written by: Larry M. Lynch•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 5/23/2011
One of the photography world's greatest challenges, how to photograph women, requires a plethora of skills, settings and techniques to fully accomplish. This article offers some useful how-to tips and techniques on how to take better digital photographs of women in a variety of settings.
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The Many Faces of Photographing Women
Whether they are young, old, strikingly beautiful or “the-girl-next-door" types, women offer a fascinating variety of facial features, expressions, poses, clothing and many other aspects you can easily use to capture a wide range of wonderful photos. From formal photographic arrangements in studio settings to nude photography and casual images taken on-the-go, these ideas are practical if you want flattering pictures of women of all ages. With more than 140 million women in the U.S. alone (USA 2002 census figures), you’ll never run out of work photographing women.
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Photographic Setup of Informal Settings
For many photographs of women, posed images taken in an informal setting can be simple to set-up. Have your subject sit towards the front of a comfortable chair, but not slouch. Use two lighting sources, one primary on one side, the second, lesser lighting source, should be towards the other side to provide fill in lighting. Examples of two such sources might be a window admitting natural light on one side with a flash used as a light source on the opposite side as was done in this photograph of a seated woman.
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Women and Family
Many women are at their best and most comfortable and relaxed when with family, especially so with young children. “I like taking pictures with my grandchildren and family" says Doris Lopez. She adds, “I almost never take pictures with only me in them". In an informal family setting, often, it is a fairly simple matter to get a good series of images. Outdoors, in bright sun, turning the subject around to shoot scenes backlit by the sun with faces in open shade will cause fewer problems with exposure settings and discomfort due to facing direct sun.
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Using Informal Settings to Photograph Women
Women love to show off their “frock and chapeau", making fashion and glamour photography an integral part of how to photograph women. “Clothes may make the man", but fashion is an essential aspect in photographing women. Poses are simple to achieve as long as the woman is depicted as “happy and smiling", the image will have broad appeal. Despite the deep, open shade and brightly-lit background of this image which causes a slight silhouetting effect, this is still a pleasant image. Using a fill flash would bring more brightness and highlights to my wife’s face.
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In this woman’s smiling photo, I counteracted the effects of the room’s fluorescent lighting by using an auxiliary flash unit to help “warm up" the image tones. The background is still a bit “busy" though and could have been thrown out-of-focus for a better general image. Even so, I like the overall effect of the woman’s smiling image and colorful, flowered dress with a relaxed, comfortable pose.
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At the Beach or Gym
A great place to get good digital images of many women is at the beach or a gym. This is especially if the lady is in shape and wants to show off her curves. Lighting is important in these types of photos. Use the sun to sculpt her figure with highlights and shadows. For the best expose settings, meter off of shadowed areas to capture the best detail. If you want less contrast, try using a fill flash to bring out more detail in shadow areas.
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Women at Work
Another of the many facets of women includes their professional side and photos of a woman at work may be just the ticket on some assignments. In this image, a flash was used to highlight the subject and darken the busy background for a more focused pleasing digital image of this lady who said she “doesn’t usually like to take pictures", but was pleased with the tone of this one taken at work. Using a slight zoom to further crop the image before shooting also heightened the effect.
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Errors to Avoid in Photographing Women
In this image, too much light from mixed sources caused the image to appear “washed out" and lack color density and contrast. The background is distracting and the composition needs to be “tightened up" some for better focus on the subject. In an additional shot these problems were addressed and “corrected" as shown above.
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Another common problem is illustrated in this image – fluorescent lighting. The overall green tone of fluorescent lighting indoors gives this image a strange cast. This is correctable through the use of a special florescent lighting filter to alter the color balance. You could change the lighting, adding more natural light or use flash to help alter the color balance. Another solution might be to move the subject to another setting with different lighting. Finally, you could also correct the color cast using digital image editing software.
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This second image example shows a background which is far too “busy" and distracting. If you cannot simplify the background setting by changing the shooting location, photograph the image at the widest aperture you can and use a faster shutter speed to compensate for the increased lighting. This will usually throw the background out-of-focus making it much less distracting. (For example: 1/250th or 1/500th second shutter speed at an aperture of f2.8)
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Photographing Women: A Never-Ending Challenge
Photographing women is a never-ending challenge for digital photographers world wide. The innumerable aspects from glamour and fashion, formal and informal digital imaging as well as application of the many genres of photography to the photography of women ensures that this field will continue to grow, develop and offer exciting rewards. Use these how-to tips and techniques to help you to get started down the road to photographing women.