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Portrait Critiques

Lesson 19 from: Capturing Authentic Children Portraits

Tamara Lackey

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Lesson Info

19. Portrait Critiques

Lesson Info

Portrait Critiques

Let's jump into portrait critiques. These images, I think we had, we have a number of images where we're setup. I am gonna try to move through these pretty quickly so we can see a number of different types of images, and I'm gonna say just right off the cuff, these are my thoughts about it. And my critiques are coming from a background where I have now been judging print competitions for, I actually was trying to think through it the other day, it's been over 10 years I've been doing print competition critiques and been on judging panels, and it's either in a print competition room where it's a whole thing and it's dark and everything's quiet, and we've got this exact print that's been laid down and turned around, or it's online where it's a digital competition or in a situation just like this. But the criteria is the same. When I am looking at an image, the first thing I'm thinking, and I'm telling you this before I hit this image, the first thing I'm thinking is impact. What is your ...

feeling when you see this image for the first time, how does it affect you in any way? That is a key part of critiquing the image. Next I'm gonna think about things like toning, exposure, detail in the shadows, broken highlights, composition, framing, did the technical settings set up so that it's a tack sharp image, or is it softer than it could have been? Is everybody in focus? Like all the things I'm going to step through next as I'm judging prints. So I'm going to do that right here, and we're just gonna quickly say, this this, this is what's good, this is what I would work on, let's move on. Oh my gosh, those eyelashes. So right away I'm struck by the, I like the way she's looking outwards, I like the expression on the eyes. I think it's kind of cool the way this is framed that the shape here is actually pretty elegant and lovely. I am judging from this monitor, and that's another thing with print competition is judging from the monitor you're on, sometimes it's not how it looks on every monitor. But right now I would say I like the way the hair frames her face, I like the brightness on the eyes. I would probably want a little bit more toning in the image, and I'd like it to be maybe a little bit darker. It's maybe a little bit bright right here, but it's a really sweet image and I like how it's something a little different from the norm. I like that very much. (laughs) All right, it's got impact right away, you just can't help but crack up and that's a good thing. A little baby taking a bath. So I like the way the baby's looking up. I like the water all around and the hair. The eyes look bright and sharp. I'm trying to think about how those eyes were lit and what's going on with that. Compositionally I think that they way that the crop is, you have to think about where you crop because it's very easy to crop right at joints or waists or necklines and you don't ever want to crop at these points, because it's very jarring to see that, and the crop is a little bit higher than the waistline and I think that's a good thing. I would actually would have loved to see this image ending right here. So really making it a bit more of a panoramic versus him kind of, think where his eyes are in the frame. So the eyes are all the way down here, and I don't want to crop into this to make the eyes higher up, because the hair is part of it, so I would bring this down here so that you are really more drawn into the image right away and you didn't have all that extra headroom above the head. Okay, that's interesting toning. It's like a purple as best I can tell. Looks like a bit more of a matte, kind of a low contrast treatment. And it's interesting too because he's facing the opposite way of the way you would normally necessarily compose a shot but that's not a bad thing. From a composition perspective, if he's looking this way, I would ideally have him up here looking out that way. From a regular kind of compositional rule perspective, you kind of want to make sure when someone's looking into the frame and they're looking at the subject that they're staying with them long enough that wherever the subject is viewing keeps you in the frame longer. If he's up here and I'm looking at his eyes and they're going all the way here, I am apt to kind of circle back here and stay with this image longer, right? But if he's over here and looking out that way, I might just quickly look up and look away, and I don't get to appreciate all of the aspects of the image. So that's a thing to consider. This might be a good way to compose him up here. Sometimes the idea is, well I know what the rules are and I want to break them so they're more, it kind of catches you. Kind of have to decide that for yourself, but those are one of the things I would be thinking on an otherwise really sweet little guy, clearly. Oh, beautiful. This was probably, given today's weather nowadays, shot in December, since we can't count on weather anymore. I love the flowers and all the pop of color, they have sunshine on her hair. I'm trying to figure out what she's sitting on. I think she's sitting on something that is meant to protect her from the grass. I think that's a blanket. One of the things I think about whenever I am putting someone on the ground is how do I work that thing that's on the ground more smoothly into the shot. Here, from a composition perspective, you know, she's kind of in that right, nice area where you can kind of see everything, I think that's been very well handled. She's obviously distracted by the flower and it's that kind of sweet moment, but I'm pulled away by this. Like to me, once I see it, I feel like, oh gosh, I really want that out. Look at the shot and tell me what you'd think of it if there weren't that blanket in there. Doesn't it look a lot smoother across the board? That blanket, and I see this a lot, like at a family shot, they're in the green grass and there's just like a blanket, and it's clearly just sitting there and it kind of distracts from the flow of it. I would like that out, and then the same shot taken. Oh! Look at, I think I had a shot like this earlier today, the little girl hanging over the table. I like that kind of feel, the look of it, the little fingertips. I think it's cropped really well and handled really well that we have room down here. The amount of times I see an image where it's cropped right at the fingertips or right at the toes, and you're like, "Oh, you could have had it. "You were so close." It's an easy miss, I've made it certainly before and I'll make it again, but I like that that's cropped right here. I wouldn't mind a little bit more punch to the image, though. Like a little bit more of a contrast, a little bit more of a boost in those tones 'cause I think that would help, it would just give it a little bit more of a pop to the image as it is. The other quick takeaway is look at where the light's hitting him. I would want to smooth that out a little bit. If you can't diffuse the light from hitting the face and creating some of these broken highlights, where you just have these hotspots, if you can't put a diffuser there to stop it or you can't turn them away from the light so it doesn't hit them, then try to see if you can tackle that in post, and bring some more light in on that front. (laughs) Little baby with a belly. Okay, that is so cute. In this frame, I love how they're in the middle, I love his expression. The bear is a really cute little way to do it. Normally you see them holding the bear, not necessarily back to back. I think that's really cute. And I like the way that everything's kind of out of focus before and in front and behind them. A couple quick things. We need a little more fill light on the boy. You see those shadows right there? It's just a little bit soft up and down, and you kind of want a bit more of that contrast in there. Over here, we've got this, couple of distracting things that are really quick to take out, not hard at all. And I wouldn't touch the rolls on his belly, they're perfect, they're amazing, but I would maybe tamp on down some of the hotspots here. You know, if you think about the toning, like if you were to do a color picker and look at this toning versus this toning versus this toning, you kind of want to bring that a little more evenly together. You want contrast, and obviously skins are different on the outside than they are here and this, but you don't want to see, if you look at it really closely, that's obviously popping out. Really sweet. What? Okay, gorgeous child. What is she, is that, she like listening to her necklace? Seashell. Seashell, okay, yeah. (laughs) Super super, you know, and it's never, kids are just beautiful. She's really lovely, I love her hair, I love the sweetness of the expression. I can't help but think what this same shot would have been like from a lower angle with a fuller crop down here. Think about the same image if, instead of top down over here, it'd have been here. She could still look off to the side, I don't mind that, and composition I like where she is, and you have that room to move into, but I'd love to drop a little bit and get that shot just framed and angled differently. And this hair, my goodness, is gorgeous, let me see it all, from this perspective. Sweetness. (laughs) I see that face a lot. Seems to be a default face. I like that there's this effort to make sure you pull in all the expressions, I quite like that, obviously. Right away, outside of the cuteness of the expression, what I'm seeing is overexposed. You know, there's an overexposed to this. These lights are just a little too light all the way across, and we need a little bit more control of that exposure. Do I take photographs that are too bright or too dark? Yes. Do I fix them while I'm figuring it out on a shoot? Yes. Do I go in post sometimes and have to figure out what to do there? Yes. But once I see that, I'm not going to deliver it that way, I'm gonna make sure I control the exposure in post. Sweet face. Ha ha! That's kind of fun. I like that, like to see everything. I like the glasses and the fact that you can see the expression coming back at the child, I think that's very cute. What you see right here is unintentional blur, so that means the shutter speed was too slow for that shot. Unless the goal was to make sure the hands were moving or something. That's not uncommon to see. You'll see the kid jumping or the feet moving or someone's leaning in, and you've got this, just meant the shutter speed wasn't fast enough to grab it. So it looks like it's kind of out of focus or something, but it's not, it's assumedly unintentional blur. But compositionally he's in a good spot in the frame and that works pretty well. Oh I love freckles. I love freckles, I wish I could import freckles. Like wouldn't it be nice to import? The freckles are great, and I like that they are focused with a top down shot. One of the things I'm thinking, I said, remember we just did the editing on the little girl and I think when you boost the contrast, that white down there, that bright part was just too contrasty, I couldn't really see the child, and although I look at their freckles, I go right here. Like one easy way to think about this is squint your eyes at this image, right now, and tell me where your eye goes to first, just naturally. Are you going to her eyes? You kind of go down to here because that's the brightest part of the image, that's where all the contrast is. So what you can do on the shoot, one of two things, you could either flag the light for coming in here, or in post you drag down the levels just like you saw me do eight minutes ago. Okay, so obviously very sweet. Look at those eyes popping. Very sweet kids together, which is great. Compositionally I'm getting lost. I'm jumping in, I'm coming right out. What did I just say? I'm coming in and I'm popping right out. If this frame were this way and higher then I would kind of float to where they're looking. And I would stay within the frame longer, but here they're just, they're not looking outwards, they're not actually looking upwards, it's just kind of a little jarring and it's off, which is kind of a bummer 'cause they are such cute kids. And then from an exposure perspective, it's pretty bright. It's pretty bright and I'd want to tone that down. Hello. Okay, that is fun. See this is an interesting thing where compositionally he's up here, but he's looking upwards, and so it works a little better. Do you know what I mean? I love the color in here. I love that this was sought out because I think that makes a difference. Imagine this same shot without that, you know, it's pretty different. And I like the tall grass. I would have gotten rid of this. Either tried to bend it out of the shot or done it in post because this is soft, this is soft, this is soft, this is here, and this is kind of jarring in front. Sometimes take a moment to pull things out. Like if it doesn't need to be there, take it out. Rough and tumble New York. I love the different expression. I kind of like the look right there quite a lot. This looks like this was going for kind of a, I can't tell if this is a football thing, or a kind of a messier looking shot on purpose. But I like the softness in the tone. I would have liked a little more room down here. I think the goal here is to be a little bit moodier and darker, which is cool, and I wonder if you're gonna center compose this shot, put this subject in the middle, maybe you pull out a little bit to give him a little bit of room. So at this angle, just pull down a little bit down here and a little bit on the sides, you know? But otherwise I like the different look. All right. Picked a lot of handsome kids here. So this one it's interesting because we've got some bright catch light, which I love. You can see, and I want you to get really in the habit of this, training your eye to see where light's coming from. You can see the light's coming from this way, right? The light's coming from this way, and it's great because we've got this different tones and depth in the face, but the ear is really hot. The ear's really bright 'cause that's where the light's hitting him. And it's fine that this, I don't mind this in shadow, that's great, I like that bright, but this ends up being something that again, once you see it, and squint your eyes at it. That's where you go, you go to the ear, and not this beautiful kid's face. So just think about how am I going to tone that down? And if you can't do it on the shoot, you can do it in post. (laughs) Very sweet. Again the interaction which is great. We've got some good colors, and if you notice from a clothing perspective, these colors go with these colors go with these colors, and that makes a big difference. You can actually kind of make a lot of headway in terms of working with clothing in that regard. Didn't you have a question about clothing? I heard one of the little girls say, "This is the outfit you picked for me," or the little boy, so I was wondering on a non CreativeLive day at your studio in North Carolina, do you help pick out outfits? Yes, on a non CreativeLive day, which I have lots of, yes, and actually what happens on a CreativeLive day that the, I mean, seriously we'll be running through, and they laid out the clothes, I'm like, "This, this and this. "Great, bye." Like that's how fast I did it. At home, in the studio, so I'll give them a review of the ideas of clothing that we like and we'll talk through it in pretty good detail because an image with the right clothes and an image with the wrong clothes, it can be very, very different. This image, if they were all wearing like, I don't know, these tones work, right? So if they were wearing really jarring tones that didn't work, like one was wearing zebra stripes up and down and one was wearing polka dots and hot pink, this wouldn't work, and I know that. So we're talking a lot about clothing and the impact of that. So when I ask them to come in, I ask them, "Take your best guess "at putting a great outfit together "based on this conversation "and some images I've shared with you, "then when you get here, let's lay out three more "and see what makes the most sense." And then I may hear like, "You want me to bring four outfits?" I'm like "No, you don't need to bring four outfits, "just bring enough selections "so that we can pull things together "in a couple different ways, "two or three different ways. "Like bring a pair of jeans and maybe khaki shorts," or I don't know, "and then bring several different tops "or hats and then you can kind of mix and match "and make something happen." But yeah, I really think a lot about clothing. I think clothing is really important, and I didn't' used to. I used to think it was just a throwaway thing, like, "I don't care what they wear, "As long as they're comfortable." But I started seeing these images over and over again where everything was right, but the clothing was so jarring you couldn't see the faces very well in terms of the expressiveness, and I really wanted you to have that, so we talk about that a lot now. At your studio, I've been thinking this the whole day, you talked about in your business class about how you talk with the parents multiple times before they ever step foot in your studio or on location. Do you ask them about the personalities of the kids or do you ask them like, "What are the things you like most about them?" Do you have any clue or is it just they walk in, this is what I get. Okay, in the, at home, on a normal shoot, for years, and I actually wrote about this and presented about this, I would get on the phone and talk through several questions that I had of the clients before the kids came in, and I would ask questions like, "You know, tell me little bit about "all three of your children, "what would you say what lights them up, "what shuts them down, how do they respond to each other, "which of these children likes affection, "does anybody not like being touched, "are they bothered by affection?" I'd ask a lot of introspective questions where they had to stop and say, "Huh, well I guess if I thought about it," and then have this pretty good conversation that was 20 minute, 25 minute conversation, I've had some go much longer, where by the time I got to the shoot I'm like, "Okay, I have a good game plan. "I know what to do. "I feel like I'm gonna walk in and I know "that if I ask everybody to hug Lucy, "she's gonna scream and freak out and get mad "and I've lost her 'cause she hates it "when people squeeze her. "But Sally over here loves affection, "she will curl up on anybody "and she wants to hug everybody "and she thinks it's the best thing. "And if I treat Sally like Lucy or Lucy like Sally, "I'm in trouble." So I would ask those questions to get me going. What I found over time after shooting thousands, and I mean thousands of portrait sessions at this point 'cause I shoot a lot, I shoot regularly, I love to shoot, and because I'm doing so many portrait sessions I've gotten it down where I feel like when they walk in I can call it so fast. And I'm not a registered psychologist, I actually have no psychic capabilities, but I'm looking for, just from an intuition perspective, I've seen these behaviors, I've seen these behaviors, I see that this, you can see their face when there's a strain or they need to change the energy up, or whatever the case might be, and I don't have to ask those questions any more. I will certainly be open to somebody saying, "Just to give you a little heads up about so-and-so." "Great, thank you." If I know there are special circumstances that we need to address, I will ask questions, because I don't know exactly what those circumstances are, I need to know, you know. And I can't just treat a child who's presenting this way as a type when no, no, it's got nothing to do with that. We're dealing with this over here. "Great, thank you. "Thank you for telling me that." But for the most part, that is not really something I worry about. If you are in a situation where you are building up your portrait business and you are photographing kids more and you don't feel like it just comes second nature to you because maybe you haven't shot thousands and thousands of portraits and you don't seem so haggard and worn down, then I would say you do have those conversations, you do ask those questions until you get to a point where, "I don't even have to ask anymore. "I feel like I got this."

Class Materials

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Tamara Lackey Posing Book Discount
Nations Photo Lab Discount

Ratings and Reviews


Tamara Lackey brings amazing energy to her teaching and shooting style. She shared a ton of tips and tricks for capturing the true character and personality of each child in both individual and group portraits. I have always found it to be particularly difficult to capture portraits of multiple children that are composed to be both visually interesting and true to their unique story. I learned so much about directing and communicating effectively with child subjects, and how to use my gear and other tools to streamline the process and keep it all fun for the family. No matter how much you think you know about photographing children, this class is an asset that you will not regret! Thank you Tamara Lackey!

Heidi Mikulecky

I love Tamara's tips for working with common personality types found in children. I also love that class allows you to be "fly on the wall" during her photo shoots. It's so helpful for me to see how other photographers engage their subjects (especially children). Tamara brings a ton of energy, excitement and playfulness to her shoots. It opened my eyes to how fun (and how exhausting) a photo shoot can be when you give it your all. Great class!

Sara NAomi

This was an amazing class. Photoshop has been a huge learning curve for me during the past year and it was so helpful to see the quick and easy way you used levels to bring down brightness/hotspots. I will definitely be using it to improve the "ear" on the portrait that you critiqued. Thank you soooooooooo very much Tamara and CL for providing such great content!

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