digital photography tips with Digital Photo Mentor Darlene Hildebrandt

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New Photography Challenge – Portrait of a Friend or Neighbor

It's time for another challenge round up and a new one to be issued. Last month I urged you to print one of your images in a large print and show it to us hanging on your wall. Many of you took the challenge to heart and posted some fabulous images and stories to go along with them. I love that Jozef has started making a family wall of photos, and that Brian has lovely prints for his bed-ridden wife to view and remind her of their favorite place every day.

Photo by: Vladimir Morozov

Now for the winner (randomly selected), drumroll please . . .

Jozef Filo – congratulations! I'll be in touch to help you claim your prize.

On to the new photography challenge. This month I want to test you in a couple ways, so your mission is:

Take a portrait of a friend of neighbor and give them a print

I chose this one for a few reasons.

  1. Taking photos of people often causes anxiety in new photographers so I want to push you outside that comfort zone of flowers, landscapes and doors.
  2. Sooner or later if you have a “nice camera” you'll probably be asked to take photos for friends so it will be good practice for you.
  3. This is another way to share your work which will help you grow as a photographer.

There are a few parameters and suggestions for this challenge. I recommend choosing someone who will be a willing participant and actually enjoy having their photo taken. Don't choose your spouse or teenage kids if all they will do is complain and ask “are you done yet?”. Notice I said friend of neighbor and not family? So pick wisely. Make sure your portrait subject will be patient with you and enjoy the experience as well as the print you give them.

This photo of my friend Andy was taken at a wine competition he was running

You do not have to make a large print, a 4×6 or 8×10 will suffice here, it's more about the thought and practice of doing it. Keep it a surprise and present them with the print later as a gift – or tell them up front, it's your call. Make sure to give them a digital file if they want to use it for their Facebook profile or elsewhere online.

Tips for making portraits

Moving past the fear

Of course I'm going to give you some tips to get you started. If you've never done photos of people and the mere thought of it makes you want to run and hide – fear not. This happens in my classroom all the time and I send my students out to photograph a stranger. They come back after the exercise and the overwhelming consensus is that it was way easier than they made it up to be in their minds. We build stuff up to be big and scary to keep us safe – it's human nature. But often the thing we're afraid of really isn't so scary when we face it head on. And you get to photograph someone you know so it's going to be all that much easier, right?!

Portrait of a man I met in Old Havana, Cuba.

Honestly the best way to handle the fear and anxiety you possibly already feel bubbling up is to just do it. Sorry that's all I got. If you've read my free ebook 10 Challenges to help you take better photos, then you'll be familiar with my story.

I was über shy in high school, I never even talked to boys. Then in photography college I had an assignment to photograph “the human form”.  I was terrified but didn't let it paralyze me. I marched to the gym, chose the biggest, buffest, dude in the room and promptly asked if he'd be willing to pose for me with his shirt off. You know what, HE was shy! But, he agreed to do it, so it was like the blind leading the blind. We were both petrified, shaking in our boots, but we did it anyway. I got a great shot of him in a flexed muscle pose and got high marks on my assignment. He got a great print for himself. No we didn't date, never saw him again after that actually. But the experience told me I'd be okay stepping out of my bubble and I went on to become a portrait and wedding photographer. Now I am far from shy and my current friends can't believe that was really me.

So trust me when I say I understand. You got this. You can do this.

This is my friend Oksana who is a painter and was our model for one of my classes.

Lighting, lens and posing

Obviously lighting for portraits is a huge topic, in fact we have made an entire course on it. So I can't cover it all here but if you follow these quick tips you'll be heading in the right direction:

  • Put your subject in the shade. This will give you more even light on their face.
  • Or you could try shooting indoors using windowlight. Just make sure there isn't bright sunlight streaming in and hitting their face.
  • Watch the background. Read 3 tips to help you compose photos that don't suck for more on backgrounds.
  • Choose a lens with a longer focal length, or if you're using a camera without interchangeable lenses simply zoom in a bit from the widest option. This will help keep distortion to a minimum and flatter your subject more.
  • Talk with your subject as you set up and shoot. They are nervous too, you can work through it together.
  • If you aren't sure about posing just have them sit comfortably and let them pose themselves.

The challenge and contest details

Once again there will be a prize for one randomly chosen entrant to this challenge. To enter you must:

  1. Take a NEW photo of a friend or neighbor. Please do not post ones you took previously, do a new one this month and share.
  2. Post your resulting photo here in the comments.
  3. Tell us about your experience doing the challenge as well. Were you nervous? How did it go? How did you feel afterward?

That's it. Pretty simple, just get out and do it.

Deadline to enter

Of course I encourage you to do this on an ongoing basis but if you want to enter the contest the deadline will be December 21st at midnight EST (or NYC time).



This time around the prize will be a free tuition for my new course – Portrait Fundamentals, retail value $149. So if people photography and portraits are something you want to learn about this is perfect for you. If you are already enrolled in the course you can either gift it to someone else or we'll talk about other options like an Amazon gift card if necessary.


Okay, off you go! Make the phone call, or chat over the fence and get your portrait session scheduled today. Why wait?!


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