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Photography Tips for the 35mm Portraits Planning Workflow (Composition Bonus Tips)

35mm has been used by many photographers for environmental portraits. The advantage of the 35mm especially for the F1.4 is to have the right amount of bokeh and still let your audience understand the environment context. Today, I am going to talk about how to plan your 35mm portraits shoots, with some composition tips toward the end of the article.

Key Points

  • Brainstorming the 35mm agenda framework - high level.

  • Scouting for available background.

  • Color palette planning.

  • Composition tips.

Which 35mm did I use for this portrait shoot?

Two weeks ago, I had rented out the FE35mm F1.4 GM online from the I personally own the Zeiss 35mm F1.4 for three years already, and this rental helped me understand the differences these two lenses.

If you are interested to see the differences between these two lenses, check out this video below:

Brainstorming the 35mm agenda framework - high level

It depends on your photography style, some people like to plan out all the steps with controlled environment, and some people like to go with the flow finding background as they explore. For me, I like to have an hybrid approach - to have a general direction and go with the flow within the decided framework/theme.

Here is first example of my 35mm agenda planning:

Topic: Street Style Warm Summer Portraits

  1. Sunset lighting.

  2. City streets with cars in the background.

  3. Walking motion shots.

  4. Using roads and building as leading lines.

And here is a second example of my 35mm planning:

Topic: Ocean Beach Life Style Portraits

  1. Flowy dresses and walking on the beach.

  2. Low angle shots with blue sky in the background.

  3. Sitting on the sand.

  4. Movement shots near the waves.

  5. Using some dark rocks as background to stand out the white dress.

As you can see, the brainstorming helps me create an outline of what I want to shoot based on each topic. Also, as a collaboration exercise, you can communicate with your model on choosing a topic that is exciting to both of you.

Scouting for available background

After you and your model decided your common framework to collaborate with, the next step is to scout the available background that match your theme/framework.

There are couple actions you can do:

  1. Drive around town to explore new areas you haven't shot before.

  2. Using Google Maps street views.

I want to show some examples of how I use the google street maps to mark down the location that matches my topic.

Topic: Ocean Beach Life Style Portraits

Costal highway with beach in the back
Costal highway with beach in the back

Beach dark rocks as background
Beach dark rocks as background

Sand dune with blue sky and cloud as background
Sand dune with blue sky and cloud as background

Sunset hour with ocean view
Sunset hour with ocean view

The advantage of using the google map street view to scout is that it can be very efficient since you don't have to spend time driving around multiple locations. After getting all four locations, I will send these screenshots to my model to get some feedback on the vibes.

Color palette planning

Once the location scouting finishes, I will put these screenshots into Palette Cam App to analyze the potential color palettes that might match the theme.

Palette Cam App
Palette Cam App

Example of my Palette Cam Analysis:

In this example above, I chose some colors from the location scout screenshot I captured earlier. After the analysis, I decide to choose white as the main outfit color #fdfdfd since it is nice to work against the sky blue and sand brown. I will send this color palette analysis to my model to see if she likes the idea or not.

Composition tips for 35mm

Next, I am going to show couple examples for the 35mm portraits composition.

Model: lily.kirova | FE 35mm F1.4, ISO 100, 1/1000s
Model: lily.kirova | FE 35mm F1.4, ISO 100, 1/1000s

As you can see in the photo above, the shadow line starts from the lower left corner and ends at the model's body acting as a leading line. The white roof, on the other hand, leads from upper left to the center of the image. Because in 35mm you can still clearly see the lines in the background, leading line composition will help guide the viewers to the portraits naturally.

Model: lily.kirova | FE 35mm F1.4, ISO 100, 1/1250s
Model: lily.kirova | FE 35mm F1.4, ISO 100, 1/1250s

This second example is about the composition of colors. I saw the similar color of pink roses in the park. It would be a nice match for her outfit. There is a slight arc shade of the flowers in the background, which 35mm leaves some context of the environment nicely. If it's an 85mm F1.4 lens in this case, the flower will be blurred out as bokeh. Because of the arc shade of the flowers, when the model look to her lower right, her line of sight aligns with the pink line of roses behind her.

Model: lily.kirova | FE 35mm F1.4, ISO 100, 1/1000s
Model: lily.kirova | FE 35mm F1.4, ISO 100, 1/1000s

One thing to keep in mind for the door composition is that I won't let the top edge of the line cross the head because it will distract the portrait. In the photo above, I position the head in between two ventilation windows so that it creates a balance for the portrait.

In summary, 35mm portraits have their own characteristics. Make sure to do some brainstorming with your model before the photoshoot and create a general theme/framework that you both like. When it comes to compose a 35mm portrait, make sure to have a balance of leading lines and color balance.

Thanks for reading :) More photos will be uploaded in my Instagram account: @caliallstaring.


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