RadioBDC Logo
Not Your Fault | AWOLNATION Listen Live
< Back to front page Text size +

Shooting portraits that reflect personality

Posted by Eric Bauer, Staff  July 31, 2008 12:18 PM

E-mail this article

Invalid E-mail address
Invalid E-mail address

Sending your article

Brendan Hogan as photographed by Yoon S. Byun
Yoon S. Byun took this portrait of WGBH radio host Brendan Hogan in Cambridge's Inman Square.

By Yoon S. Byun
Globe Staff Photographer

I'm a fan of subtleties and symbolism when making portraits. When thinking less editorially in style, I also attempt to be more conceptual.

The first thing I look for is light (regardless of what the situation is). Light quality varies throughout the day. Light quality can vary depending on the type of weather. Light can be bounced, diffused, redirected, or filtered. It can be harsh or soft. I think of light as a compositional element to a portrait. It can determine what the picture says.

Often, but not always, I'm a big fan of nice, soft, natural light. An open window on an overcast day creates a very similar effect to a studio softbox. Soft light creates soft shadows and de-emphasizes contours and creases in a person's face. Hard light brings a lot of those details out.

A good exercise to see how light shapes a person's face and body is to move the light source around the person. Angle your light source from above, below, and all sides. Watch the directions the shadows are cast on a person's face and body.

Two basic lighting situations are broad and short light. Broad light directs light on the part of a person's face facing you, while short light will illuminate the part of a person's face not facing the camera. Broad light tends to give a slightly wider and flatter look, while short light tends to narrow the shape of a person's face. The definitions are fairly literal. The amount of light hitting a person's face is either broad or short. Typically, shorter light is more dramatic.

I also look for details -- details on people's faces, their clothing, or objects in their surroundings.

Sometimes I direct people, but often I don't. I kind of observe, a la Greg Kinnear's painter character in "As Good as It Gets." Sometimes my lack of direction makes people wonder if I know what I'm doing. But sometimes that lack of direction puts into motion the picture I'm looking for. People often relax and become "themselves" once you put the camera down, or lower it from your face. Once I see the moment, I'll simultaneously ask the person to hold that position and I'll begin making pictures.

More Yoon Byun photos

Yoon Byun photographed Colonel Mark Delaney in natural light at State Police headquarters in Framingham.

Want to keep improving, or have some tips to share? Check out all of our tipsheets or submit your own.

  • E-mail
  • E-mail this article

    Invalid E-mail address
    Invalid E-mail address

    Sending your article

    Your article has been sent.


Welcome to your community for New England's amateur photographers. Take pictures ... get published ... win money ... have a blast!
The Color Green
It's the color of hope, envy, regeneration, relaxation, and money -- as well as the theme of the October contest. Make it the focal point of your best photograph.
Upcoming events

Featured Photographer

Featured Photographer: Ben Rifkin
Life and wildlife in Madagascar
For years before I started college, I knew I wanted to spend a semester studying abroad, but I wasn't sure where. By my junior year at Brandeis, I made up my mind to travel somewhere off the beaten path, and, of course, Madagascar is pretty far off the beaten path for someone like me....
An essay about Rebirth Workshops
Now that it's been several months since I returned from a week-long Rebirth Workshop in Mississippi, I'm happy to look back and provide an overview of what we did that made it such an intense experience for me as a photographer....
Photography apps for your phone
Thinking of ditching your separate camera and moving to just using your phone for all your photos? What apps should you go for? Instagram made headlines recently after being bought by Facebook for $1 billion. What does it include, and what else is out there?...