Portraiture is one of the most difficult areas of photography to master….which is why one would should have a detailed guide by their side. With so many options available to you, it’s easy to head in the wrong direction with bad information – and waste a lot of time doing so. It really is imperative that portrait photographers start off with a solid guide by their side.
The Art of Self-Portraiture by Anna Gay is a fantastic resource for one looking to explore this vast area.
At first glance, you’ll notice that Anna’s obvious talent for self-portraits is clear in her work. Nothing is more disappointing than purchasing a photography guide written by someone who can’t produce what they speak of. Anna not only delivers an easy-to-follow guide to portraiture (that is laid out beautifully by the way), she can back it up with her stunning images.
While the focus is on self-portraiture, you can gather a lot of valuable information on the basics of portraits in general – in other words, don’t let the title fool you if you’re a bit camera shy as you can apply these techniques to any kind of portrait.
The categories are very straightforward and well laid out, transitioning well from one step to the next. One of the most important steps to photographing a successful – and original – portrait is to focus on the composition. Anna goes over this thoroughly and provides many ways for a novice photographer to create their own composition successfully by encouraging creative, independent thought vs. repetition and mimicking.
Anna stresses using baby steps if you’re a beginner to portraiture which is great to see. Novice photographers in this area will want to produce the beautiful portraits in Anna’s portfolio after the first read, but in reality it will take many trial shoots to get to that stage. The goal here is to learn one new thing from each shoot – if you can achieve this, you’re well on your way to becoming a professional portrait photographer.
What I like most about Anna’s approach to her book is that not only is it full of valuable information, but her unique style of portrait photography is refreshing when compared to the stale, repetitive, sit-down portraits taken in a studio. She asks the reader to step out of the box and realize that the environment and world can be a portrait studio – not just a white room in the back of your house.
Anna also stresses learning the fundamentals of portrait photography first by using natural light….I agree with this method as off-camera lighting is a very confusing subject, both from a compositional and a technological viewpoint.
While there is plenty of great information in Anna’s book, you should know that this is not a tutorial on the use of artificial lighting. Many of her images use it, but the fundamental knowledge is not covered thoroughly. If you’re in the market for a beginner class on using strobes, you won’t find it here.
There are, however, many free online resources for flash that can supplement Anna’s book. The Strobist community is widely considered as the all-knowing source for strobe lighting – their 101 series is one of the most popular (free) guides available.
Also, Neil van Niekerk offers what many photographers do not – a step by step tutorial on how he achieves dramatic lighting in a variety of situations. He does a thorough job of explaining the ins and outs of flash wedding photography (although the techniques can be applied to any kind of portrait) in a way that everyone can comprehend.
Although Anna touches on the very basics of photography, it would be best if you had some idea prior to jumping into her book – otherwise you may find yourself overwhelmed. If you don't know what aperture, shutter speed, and ISO are – and how they affect each other – you should read up a bit as it will help you to absorb the information on the first go.
Anna’s book is one you can refer to again and again, taking one new idea each time and applying it to your portrait techniques. When complimented with the flash photography tutorials mentioned above, you have all the knowledge and inspiration needed at your disposal to create true works of art in portrait photography.