A new blog! Here goes…

A little while ago I spent some time with Robert Billington taking portraits of a young family.

Robert is a lovely bloke and has been a professional photographer for ages, has published several books and has work in the National Gallery.  His books include many portraits and scenes from around Sydney. He now has a shop and studio in Berrima in the NSW Southern Highlands.

We started by talking about portraiture and looking at books of well known portrait photographers and painters. Robert talked about his techniques for portraiture. The “studio” we used was a tiny corner of his shop, with a window in each wall. One wall is cream and the other one black. We experimented with blocking off one window or the other, and placing reflectors in different places. No lights or flashes, no backdrops, all very low key.  The weather was overcast which gave a lovely soft light.

Robert relies on getting the best shot in camera – he does minimal post-processing – so we paid a lot of attention to exposure and to framing the shots then leaving the camera set up. I used my wireless remote control to fire the shutter.

These are some of the first results:

boy_1_1024 family_1024

We then cleared a shop display off a table and sat the baby on it. (Mum leaned out of the frame with her hand ready behind!)  In this one I used PhotoShop to further lighten the side baby’s face which was in too deep shadow.


Next, we went outside. Again, very low-tech: no reflectors, taking advantage of natural light and shadow.

boy_2_1024 boy_3_1024

And finally, we found some props and costumes to put the children at ease. Robert also set up a small stool and a huge velvet cloth. These shots were taken on the verandah of the shop later in the afternoon.


boy_4_1024 baby_2_1024


So, what did I learn? All of this:

  • Aim for the best composition and exposure in-camera, post-processing cannot save a failed image
  • Read the light intensity accurately
  • Use a slow speed film/ISO and a tripod for best quality
  • With the camera on a tripod, move away from behind it so you connect visually with your subject
  • Prepare! Have an arrangement in mind well before you start and set it up early. Bring the people into position for the minimum time, compose the shot then pause for a moment so they can relax into their position. Then take the shot.
  • An extensive (and expensive) studio set-up is not necessary for good portraits – use natural light and reflectors
  • Outdoor shots work best when natural shade blocks off scattered light from the sky, and the light becomes more directional.

Thanks, Robert!

Post navigation

2 comments for “Portraits

  1. January 28, 2016 at 9:08 am

    A nice read and some lovely photos. Good to see you have a blog! x

    • David Carroll
      January 29, 2016 at 8:39 pm

      Thank you for the positive comments.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *