EOS tutorial

Cities are diverse places. The feelings they provoke in residents and visitors are as complex as their infrastructure. Our tutorials this month show how you can capture people’s feelings to convey a perspective which reveals something about real urban lives. By showing people in your photography you can tell richer stories about city life, rather than simply shooting buildings or landmarks.

• An introduction to portrait shots
• Get closer to your subject
• Experiment with different lenses
• Shooting night portraits
• Shooting portraits in context
• Try a touch of flash
• Using High speed sync
• Making the most of pre-focusing

An introduction to portrait shots

City Portraits - Canon
Paul Stein
Copyright Info: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Portraits are often characterised by showing a person as the only sharp subject in the frame. To achieve this look, photographers often select a wide-open aperture on their lens.

Most Canon EOS cameras have a Portrait mode. On the Mode dial, it’s the one with an icon of a person’s head.

Selecting Portrait mode tailors your camera’s approach to shooting portraits. It will select a wider aperture for clearer separation of the subjects from their backgrounds and will switch to continuous shooting to capture the most fleeting expressions. This can be useful when you want to capture someone’s face in the context of an urban background but not let your viewers be distracted.

All the AF points will be used to locate the subject within the frame, so why not take some shots with the person to one side of the frame? Try positioning your subject to the right of your frame and show the perspective of a city street behind them.

Tip: Make sure to have plenty of space on your memory card so you can shoot continuously.

Get closer to your subject

If you can talk to the subject being photographed you may be able to use wider lenses for portraits. This gives you the freedom to capture more of their city environment – e.g. the street, park or space they’re in.

City Portraits - Canon
Ephraim Roosignol
Copyright Info: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Since depth of field is the essential element of a good portrait then it becomes more important to have a good amount of separation distance between the subject and the background.

Experiment with different lenses

Zoom to a wide-angle on your lens and move closer to your subject to reduce the depth of field, effectively separating the subject from their background.

Be careful with extra wide-angle pictures as the natural adjusted view of a wide-angle lens can make people look somewhat unnatural if you get too close.

City Portraits - Canon
Farhad Sadykov
Copyright Info: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Conversely, an alternative approach is to use a longer focal length lens. Something in the range of 55-200mm is ideal. You should use it with your camera’s Portrait mode, but zoom in tight to the subject. This will also help separate the subject from the background and fill the frame, so make sure you capture the expression that is the essence of the person being photographed.

Shooting night portraits

If you want to capture city portraits later in the day when light levels are dropping, it’s tempting to use flash to illuminate your subjects and avoid camera shake. If you leave your camera in full automatic mode it will prioritise shake-free pictures in low light.

However the best photos may be a balance of the available light levels with the flash-lit subject.

The Night Portrait scene mode on many Canon EOS cameras will help to balance the available light and the flash lit subject automatically. This means your portrait can convey a sense of location and the subject is well exposed and sharp. Use it to capture office workers enjoying a post-work stroll, chefs taking a break outside their kitchen or the emotions of a five-a-side team in an urban park.

Tip: Take care to hold the camera still. It may need to use long exposure times to achieve the correct light balance.

Shooting portraits in context

The story of a city is inexorably linked with the people who work, live and play there. So you can often create memorable images of city people by shooting them in the context of their environment.

City Portraits - Canon
Joe Hunt
Copyright Info: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Football players enjoying an impromptu game after work will be a much better storytelling image if you can show where the game is being played. Office workers waiting for their train home need to be shown in context too.

These kind of contextual or environmental portraits are often taken with wide-angle lenses; the subject or subjects are smaller in the frame but an essential part of the story. A wide-angle zoom lens is the ideal choice for these kind of portraits.

Try a touch of flash

A Speedlite flash or even the built-in flash on your EOS camera can be set to add a useful pop of light to portraits in bright light and darker conditions – particularly useful for grey city days, shooting at twilight or when buildings hide the sun.

Here’s how to use the flash for city portraits:

• Set the camera to Aperture priority mode (Av) and choose the aperture you need to get the depth of field you want.
• If the flash is set to E-TTL the camera will automatically balance flash and ambient exposures.
• To make a stronger picture, darken the ambient exposure of the background drawing the viewer's gaze to the brighter person in the frame. Set the exposure compensation to -1EV or more to darken the background but keep the closer flash lit subject correctly exposed.

Using High speed sync

In really strong light your subject may have deep shadows on their face. You can use an external Speedlite to lighten the shadows. Set the High speed sync (HSS) setting on the Speedlite and the camera will be able to use shutter speeds faster than its flash sync speed – typically 1/200 to 1/250s - to control the ambient light.

Making the most of pre-focussing

Set the AF/MF switch on your lens to MF so that you can manually focus the lens. Use a moderate wide-angle setting and set the focus to 3m. Set the camera to Manual (M) or Aperture priority (Av) and select f/8. Now the subject will be in focus from around 1.7 metres to 7 metres without having to use the autofocus.

Pre-focussing makes it simpler to capture sharp shots even if you are shooting from the hip and not looking through your viewfinder – it’s ideal for candid street photography or making sure you don’t miss a moment. Ideally you should use a moderate wide-angle lens of around 35mm on full-frame, or 22mm on an APS-C crop sensor camera.

Submit your shot to our You Connect Gallery

If you've felt inspired to capture portraits of people in their city, why not send your photos to our You Connect Gallery? It's where we showcase and share our favourite images sent in by the Canon community. Upload your photos.