will they be able to act more naturally because you’re not invading their personal space, the altered depth of field will flatter them as well.

Using a zoom lens will flatten out the background, soften features, and make it completely obvious what the focus of the photograph is. It really can’t get any better than that.

How close is too close?

The whole point of getting closer to your subject is to remove any doubt about what the subject of the photograph is. The only way you can be too close to your subject is if your proximity to them makes it impossible to tell what the photo is about. Plus, your client will hardly be flattered if you’ve made their nose hairs the subject of your image.

But really, getting too close will never be the problem. Most of the time, you probably aren’t close enough. It took me years to figure this out. Hopefully you’ll avoid making the same mistake.

Don’t cheat by cropping

One of the “quick” ways to get closer to your subjects is to crop the image in post-production. Please don’t fall into the trap of thinking this is a good idea. Only if you are using a professional-grade camera body which creates high-resolution images, will cropping an image result in a quality photograph. Most of the time, the end result is far too grainy and pixelated to be of any use.

When you cheat by cropping, you’re really cheating yourself. Do the extra work when you’re taking the photograph, either by getting closer physically or with the help of a zoom lens, and the final results will be something worth sharing.

© 2014 Joey Phoenix, Inc