As a photographer, I generally use an SLR as well as a dedicated lens (800 euros alone anyway) for portraits. Writing an article on photo portraits captured with a smartphone is therefore quite a challenge for me. Indeed, I could not see myself succeeding in shooting beautiful portraits with the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra. It turns out I was wrong.
In this article I explain how to take advantage of your smartphone while respecting (or not) certain photographic techniques “essential” to transform a simple portrait type “selfie” into a true artistic portrait in black and white.
The choice of place and model
The first question to ask yourself before capturing portraits is: “Where and with whom?” “. This is a very subjective question, as it refers to your own sensitivity as a photographer. As for this shoot, not being very comfortable with the equipment, I needed to work with people I trust. So it was my wife and my brother-in-law who played the role of model. As for the location, for me it doesn’t matter. The important thing is to ensure that this is an environment that gives you and your model confidence. For this series of photos, I worked in two different places: a garden and on the forecourt of the François-Mitterrand Library in Paris.
Why this last place will you tell me? Because I had the idea of using the glass surfaces of buildings as a mirror. In addition to that, it is an open and clear space allowing to collect a lot of light, which is very important when shooting in winter.
Once you have found the perfect “model and location” duo, you might ask yourself: “Should I use pro mode or portrait mode?” “
Pro mode or portrait mode?
The question needs to be asked. Indeed, for two articles I have widely advocated the use of pro mode to take pictures with the smartphone. The pro mode is a particularly effective tool for certain styles of photography or complex situations. On the other hand for the smartphone portrait it becomes complicated to use. The portrait mode is then to be considered.
A major notion to be aware of when taking a portrait is the notion of depth of field. In photography, it plays a major role in the composition and aesthetics of a photo. It is thanks to the depth of field that the photographer can highlight a subject by detaching it or not from the environment.
On smartphones, depth of field is an issue. The photo modules of almost all smartphones have a fixed aperture. This therefore does not allow the photographer to modify the value in order to vary the depth of field.
Fortunately smartphones often have an alternative: a dedicated portrait mode. This artificially and more or less efficiently simulates the variation in depth of field thanks to software processing. And in the case of the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, portrait mode is excellent.
On the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra, once the photo is taken, the application offers you to artificially modify the aperture value, which has the effect of modifying the depth of field of your photo. The larger the aperture (like f / 1.8), the shallower the depth and the more blurry the background of the photo will be.
Samsung’s Gallery app allows you to change the background blur after taking the photo
The importance of light to give effects to your portrait
In my opinion, the portrait is the photographic style that best captures an atmosphere and emotions. The best way to create dramatic and evocative images is to work in black and white.
When using black and white, one of the most important aspects to take into account is light. Indeed, natural light is perfect for portrait shooting, but you must keep in mind that the intensity and direction of the light will have a big impact on the final image.
For example, cloudy days provide soft, balanced lighting on your subject. On the other hand, they significantly reduce the dramatic effect. For portraits with high contrast – and therefore a more spectacular rendering – sunlight is perfect.
Shooting in bright light helps to capture the drama of the shadow play on your subject. Shadows are great for creating a sense of mystery and will give you a sharp contrast to play with the model’s expressions.
However if the day of the shooting the sunlight is not present enough (as was the case for the photos in the article) you will have to use your imagination to create the mystery through an accessory, environment or the framing of your photo (we will come back to this).
Why choose black and white?
Once you understand the importance of light, you have two choices: capture the photo in black and white or in color. The advantage of the latter is that you can still convert it to black and white in post-production. Especially since black and white instantly adds a dramatic and timeless feel to your images, and it’s also great for removing colored distractions.
Look at the color photo below. The eye is automatically drawn to the intense red of the model’s mouth. Passing the black and white photo, we are directly carried away by the intensity of his gaze. This is where all the interest of black and white lies.
I therefore advise you to take all your photos in color and then rework them in post-production (we will talk about this a little later).
Composing your portrait well
The composition of a photo is an essential element to take into account to obtain a successful shot. There are certain rules that allow you to perfect the composition, such as that of third parties. However, sometimes you have to know how to think outside the box and be imaginative, otherwise your portraits are very likely to look like many others.
Two rules are still important to compose your photo in portrait mode. First of all, there is that of third parties, which is not necessary to recall, as it is mentioned in many #withGalaxy articles. Then there is the rule that I call “the opening of the gaze” which consists in placing the subject on the side opposite to the direction he is looking in order to open the perspective in the frame. Concretely, if the model’s gaze goes to the right, the model should be placed on the left of the frame so as not to “block the gaze”.
However, you will notice that some of my photos do not follow these rules. Indeed, I attach great importance to the look and I particularly appreciate putting the eyes of my models in the middle of my photos in order to put them at the center of attention.
It is the same for the rule of the opening of the glance. As you can see in the photo below, the model’s face is deliberately cut in the direction of the gaze in order to question whoever is looking at her: “but what is she looking at?” “.
Even if these two photos do not respect the conventional rules, they are still successful
It’s unconventional, but photography allows you to take liberties. Everyone is free to experiment and build their own style.
Don’t forget about post-production
Once the photos are taken, it’s time for post-production. In my opinion, it takes place in two stages. First, we correct the potential skin defects of the model. For this I use an application such as Pixelmator Pro. Other applications allowing this kind of modification exist on all the application stores.
The idea is to remove unsightly elements that could appear on your model’s face (protruding hair, pimples, scars, etc.). You can discuss this with the models before shooting. Indeed, some people want certain defects to be erased while others prefer to keep them visible.
Then there are two ways to do it:
- edit and correct the photo then apply black and white;
- apply black and white then edit the photo.
I am in favor of the second solution. So I switch each photo to black and white by desaturating the colors, then I make the adjustments directly on the black and white photo: brightness, contrast, exposure, shadows, etc.
For practical reasons (a larger screen), I did my post-production on a touchscreen tablet. However, this type of work can perfectly be done directly on the smartphone, either through the photo application or with an application like Snapseed (there is an article dedicated to this subject).
If you are not interested in post-production work, it is quite possible to apply only a black and white filter to your photos. But it is to cut itself off from an important part of photography.
All final photos
A smartphone is enough to take beautiful portraits
While it is difficult for me to shoot portraits without isolating my eye in the viewfinder of an SLR to better ignore the environment, it is clear that the result on the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra is astounding. The images are sharp and perfectly usable to have fun learning to retouch a portrait. Snapshots can even be printed in A4 size and framed.
I probably wouldn’t resell my photographer gear to invest in a high-end smartphone. But after this experience, it is very likely that I will be able to offer this type of shooting from time to time to put my photography habits into perspective. Something I wouldn’t have thought possible a few months ago.