When you shoot portraits, you need to pay careful attention to a mix of details. Look for distracting items in the background. Try not to crop out extremities in awkward places. Use the appropriate pose for the subject. Lighting is always important; how should you light this person? One way to simplify this confusing litany of photographic rules? Eliminate some of the distractions by going in close. The face of your subject holds the viewer's interest and conveys the most expression. It can tell its own story.
A close-up portrait, however, has pitfalls to avoid. Focus is critical. Unless you are trying to create some special effect, you need to keep the eyes sharp. People naturally look there first. Generally, you want to use the fastest shutter speed possible, eliminating any camera or subject movement. Vibration reduction in the latest cameras is a great feature, but don't tempt fate - use shutter speed to your advantage.
Pay attention to your depth of field to keep the important parts of the face in focus. One of the easiest ways to increase your shutter speed is to open the aperture wide, but this narrows your depth of field. If you are using a lens that requires you to get close to fill the frame, you are also narrowing your depth of field. It is better to use a lens with a longer focal length to fill the frame, but these lenses require plenty of light. Long lenses that don't require more light are available for all digital SLRs, but they can be more expensive than the camera you're using. Longer lenses also help you avoid the distortion that occurs when you get in very close with a wide-angle lens.
The human face has fine details and textures that give us our unique appearance. However, some your subjects will not want you to capture all those in a close-up view. Babies and young children obviously have the smoothest skin, but lines and wrinkles can convey character and evoke emotions of their own in your work. Don't avoid close-ups of grandpa and grandma, but avoid harsh lighting that will emphasize the wrinkles and lines.
Close-ups are a good place to practice your retouching skills, so that you can erase blemishes that might embarrass your subject. Retouching with a light hand can enhance even the beautiful, young model. But use caution here. Smoothing out all the wrinkles from an older person may turn the portrait into an image that looks completely unnatural. Some people are offended by retouching, so make sure you don't do so much touch-up that you change someone's natural appearance. If the retouching is immediately apparent, you've overdone it.
Facial expressions change at a rapid pace. Shoot as many photos as you can to capture a wide variety, especially with children. Since we no longer have to worry about the price of film, there is no reason to purposely limit your shots. Go have fun shooting close-up portraits.
Have a happy Thanksgiving holiday. We'll be back with more next week.