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How to practice

Hi all,
I've been reading Neil's tutorial posts and am learning a lot and enjoying them, thanks Neil for doing them.

Whilst I can read as much as I can there comes a point when you need to stop reading and start taking photos to learn more. I guess the more photos you take the quicker you learn, just like any practice. Now while I have a very understanding wife she has better things to do than sit there for hours while I practice portrait shooting. So my question is how do you practice portraits? It's easy to practice landscapes....they're everywhere! I had the idea of sitting a very large cuddly toy on the table and practicing shooting that with different light set ups and flash settings. Not very glamorous, no front covers of Vogue but is that the kind of thing to do? I would appreciate any ideas or suggestions as to what others do.

Many thanks


  • When I was having trouble photographing people with brimmed hats, I purchased a mannequin head, painted it flesh color, and started firing away with different hats on it. I took a lighting seminar where they did the same thing, but the mannequin head was better quality. It also helps figuring out off-camera lighting techniques, as well as on-camera light modifiers when you absolutely have no place to bounce
  • There are children's hairdressing and makeup heads (with shoulders and long hair) that are cheap, and I'm sure would serve the job well.

    I sometimes use any fresh flowers in a vase we've got which I find is a nice subject to practice flash techniques with.
  • TrevTrev Moderator

    The mannequin head is a good idea, because you can then learn about different lighting effects, broad/short/Rembrandt/rim/high key/low key/etc. etc.

    Also have a small 'something' in the frame as a reference like a true black & white object, that will help with how your exposures are and your white balance is at the same time. (an old white terry towel is ideal also as it has rough texture - you don't want shiny/reflective whites - and being white will help both with exposure/WB.


  • Ask friends if they want free amazing portraits. You will be surprised how many will agree to the deal, especially female. Don't ask just the best looking friends, since most clients are not models. Different skin color, different body weight etc etc....just find a delicate way to tell them. 
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