Portrait Photography 101

Tethering Equipment Setup

I shoot with my Nikon D750, which is equipped with Wi-Fi, which broadcasts a signal that my laptop can connect to. You can also connect via a cable and get the same functionality (potentially faster as well). Just make sure you get a long enough cable (5m is the usual), and be careful to avoid damage to camera and laptop ports (cable tethers are available, and a laptop stand with a lip will help).

Once connected I use some Open Source software called qDSLR Dashboard to control some camera settings, and to display the images I have just shot. Adobe Lightroom will manage your tethering if using a wired connection. Your camera manufacturer will probably provide appropriate software if you’d rather use that, or 3rd party developers make software such as digiCamControl. These programmes are also useful for time-lapse and focus stacking shooting.

Since our other option for viewing our photos is the tiny LCD which isn’t particularly well calibrated, tethering has a few advantages. Checking focus. Checking depth of field. Checking colours and exposure via histograms. Giving the sitter feedback on their posing, and hopefully relaxing them by showing how good they look.

While ththering I’ll shoot RAW to Card 1 and Small Jpeg Fine to Card 2. The jpeg is sent automatically via wireless to the laptop, and I’ll have the RAW files later to edit. Alter jpeg size to balance display delay time against quality of displayed image.

I have chosen the small fine jpeg to ensure the files sent are small but good quality. This means they will send quickly, but be of good enough quality to check for focus, depth of field and colour (LCD sometimes too bright on low key images).

Basics of Portraiture

The goal is to showcase the character and features of the sitter, using expressions and poses.

We should light the subject in a fashion to accentuate the sitter and the image we have in mind for them. Shoot using the most effective equipment and settings, e.g. low key would suit moody or dark, or high key would suit fun and friendly or elegant shots.

For non-environmental portraits, i.e. Studio shots or headshots/upper body shots, simple non-distracting backgrounds help to feature the sitter more prominently.

Eyes are almost always the most important feature since they are the part of a person’s face the viewer will settle on. Therefore catch-lights are important and add life to a portrait where you are trying to be complimentary to the sitter.

Backgrounds tend to be dark for low-key studio portraits, white for high-key portraits and are usually grey (or perhaps green) for shots intended to be extracted for composites.

Benchmark (Fundamental) Settings

Settings for studio flash photography pretty much choose themselves. You will use a small range for each setting for the majority of photographs you shoot.

Focal lengths - 85, 105, 135mm. These focal lengths offer the most complimentary results. Wider than this and the sitters features can be distorted (larger), and longer focal lengths seem to add weight to a sitter. Obviously these alternative focal lengths can be used to creative effect should they actually be desired in a particular image.

Shutter speeds - 1/125th, 1/160th, 1/200th, 1/250th for most cameras for non-HSS (High Speed Sync) shots. Shoot a frame at these settings without flash to see how much ambient light is captured. If your camera and flash support High Speed Sync you can create very interesting images outdoors in bright sun whilst still using flash. Very long shutter speeds should be avoided in case enough ambient is captured to potentially show in the image. At such a long shutter speeds ghosting and hand-shake may become evident. Again, this could be used to creative effect.

ISO - Base ISO + 1 stop, e.g. 100 base ISO, use 200 ISO. This require half as much light from flashes, which can save significant power when using battery powered speed-lights, and allows some wiggle room if ambient light needs to be adjusted further. Use base ISO for the cleanest images.

Aperture - This controls Iris size which limits light entering the camera, so governs exposure more than the other camera settings. However most photographers will set the aperture to the lens's sweet-spot, usually f5.6 - f8 to get the sharpest, least distorted image possible, and control exposure via the lights. Also, ensure you have enough Depth of Field that your shot requires. Shorter focal lengths and smaller apertures increase DoF at the expense of distortion and less light respectively.

Lights - Judge lighting power once camera settings are set. Lights have power settings or can be reduced by changing distance, or increased by moving closer to the subject. Speedlight flash duration is typically around 1/200th of a second at full power and 1/20,000th of a second at low power, making this your effective shutter speed. However, the wiggle room you have with shutter, ISO, and aperture will still allow you to control ambient light levels to a small extent on areas where your flash does not fall assuming you are not using very bright flash settings. However, it is usually easier to use other lights for controlling ambient levels. The inverse square law states that light power halves as distance from subject doubles. So moving a light twice as far away results in 1 stop less exposure for that light.

Modifiers - Light is basically either hard or soft, this refers to the edges on shadows. Small light sources create hard light, and large light sources create soft light. Size of light sources is also relative to distance from the sitter, e.g. The sun is the largest light source in the solar system, but due to being so far away it create a hard edge shadow. A soft-box 1 metre across, just a meter from the sitter will create a much softer light, whereas the sun is about the size of your thumbnail at arms-length. The material the light is bouncing off or travelling through will also affect the quality of light, e.g. Bouncing off a white wall will give a different light that bouncing of a metallic beauty dish.

Feathering - Light comes from a source and will be strongest in the direction the light source is facing. It falls off, or feathers as the angle to the subject changes, so lights do not always need to be pointed directly at the subject. This can be used to control shadows.

Spill - Light going to unwanted places. E.g., shoot through umbrellas suffer from spill much more than a soft-box which is more directional. A grid will cut down spill even more. Think about whether you want to control spill for the shot you want to get.

Why I love post processing images

Here's a little image that I really like. It was taken while on a family holiday to India last March.

I really thought that it was a lost cause at one point though, as it was far from ideal initially. When I got home and looked through my shots, it felt like it was one of the many that don't quite make the grade due to being a rushed shot that I couldn't re-shoot. However there was definitely something there. Something that I thought I'd try to salvage something from.

Here's the story..

I was out with my brother (also a photographer), walking through the city of Jodhpur at about 8am. It was very quiet except for a few people sitting in front of their houses brushing their teeth or reading the morning papers.

As we walked down the narrow streets this young lady buzzed past on her bike and shouted 'Photo?' as many of the kids do. When you are thousands of miles from home you're never going to turn down the opportunity. I looked at her bright pink clothes and immediately looked around for a dark background.

'Over there?!' I said hopefully, and pointed towards a large archway leading down one of many side streets. I'm not sure if she understood my English, or simply knew the drill, but given the pose she struck, I'm guessing the latter! Buzz.. Off she went again. My brother donated a few Rupees and we carried on walking.

What you're going to see next is the raw footage as it were..

_DSC5934 copy.jpg

You'll probably agree that it's pretty un-presentable! But read on..


My composition was to get the full archway in shot, before possibly getting a tighter shot, which didn't happen. So this is the only frame I have. That happens sometimes, and you just hope to have something to work with.

Now, I feel this photo is quite strong. Not just a memory of a good early-morning photo-walk, but the details tell you about life in India once they are revealed. Here's the adjusted photo again for reference..

Let's look at the main message the photo communicates, namely the girl who shines out from her surroundings, and her absolutely knackered bike. It shows that universal thing we all know about kids, that they will find ways to have fun despite what little they might have. It's one of the very best aspects of the human condition.

Now.. I have to work out how to turn that first image into something that conveys that message. So obviously creating a contrast between the girl-and-her-clothes, and basically everything else in the image is key. I did this in camera by placing her in front of the alleyway for maximum contrast. The decay of materials and roughness of surroundings also need to be brought out to contrast with her youthfulness.

The textures in the walls and ground, the litter, the graffiti and other random objects are potentially things that you might remove or cover up. But in this instance, it was a matter of accentuating them without making them remotely distracting from the subject. So I tried enhancing the textures so they are easily visible, but only enough that they get registered subconsciously. The pinks and yellow stand out strongly against the oranges, reds, browns and grey of the city.

The crop is a major one (it had to be!). It was chosen to make the girl on the bike the main focus, but give enough context to allow those other aspects to be seen. Hopefully the rescue was successful. It'll never make a large print, but worthwhile for a small one and this blog.


So that's a basic overview of what I'm thinking about when working up a final image, and trying to extract the very best from it. I hope it was somewhat informative! Please read on if you want to hear about the workflow and technicalities I use when shooting street.


Lets Get Technical. (For the photographer geeks).

Where to start?!

I mentioned that sometimes you only get one chance to get a good image. Now, I'm a technical person, so I set up my gear and settings to give myself the best chance of capturing the best raw digital data possible, on the off chance that I have to rescue an image where I made a bad decision during shooting. In this case, not getting the tight shot first. 

The original image is 24 megapixels. The final image is around 6 megapixels. Now normally you'd never want to get rid of that much of your image. But, I got away with it, and here's why. 


I nailed focus. A bright, high contrast subject is much easier for the camera's auto-focus system to lock onto. So the subject placement helped that.

I chose an appropriate shutter speed. This image was shot on my 70-300mm lens at 70mm. I shot at 1/250th making sure I was well clear of speeds where hand induced shake would make an image soft. 

I shot in the lens' sweet spot. For that particular lens, 70mm at f6.3 will get you close to its best results. I think maybe that could have been why I shot those settings first, along with the thought that the archway might have been important to have in shot.

I shot at 100 ISO. Low noise and high dynamic range, allows you the most leeway to manipulate the image in post.

Good glass, good camera. You can only shoot with what you have got. And don't buy beyond your budget. It's not worth it for marginal gains. But.. when it comes to difficult light, and sub-optimal shots, you'll get away with more using good gear.


So yes, the shot is underexposed. But the reason for that is a combination of the above. I have a digital camera that is ISO Invariant, meaning that the camera adjusts image exposure after it is taken, based on your ISO setting.

However as I mentioned, the lower the ISO, the higher the Dynamic Range that the camera will capture, so I choose to shoot at native ISO (100 in my D750) as much as I can, knowing that I can push a couple of stops. If the frame is black, obviously I'll re-shoot. But you'll generally have your settings in the right ballpark if shooting on manual, even with changeable light.

Combined with shutter speed vs. focal length choices, aperture choices, and while grabbing images, this sometimes means I have underexposed images, but I don't mind as I usually have the best data to work with afterwards. You can't do anything with a shot you missed while changing settings.


I'd finally just like to point out that I'm not thinking about this stuff when I'm out shooting. It's all pre-learned, and tied to camera setup and technique, so that when you are out, you can concentrate on just shooting good compositions and light.

If you have any questions, or want to talk about how you shoot, I'd be delighted to hear from you!


How to look good on a bike.

8 essential cycling style tips, from a photographer.

Racing bikes is super competitive. It's almost as competitive as the competition between riders to look the best.

If you're a cyclist reading this, and especially a roadie / racer, you've probably been around cycling enough to be aware of 'The Rules'. 'Always be Casually Deliberate' etc, etc..

Now I've cycled a fair bit, and although I'm not really a sports photographer, I've shot enough images to have a fair idea of what seems to work and what doesn't. Sometimes the guidelines might go against the rules, but I'm going to say them anyway, so in no particular order, let's get started..

#1. Attack, attack, attack.

Get out of the saddle. Head down, ass up, that the way we like... Wait, that's a different thing..
Anyway, when you're in the drops and out of the saddle your body shape changes. It's not a casual pose, but it's certainly deliberate. If you want to look like you're on a mission, attaque!
An added bonus for the cyclist is that no-one will ever know if that's a photo of you making your bid for glory, or just trying to get back on.

#2. Rim decals.

These might take away from the look of a bike at a standstill, but they make a big difference in a moving shot. It's a trade-off. Zipps look really good with three decals per side, and any photographer will tell you, odd numbers and triangles are more aesthetic. Maybe have your support team bring a set of wheels for pre-race photos, and a set for race photos if necessary. Depends how much you want to look good I guess. What do you mean you don't have a support team? 

#3. Clear lenses.

A helmet and shades are effectively a mask. Clear or lightly tinted lenses suddenly make a photo of a cyclist into a photo of a person. Think of why pre-health & safety images of the old-school riders are so much more memorable. Now obviously you can't race without a helmet these days, but if you want to show who you are, and the intent in your eyes, get yourself a some clear lenses if the conditions allow. Yellow or orange is fine and work well in low light. You're possibly already wearing rose tinted ones if your best racing days are behind you.

#4. Black shorts.

They don't have to be completely black. But if you're sporting shorts where the crotch area is coloured (or god-forbid, white), there's a good chance the viewers eye is going to be attracted away from your 'in-control, steely expression' / bike bling / new Rapha jersey.

No one wants to suddenly realise they staring at that.

#5. Don't forget to Race.

Logic would tell you to be as fresh as possible for the decisive moment at the end of the race. But for the spectator, they want to see racing at every possible opportunity. That's where the excitement is. You notice this more in the higher level races. Almost every lap there is someone trying something, maybe a lone attack, maybe a small group of two or three is working together to stay away. Visually it's much more engaging than watching a bunch of riders sitting on. Now I know fitness levels vary, but if you want good shots, get stronger.  

#6. Helmets, bikes and kit.

White helmets always looks best. Black in theory should be fine, but just isn't as good. I think it's something along the lines of the clear lenses effect, ie. you look less like evil Jedi-Master, Darth Vader, and more like a friendly 'couldn't be evil if you tried' Stormtrooper. Coloured should only be done if it matches your kit exactly. If not, a trip to your LBS in in order.

Bikes are as above, except that most of the time black seems to works a little better. White doesn't work as well here because most local cyclists have legs like milk-bottles. It's just too much white! If you have a coloured bike that doesn't match your kit then you needs to explain to your better half that another bike will be required, assuming she / he hasn't already left you on grounds of taste and decency. Bare in mind that changing clubs could be an option here, especially as members of your current club may want to see the back of you for bringing their kit into disrepute.

#7. Get to the front.

At some point try and get to the front, even if it's just the front of your group. A photo of you leading out a bunch of guys will always look impressive to your friends. If you can make a gap so much the better! If you can do it at a point in the race where it's unexpected, then you might get a bonus if some perplexed or pained expressions on the faces of the riders trailing in your wake. This might not do your race strategy much good, but statistics tell us that the majority of riders don't win the race, meaning they should really focus on looking good instead.

#8. Know where your favourite photographer will be.

Make friends with the guys / girls who 'used to be top cyclists until fate / age stepped in and ruined their cycling career'. They have lots of spare cash to spend on camera gear now that used to get spent on bikes. They're observant folk. They might be able to give you a heads up on gravel on a certain turn, or who's socks game is on point that day and might give you a run for your money style-wise.


Obviously a lot of this has been less than 100% serious. Ruining your race just to look good probably isn't on, unless you're a sadist just there for the craic. But remember to stay safe. Don't do anything stupid just for a photo op, because remember, scratched carbon looks bad, and blood is hard to get out of polyester.

If you enjoyed the images and the write-up, even if you have no interest in purchasing images, you can thank me for free by following me on Facebook or Instagram. Just search @evadeandignite or follow the links below..



Many thanks for your time, and remember.. 

If you are out riding in bad weather, it means you are a badass. Period.

Access all areas! Open House Belfast.

I got out of work on Friday afternoon and popped around the corner from my office to the (mostly) newly refurbished Bedford House.

My reason was that I'd spotted on Facebook that the 9th Floor, which has been completely stripped out, was open to the public for a couple of hours. I was fairly certain there would be some great views, and I might get an interesting photograph or two to share with you.

The only other place you'd get better view across the city centre is the former tallest building on the island of Ireland - Windsor House, on the opposite side of the street. It's also being renovated having been acquired by the Hastings Hotel Group.

Click here for the Top 20 tallest buildings in Belfast.

I'm a member of Ards Camera Club, and during one of last seasons lectures we had a local photographer called Joe Laverty speak to us about his architectural photography. He works for an organisation in Belfast called Place.

Planning Landscape Architecture Community Environment
PLACE is an independent, not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the making of great places across Northern Ireland. PLACE is composed of a multi-disciplinary team combining expertise and extensive experience in architecture, town planning, visual art, curation, design, social science, education, research, community engagement and event management.

Place is involved in a local initiative called Open House Belfast, which allows the public access to buildings and spaces in the city that they wouldn't otherwise be able to access. 

Following the Place Facebook Page is how I became aware of the access to Bedford House. I'd mentioned it to a few people in work, and one chap was interested, so we registered and went for a visit.

On arrival, our friendly greeter took us up to the 3rd Floor, and said that we could have a look around the brand new offices of engineering company Arup. This was a little unexpected. We'd left work at 5pm, and so there were still people working in the Arup office while random strangers were walking around marvelling at the super-modern office space.

A lot of this building was like a cross between '2001 : A Space Odyssey' and 'Tron : Legacy' .. which is no bad thing if you want my opinion.

We were treated to a coffee at a machine right between their Reception area and their VR suite (yes, Virtual Reality). Probably for visualising or walking clients through designs. Awesome.

I shot a few photos in the kitchen area while we finished our coffee. It's a great little break-out area for getting away from your desk for some food.

So that was enjoyable, but since we'd left it late in the day, and the 'tour' ended at 6pm, we took the lift to the 9th floor.

It's sort of odd being in such a raw space when you see what a fantastic office it can be turned into. That's why we have architects and interior designers though.

So, to the views..

Looking West along Bedford Street towards the Dublin Road and beyond.

Looking South at the Belfast City Council's Cecil Ward Building with it's impressive atrium. You can walk in the front door and look straight up and out the glass roof 6 or 7 floors above. The buildings look a lot more impressive from 9 floors up than from street level.

Looking East toward Donegall Square, with the familiar copper roofs of the City Hall, Robinson & Clever, and Scottish Provident buildings. Cave Hill in the distance there. Click to see what else you can make out..

So, that was about 45 minutes of my day, squeezed in between work and a NI Photographic Association adjudication event back in Ards. 

If you know there's a building or place you might enjoy a good nosey around, why not follow the links at the top of this blog and see if anything takes your fancy. Access is usually free!

And if you liked the blog or my photos, follow me on Facebook for a notification of the next exciting installment.

Northern Ireland Drama Slam 2016

A dramatic evening in the heart of Belfast.

Marina Hampton

So what is a Drama Slam?

For 20 local actors, the NI Drama Slam was a chance to test themselves against their peers in an attempt to win this inaugural event, organised by local theatre company - Bigger Than Us Productions.

Joseph O'Hagan. Would his performance be enough to make it to the final three?

Each actor had sealed their place in 'the slam' (he called it, trying to sound hip) by progressing through an earlier audition process. They would then be judged on a 3 minute monologue in front of an audience and a panel of 3 judges, including an agent.

No pressure then. 

The 3 top choices of the panel would then perform another 3 minute monologue each, allowing a decision on who would finally be named winner.

Philip Young. The man that all the talent want to impress.

The panel of judges watch on mid-monologue. Ronan Vallely - BTU Productions (Near), Jo Egan - Macha Productions (Middle), Philip Young - Independent Agency (Far). This photo is grainier than Ballyholme Beach, sorry.

The event took place on the evening of Tuesday 3rd May, in the basement of the historical McHugh's Bar, facing Custom House Square on the edge of Belfast's revamped Cathedral Quarter and Titanic Quarter.

Tickets were only £5 a head, and the venue was well filled for 2-3 hours of genuine drama and tension. 

MC for the evening - Colin Dardis.

For a list of all those involved in making the event happen, click here.

So what was it like then?

Well, I was there as a photographer to do an evenings work, so I didn't really expect to be paying full attention to the monologues. I was more worried about how I was going to shoot photos in almost pitch blackness with just the house lights.

First up .. Daniel Day-Lewis. Sorry, I mean Daniel Smith. The moustache confused me, whoopsie daisy.

Michael McGarry and Dean Richman in the actors area prepping for action.

I might as well be honest and up-front and say I underestimated the talent of the actors. I didn't know what to expect and I'm not a big consumer of theatre. But after shooting the first couple of actors I started to be able to appreciate the performances whilst getting my shots. None of them seemed phased by my occasional shutter clicks, there were no fluffed lines, and the power of the deliver really impressed me from all twenty. There were even tears.

Dean Richman

I remember thinking at one stage about just how much time and work must have been put into the performances. I'm a big advocate of the concept of work ethic being more important than natural talent alone. They all have my respect.

Keith Morrow. Managed to get his shoes off mid-monologue.

It was extremely interesting to chat with the actors afterwards and see how different they were to their characters. In my head, not knowing the subtleties the judges were looking for, it seemed like the bigger the difference the better the actor must be, and most were very different to their role.

Shooting the actors.

Warning, this might get a bit techy. I don't mind if you skip this bit and just look at the photos!

As shooting experiences go, this is the darkest place I have ever photographed people. The house lights were 2 LED spotlights, not very powerful, and didn't have any dedicated white diodes - hence the wonderful colour casts depending where the actors were standing. I've never had to move the Tint slider past 100 before. Fun!

Debbie McCormack

With the actors speaking in a silent room I tried where possible to shoot on the ends of sentences out of courtesy to them and the audience. That should have had the bonus of not getting them with their mouths in strange shapes, and perhaps less animated (less motion blur). Sometimes when that happened it added to the shot. A lot made the cutting room floor though.

Nicola Donnell

Pretty much everything was 1/160th to 1/320th, pretty wide open and riding the ISO for all it was worth. A bunch of these shots are at 12,800!

Catriona Lilley

James Herdman

Michael McGarry

Ian Blair

 Daniel Smith, James McAnespy, Nathan Corrigan and Katarina Kokenyova await their turn in the actors area.

So, who won?

Ok, SPOILER ALERT! Don't look down at the next photo or you'll know who made top 3..

Too late huh?

Well, ok, in reverse order .. In 3rd place, Joseph O'Hagan!

Joseph O'Hagan. Yes, he did make the final three. Also, congrats on reading all the captions.

In 2nd place, Robert Render! Doesn't he look thrilled!

Robert Render

And finally in 1st place.. Emoting so hard at one point he actually fell off the stage..

Michael Bradley!

Michael Bradley

In all seriousness though, he portrayed a couple of roles regarding growing up in Belfast that most viewers could relate to in some way (hopefully not first hand). He also spoke well about it in his interview post monologue. Very well deserved!

A big congratulations to all the actors. They put a lot into the competition, and produced a night that I would recommend going to. An absolute bargain of a night out and something a bit different than the norm.

I believe that BTU plan to hold the next event as a Duologue, so team competition drama! Follow them on Facebook here if you want to get a notification of when that will be.

If any of the actors are reading this and would like photos, just phone or email me and i'll sort you out. 

And if you have read this far, thank you very much. This is my first real blog post (first I've actually pressed the publish button on) and I appreciate the support. I hope you enjoyed the read and the photos, and I'd really appreciate a follow on Facebook or Instagram (icons at the bottom) if you'd like to see more!