I was looking through dozens of images to select a critique that would benefit more than just the maker. I liked yours very much and felt that there was much good to comment on and some things to point out that might have been done a little differently. I hope you will take this in the constructive spirit in which it is offered. As always let me state that my critique is based on the premise that this portrait was intended to be a professional quality image.
First let’s take note of the time of day that you were on location. Clearly the sun is out as we can see hot spots throughout the trees and on the grass. While it is totally possible to create very nice portraits under these conditions, I have always recommended to my students to work toward being there at the optimum time of day just after the sun drops below the horizon when we have our perfect window of beautiful directional light without hard shadows and hot spots everywhere. Under these conditions, we have only a minimal requirement for equipment. A camera on a tripod and a hand held meter.
I realize that being there at the correct time is not always possible but if you approach your clients in the right way, they will in most cases, appreciate your desire to give them the highest quality image possible and go with your recommended times. In 21 years of running my studio, the only sitting I ever did at the wrong time of the day was the mayor and we know that his time is very limited. It was for a magazine article and I had to bend to his busy schedule.
Ok, let’s talk first about the couple portrait. Clearly you have good rapport with your customers. They look happy, relaxed and seem glad to be with you. This is more important than most people know. It’s a huge part of the process for the clients to feel comfortable with the photographer. You did extremely well in capturing them in a happy frame of mind. I am also going to do a visual commentary on the first image so you can see the various items I am calling to your attention.
For full length portraits, your camera height should be roughly a third down from the top of their heads. About chest high. Your camera position is slightly above their heads giving a perspective of looking down on them. This can make the upper bodies look larger and the legs look smaller and also shorter much the same as when we look up at a skyscraper but with the reverse effect. Try to keep the camera about chest high for full length portraits and you will see more normal looking bodies and you will also see less of the ground.
While the lighting on their faces is not precisely portrait lighting, it is very acceptable and easily complimented by their lovely expressions. I do not care for flash fill outdoors because most of the time it looks very obvious. Yours was so subtle as to not be noticed. Tipping my hat to you for a very good job without overding it.
Note how bright the gentleman’s head is on top indicating a large amount of light from directly overhead. Also note the direct sunlight on his shoulders. Not a horrible thing but it would be better if it were not there.
Other things that I would change would include not having his hand growing out of her shoulder and not having her place her arm up in the tree. While not a cardinal sin, it is more of a pose that a man might do than an older lady.
If you notice their feet, his are in a good position with his weight on his right foot which is at an angle to the camera while the other foot points in the direction of the camera. Her feet on the other hand indicate that she is standing flat footed. This feels a bit awkward. Had you turned her toward him rather than away and posed her feet in the reverse order as his with her weight on her left foot, you would see a pose that would feel much more comfortable and natural. In full length portraits, we have a work leg and a show leg. More times than not, the back leg is the work leg and carries most of the weight where the front leg is the show leg where in the case of a woman we would break the knee in toward the other leg to create curvature in the show leg.
Small observations would include trying to always show his white shirt cuff when photographing a man in a suit. Simply go to him and pull the cuff down so it can be seen (assuming he is wearing a long sleeve shirt as he should with a suit). It looks much nicer to see the cuff.
Imagine if she were facing in his direction. You could then easily hide his right hand behind her and hide her left hand behind him. In professional portraiture, a good rule is to try and show the fewest number of hands and legs possible. Showing one hand from each person in this portrait would simplify it and also help them look closer and more loving.
Also, keep a watch out for collar’s creeping away from the neck as it does here. I know it’s just one more thing to think about but all those little things add up to a larger benefit of a superior image.
Another small issue would be to select a tree without the white bark if at all possible. The lighter color can be a little dominant. Again, not the end of the world. Just a suggestion. Also, be careful about the tree trunk growing out of the lady’s head in the second image.
Lastly, please note her arm in the second image resting on the tree. The hand is considerably brighter than her face and also note the patch of direct sun striking her head. More important is the fact that her arm looks very short and distorted because of it’s angle, coming toward the lens. Any limbs or fingers should never face or point toward the camera to avoid this kind of distortion.
I know that they enjoyed these portraits very much. I compliment you on an excellent effort and especially on capturing such great expressions. I hope you find my suggestions helpful and constructive. Feel free to write to me anytime I might be able to help.
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