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Creative Portraits: Digital Photography Tips and Techniques 1st Edition

31 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0470623268
ISBN-10: 0470623268
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Product Description
Go beyond the basic rules of photography to capture stunning portraits. Portrait photography is a vital topic for photographers of every level of experience, from amateur to professional. Written by renowned photographer Harold Davis, this inspirational book encourages you to define our own photographic style and capture stunning, creative, and unique portraits.

You'll discover tips and techniques for "breaking the rules" of basic digital photography so that you can go beyond the fundamentals such as composition, lighting, and exposure in order to create memorable and incomparable portraits.

  • Explores the most common subject of most photographers-people-and explains when, why, and how to forgo the fundamentals to capture memorable portraits
  • Encourages you to define your own unique photographic style and offers information and inspiration to help you do so
  • Delves into a variety of creative techniques that you can use when exploring ways to take lively and stunning portraits

Illustrated with Harold Davis's striking portrait photography, Creative Portraits will both inform and inspire you.

The Psychology of Portraiture
Amazon-exclusive letter from author Harold Davis

Dear Amazon Reader:

As I began writing Creative Portraits: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques, I realized that the art of portraiture is radically different from other kinds of photography.

Photographic technique describes the tools available to accomplish the photographer’s goals, in other words, how the photo is made. Technique matters in portraiture—as it does with every kind of photography. But in portraiture, the why becomes the driving force behind the photograph. How the photo is made is still important, but without clarity about goals, the results will not satisfy.

When I am photographing a flower, I don’t need to consider the feelings of the flower. But making a portrait involves two people: the photographer and the subject. The attitude, psychology, and intentions of both parties are crucial to a successful photo.

Creative portraiture is driven by goals, and understanding those goals is a complex issue. For any given portrait session, a complete understanding of the psychology needs to take into account the goals of the photographer and why the portrait is being made. These may not be the same goals as those of the portrait subject who may want anything ranging from a glamour rendition to a headshot, or may not even have initiated the portrait session at all. Furthermore, these potentially competing goals have to be resolved within the framework of the personal interaction between photographer and subject.

Truly creative portrait photography is a partnership between subject and photographer in which neither can be quite sure what will happen, but both must trust the other to obtain good results. The psychology of this partnership walks a thin line between daring to tell the truth and remaking the subject as more attractive than they really are.

Because psychology is so important, I start Creative Portraits with an analysis of why people sit for portraits, and why photographers choose to shoot them. Along these lines, I take a look at capturing character—and discuss how appearance can, and cannot, reveal who someone really is. The bottom line: you can’t really photograph people well unless you understand them and their emotions.

Understanding your subjects and their attitudes towards being photographed is the first hurdle. But without an arsenal of techniques it would be hard to achieve truly effective portraits. In Creative Portraits I show you the techniques you need to photograph people in every environment, and how to light them at home and in the studio.

Ultimately, Creative Portraits like the other books in the Creative series is an idea book. I hope you take the ideas I present back to your own work and use them to create striking and interesting portraits of your friends, family, professional models, and perfect strangers—in short, everyone!

Best wishes in photography,

Harold Davis

Portrait Examples from the Author

Hurrell Lighting

George Hurrell was a glamour photographer working in Hollywood from the 1930s on. Many of Hurrell’s most famous photos were created using uncoated lenses that would be considered flawed by modern standards. Hurell used lighting equipment that created harsh light—and required his models to hold still for long periods of time—these were hot lights, not strobes.

In this shot, I used studio strobes to simulate the Hurrell effect—updated with more softness than you would see in the early Hurrell portraits. The main ingredient was to use a key light positioned above and pointed down at the model’s face. This generated a “butterfly” shadow—so named because the shadow is shaped like a butterfly—beneath the model’s nose.

Hurrell made contact prints directly from 8 x 10 film shot in a view camera, typically at long shutter speeds (so the models had to be posed to keep still during the exposure process). Uncoated lenses produced halo effects, and the film stock added halation—increased glow on the highlights. The film was underexposed and overdeveloped, leading to dramatic high contrasts between lights and darks. To partially recreate this effect, I underexposed by about 2 f-stops when I made this portrait.

Since Hurrell’s work was monochromatic—and made using equipment and chemistry from a specific historical era that led to the anomalies I’ve described—I wanted to convert this photo to black and white and give it a look closer to something that Hurrell might have done.

In Photoshop, I simulated Hurrell’s black and white tones and contrast by combining a High Contrast Red preset Black & White adjustment layer with the Nik Silver Efex Antique Plate 1 filter.

100mm, 1/160 of a second at f/16 and ISO 100, hand held

Katie Rose

If you’ve ever photographed a toddler, you’ll know that they are constantly in motion—except when they are asleep. My daughter Katie Rose is no exception to this rule. If you don’t want to end up with photos that appear out of focus because of motion blur when shooting small kids, you have to chart a strategy that deals with their propensity for staying in motion.

One idea is to boost the ISO so you can use a fast shutter speed. This is the best approach for location and environmental photography of toddles. Another tactic is to use strobe equipment in the studio. If you are using a studio setup, you need to be prepared to track your pint-sized subjects and snap the photo on their time—not yours.

In this photo, Katie wandered around the studio, off and on the seamless paper background. I lit the white, seamless background with an 800 watt strobe modified using a soft box, and a friend followed Katie’s motion with a smaller strobe unit, hand held on the side opposite the soft box.

Getting down to Katie’s level, I tracked her motion with my camera, and waited for an ideal moment to capture her in this high-key portrait. I intentionally post-processed the resulting capture to make the background seem slightly overexposed and even whiter than it would look normally.

52mm, 1/160 of a second at f/13 and ISO 100, hand held

Model Bride

I photographed this bride in a dark underpass, positioned so that a shaft of light illuminated her in contrast to the surrounding shadows.

I wasn’t worried about getting a great deal of depth-of-field. All I wanted was to get the bride’s face in focus. At the same time, I wanted to make sure that the background shadows seemed rich and black, and cloaked the details of the tunnel. The point was to contrast the dark background with the radiant white dress, the expression on the bride’s face, and the bridal bouquet. So I chose as fast a shutter speed as possible with the lens I was using (1/250 of a second) and focused precisely on the bride’s face. As she smiled, I snapped the photo.

50mm, 1/250 of a second at f/4.8 and ISO 200, hand held


"Harold Davis's Creative Photography series is a great way to start a photography library"---PhotoFidelity

expert guide to the essential tips and tricks for taking better portrait images. It s easy to pick through at leisure. (Digital Camera Essentials, October 2010).
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (August 16, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470623268
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470623268
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 0.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,060,037 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

For Harold Davis, a typical day's (or night's) work might involve photographing star trails from the top of Half Dome, investigating the close-up patterns of early morning dew drops with his camera, or finding a new location for photographing the Golden Gate Bridge.

Harold Davis is an award-winning professional photographer. He is the author of more than 30 books, including Photographing Flowers: Exploring Macro Worlds with Harold Davis (Focal Press), Creative Black & White: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques (Wiley),Creative Composition: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques (Wiley), Creative Night: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques (Wiley), Creative Close-Ups: Digital Photography Tips & Techniques (Wiley), The Photoshop Darkroom: Creative Digital Post-Processing (Focal Press) and Practical Artistry: Light & Exposure for Digital Photographers (O'Reilly). Harold writes the popular Photoblog 2.0,

Harold is a popular presenter on digital photography topics. His workshops are often sold out.

Harold is well known for his night photography and experimental ultra-long exposure techniques, use of vibrant, saturated colors in landscape compositions, and beautiful creative floral imagery. He is inspired by the flowers in his garden, hiking in the wilderness, and the work of great artists and photographers including M.C. Escher, Monet, van Gogh and Edward Weston.

Harold lives in Berkeley, California with his wife Phyllis Davis, a graphic designer and writer who frequently collaborates with Harold on book projects. They have four children.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on August 26, 2010
Format: Paperback
To say that Creative Portraits: Digital Photography Tips and Techniques is an interesting read would be a gross understatement. The book is written in a conversational manner - as if you are with Harold and he, being a more experienced, older brother, is sharing his tips for making great portraits. For each aspect of portraiture it is as if he says - "Look, you gotta attend to this aspect - and - see, in this picture, how I do it".

The book touches upon all aspects of portraiture -- lights, lenses, people, models, props, digital touch-up, self-portraits, etc -- without being too technical. Even though you could write a book about each one of these topics separately (and I am sure there are such books), Harold's book stands out in that it brings everything together.

As an amateur photographer, I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book and I have already become a more aware of and better at portraits. I recommend the book for both its simple language and excellent range of photographs.
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17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Jack H. Tasoff on August 19, 2010
Format: Paperback
Mr. Davis loves people. Not true. He is passionate about people. His passion is infectious and I have been infected.

Not a technical book, that is not technical beyond boredom, though all the needed technique is discussed. Not a table top, though the photographs are exquisite, and it will end up on my table. Not a romance novel as many such books are a love affair by the author with himself. Not a formal portrait book, though portraiture is thoroughly discussed. It is of the love affair between the photographer and his lens with the subject, the photographic acquisition of the ideal.

Styles range from the dynamic on the cover to the intimacy of the family, especially his daughter Katie Rose, to the pride of a bride (sorry).

Practical, inspiring, and, even at times, sensual in the nicest of ways.

Buy it for the text. Buy it for the pictures. Buy it for the technical caption. Buy it and I believe that you, too, will be infected.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Chris Walt on August 30, 2010
Format: Paperback
I own too many technical books. Harold Davis's Creative Portraits is different. He encourages the photographer to interact with the subject and present both character and emotion. This is not easy, but I have found it critical to portraiture that speaks; that goes beyond the bland; that gets to the heart of what a portrait is person; your subject, client or model. Reveal a bit of yourself, what you want as a photographer, and you can reveal the heart of your subject. The goal is a portrait that interests viewers by touching on both our common humanity and our unique ways of expressing it.

This is a worthy read.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By K. Fancher on September 2, 2010
Format: Paperback
When asked about my interest in photography, I usually tell people that it is the marriage of technology and creativity that appeals to me. Creative Portraits, the latest in a series of books from photographer Harlod Davis, reminded me of the human / personal side of photography. As much as the book has valuable tips for composing, lighting, and processing great portraits, it has extensive tips on how we as photographers interact with our subjects and get the best performance out of them to create portraits that tell a story about our subjects.

I often shoot portraits of kids and families and I found the sections on these subjects to be very helpful. Many of my previous issues with portraits of kids are addressed with helpful tips, suggestions and examples.

This is a comprehensive book that provides valuable information on many different aspects of portrait photography. I found the book to have answers or suggestions for just about anything I could think of related to portrait photography. In summary, the book is well written, provides examples and illustrations of key concepts and is packed with valuable tips and information.

Disclosure: Although I have previously purchased and enjoyed other books by Harold Davis, I was provided a complimentary (free) review copy of this title. I don't think the free copy influenced my opinion in any way.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By lynne hoover on August 19, 2010
Format: Paperback
Whether you are a professional or serious amateur or even a novice photographer, you will gain much from this outstanding book. The author helps the reader to see and compose a great portrait and teaches one how to telegraph the important aspects of that moment to the viewer.
The book explains how you can best select the proper camera settings and then utilize various lighting techniques for indoor, studio and outdoor shots.
The author also goes into wonderful detail on how backgrounds and the proper selection of such items as clothing and makeup can greatly enhance your pictures.
There is also a whole section on workflow and retouching techniques along with software suggestions for the post processing of your work.
I felt so inspired after reading this book that I could not wait to grab my camera and try out the variety of new settings, lightings, backgrounds and other ideas that I gathered from this wonderful book. The book can inspire and improve your creativity, it did for me!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Craig Cunningham on October 19, 2011
Format: Paperback
I found "Create Portraits - Digital Photography Tips & Techniques" to be a book that was well organized, beautifully illustrated and published, with a casual voice that drew me into thought and will have me referring to this book frequently in the future.

It is not formulaic or a cookbook approach to creating portraits. Instead Davis went into a comprehensive overview of most facets facing a portrait photographer in an approachable style, and I believe the book has many tips and techniques to make it a highly recommended purchase for a novice or experienced photographer wanting to strengthen their portrait making skills.

Example photos

Harold follows the adage that much can be learned by studying other photographers' images, and where this book really shines is his text acompanying the photos. He provides ample EXIF data (shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and lens focal length), which many users want (I'm ambivalent on the presentation of settings). What I found most useful were his notes on what he was trying to acheive and what went into his thought process.

Many of the portraits presented in the book are stunningly beautiful, and even those that didn't "grab me" personally were technically excellent and show Davis's professional aesthetics.


Davis begins his examination of portrait photography by discussing elemental topics that will benefit any photographer that doesn't realize (or maybe has forgotten) that preparing for a portrait session requires some forethought and deciding on one's intentions and goals prior to the session.

Some of the early topics he covers includes: the kinds of portraits; why people sit for a portrait; the psychology of portraiture; understanding people; and capturing emotion.
Read more ›
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