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Male and female portraiture

Male and female portraiture - Portrait photographer Michael Alan Bielat spoke to ePHOTOzine about photographing men and women.

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Portraits and People

Groom in sunglassesMichael spends a lot of time shooting portraits but when it comes to photographing men and women it's like talking about day and night. Men want the strong, masculine look while women want to appear beautiful, sensitive and feminine.

"Personally I feel that women are better in front of the camera. In my line of work, 90% of my high school senior portraits are girls and the only real time I photograph men is really the groom and grooms men during weddings. A lot of times they are not into getting photos of them. In that case, I just try to make it fun and have them look cool and tough. The guys love it and it works out great."

It doesn't matter if they're male or female everyone needs to feel good during a portrait shoot.  It's the photographers job to not only capture their subjects true self but to make them feel comfortable and relaxed in front of the camera too. By doing this they will enjoy the overall experience more and this will produce better pictures. Finding a connection with your subject may sound a little clichéd but it is actually really important. Trying to find out as much as you can about them during the pre-consultation before the shoot will not only let you spark up conversation but make them feel relaxed too.

When it comes to approaching a shoot the sexes are like chalk and cheese. Most of the women Michael works with look at all the fashion magazines or have seen posters in clothes shops  and  jump right into a pose they have seen. Before a shoot the younger audience also spend time looking around online particularly on Michael's site for ideas and poses they want to try. Of course not all women are as willing or confident and with these Michael has to coax the model out of them: "I start to mention different poses and eventually they will work off of that and slowly, after a couple shots they start to move and migrate into another pose on their own. Men tend to be more reserved and it takes a while to get them warmed up. I just try to make them feel comfortable and start to hang out with them like one of the guys and within minutes they are ready to go. Women also have a million clothing changes that they bring while men stick to one or two!"

Different posing techniques have been written about numerous times but something as simple as where you place their hands can make a big difference to an image. When working with a women, Michael tries to always position their hands so that you see the finger edges. This elongates their arms and is very slimming and feminine. "For men, it is okay to break that rule and to show more of the flat surface of their hands to portray strength."

Bride against a red wallMichael believes women's hands should be more open and fingers bent while men should have more closed fists. Shoulders are another thing to watch for. For men, tilt the top of the head towards the far shoulder while women can pull off tilting their head either towards or away from the far shoulder. If you were to position a man's head so that it tilted towards the forward shoulder it doesn't make them look strong and masculine at all.

"Women always want to look their best and are pretty meticulous while men are a lot more easy going and don't really mind much. Posing always helps to naturally slim my subjects down to help bring out the best of them. There are also poses which are pretty much guaranteed to work every time. For men, posing them with their arms crossed or standing shoulder length with thumbs in their pocket always looks good. Another good one is to have them squat down knees bent, arms resting on the knees and shoot down on them. That last one also works well on women. For women, hands on the hips with a little sass always goes a long way."

Michael tries to avoid shooting up at his subjects as it's never the best angle to shoot a women from and even though you can get away with it with men (it makes them look powerful as they're looking down on you), it can introduce double chins and make the subject look heavier than what they are. For women, shooting down really works wonders. This also works for heavier people of either sex.

"For portraits, I always aim for focal lengths of 70mm and up because it doesn't have any barrel distortion and doesn't make the subject look larger. Having a fast lens such as a f/1.2 all the way up to an f/2.8 also helps. A kit lens is good but you won't be able to use depth of field to the fullest. Another con to kit lenses is that they often have a variable aperture. This means that the aperture ramps up on you as you zoom in. That is bad because you could have your exposure all set for the perfect shot but the aperture changes as you zoom and then causes your shot to be a stop or two underexposed."

If he had the choice Michael would shoot all of his portraits in natural light but just in case the light isn't quite right he always takes his lighting equipment with him. This doesn't mean he uses every single bit of kit on one shoot, this changes depending on the location and subject he's shooting. If someone has particularly bad skin for example he'll use flash as this fills in the blemishes and also makes post-production easier. Flash is also handy for when the location you're shooting in isn't too nice. This allows Michael to darken the ambient light anYoung male crouchedd let his clients stand out with the flash. Correct background choices will also help you make your subject the centre of attention. Michael chooses backgrounds that compliment clothing or eye colour, a simple grey back drop is always a good choice too. If you're working on location blown out foliage makes for a very appealing background. A correctly chosen depth of field will also help draw the viewers eye towards the person in the photograph. Michael opts for a shallow depth of field as this allows the subject to be in focus while everything else is blurred out behind.

"As long as the eyes are tack sharp, anything goes. I typically shoot my DOF around f/1.8 to f/4 for single subject portraits."

Before you present work to your clients don't forget the little final touch ups that can be done in post-production. Wrinkles, blemishes and skin-softening are just a few of the alterations that can be made to make the portrait perfect for your male or female subject.

Visit Michael Alan Bielat's website to see more portraits by him. 

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