Travel light and work fast…

I recently agreed to shoot some portraits of my nephew who was visiting with my brother and his wife. We had decided to go out onto the beach a take a few pictures, I prefer the less formal portrait situations rather than studio portraits that can look too staged and make it harder to keep a two year old entertained.

So the beach would provide interesting photos as well as give Ted plenty to do. Another advantage of shooting in this kind of environment is that it would divert his attention from the bloke with the camera and I would get more natural images.

By it’s very nature shooting portraits like this make you think on your feet. You can’t control what happens so you just have to be ready to take advantage of a picture opportunity when it arises, but there are some things you can do before the shoot to prepare and give yourself the best chance of getting some nice stuff.

To start with I had changed into some older clothes, clothes and boots that I was happy to get wet and covered in sand as I knew I would be spending a lot of time at the waters edge, probably on my knees to get down to the same height as Ted.

I was keeping my kit to a minimum – 2 Nikon D2x cameras, one with a 70-200 f2.8 and the other with a 12-24mm f4, each with a 4Gb card, my trusty chamois leather that I’ve had for years to wipe away any water or sand splashes and a SB800 speedlight, I took this down just in case I wanted to add a bit of fill in to the pictures but I never used it.

That was it, no bag, no other lenses, simple kit that allowed me to move and shoot quickly. That’s very important because you have to be ready for pictures and to work fast when you see a picture coming together and you don’t want to be loaded down with lots of kit that you won’t use.

None of the shots were posed, they are all taken as Ted was enjoying himself by the water. I had a couple of ideas for shots that would probably work but I didn’t interfere with what was happening and in situations like this I much prefer to allow things to just happen. I find you get far more natural shots and ones that show the subject, Ted in this case, acting as he would normally act.

You have to concentrate hard at these times, always looking for poses or pictures that will be strong. I always shot in manual, so you have to be aware of the light changing in order to adjust your exposure. Keep the camera to your eye and follow the action, you can guarantee that the second you take your eye away from the viewfinder something interesting will happen and you’ll miss it.

Concentrate on focusing, I was using continuous auto-focus in the main because of the random movements but I kept my finger over the focus lock button ready to press it when I wanted to hold my focus but change my composition. This takes practice and is tricky, but the more you do it the more comfortable and quicker you will become. Expect the failures though, you will get a fair few out of focus shots when either the focus point has come off your subject or there is movement that you haven’t adjusted for, but don’t worry about it there will be further opportunities during the shoot.

Take plenty of shots, it doesn’t cost anything with digital, but as a cautionary note, don’t just stick the camera on ‘continuous high’ and hose your subject down all the time, by all means use this feature at certain times, it is after all another tool to use and you can get some nice sequences but use it sparingly and when appropriate.

Remember to use the lenses you have with you and don’t just stick to the same one, it’s amazing the effects that can be achieved by switching your focal length, from the tight head shots to a wider perspective showing the subject in the environment, so experiment and see what you can get.

With practice it becomes second nature to switch very quickly between two cameras, my favoured way of working in these situations using two cameras is to have the one with the smaller lens, the 12-24 around my neck and the other with the longer lens over my right shoulder, but have it the ‘wrong way around’ so the lens hangs across your backside, this gives a couple of advantages, firstly it allows you to reach down and your hand goes straight onto the grip allowing you to bring it up to the eye and start shooting, if the camera strap is adjusted correctly you can leave it over your shoulder so if you need to switch to the wider lens you can drop it back down into this position quickly without worrying about making sure the strap is secure, secondly, because the lens is not sticking out from your side it is protected from banging into anything and getting damaged, this is especially useful if your moving through crowds or space is limited.

After returning to my house I put up my SB800 speedlight on my light stand and took a few portraits whilst Ted was playing with some toys, shame to miss a photo opportunity! Shooting through an umbrella and getting the light in close you can get a nice soft light which has a flattering effect on whoever you photograph. The flash was triggered with Pocket Wizards.

Hopefully though, at the end of it all you will get some nice stuff that your happy with and that catches the natural expressions and mannerisms of your subject.

One final word, continue to keep your eyes open even when the ‘official’ shoot has ended and your walking back to the car, you never know when a shot will present itself.

Published by ian forsyth photography

Press and Documentary photographer covering the North of England. Stringer & contributor for Getty Images News. Prints are available to buy on my website.

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