How to Take a Professional Portrait Picture With a Nokia N8

Ari Partinen is a design engineer at Nokia who recently participated in a photo shoot for the Nokia N8. In this post, he explains how the team created a professional quality portrait picture without any image enhancing software.
Over to you Ari!
A few weeks back I had the opportunity to join the Nokia marketing team on a photo shoot using nothing but the new Nokia N8.
For me this was a treat because I have worked with the device for the past two years, perfecting the image quality and field testing the device to its limits. Another reason I was so stoked to join the photo shoot was that, prior to joining the Nokia camera team, I worked as a freelance photographer and I’m still involved heavily in photography.
For this reason, I was massively interested to see what we could achieve with a mobile device. Things were especially interesting since the job description from the main man behind the shoot, Damian, was to deliver “professional” looking shots with no post processing allowed.

Personally I already knew the image quality that the Nokia N8 could deliver, but I also knew that great image quality alone doesn’t provide that professional look we were after. So in this post, I’m taking the opportunity to tell the story behind one of my favorite images from the shoot and explain what we did to achieve that image and why.
This is the shot I´m talking about.
So, the very first step (and some might say the most important) in taking a great portrait is to find an interesting looking location. We managed to find a pool on top of this 47 story hotel and, I have to say, the tips of the skyscrapers behind the pool make a rather interesting backdrop for a portrait.
So we went into the pool and started testing how the images came out without any tricks or special camera settings. The results were pretty nice but several rules we were given of what makes a “professional looking portrait” were broken.
One of the most important shortcomings was that the face wasn’t the first thing you notice when you look at the picture.
This broke a good rule of thumb for a portrait, that the face should be the brightest part of the image so it’s the first thing you notice. However in this case, it’s the bright background that draws the interest instead of the face of the girl.
Also, often the background comes out brighter than the face, which causes a loss of detail in the background due the limited dynamic range of all camera systems. Because of this, cameras have to make a compromise between the correct exposure on the model and the background, often ending up with a face that’s too dark and a background that’s too bright.
People say that eyes are the mirror to one’s soul – and this is true also in photography. Whether we realise it or not, we always look to the eyes of the subject when looking portraits, so it’s important to bring out the eyes of the model. Often this is where Photoshop kicks in, but in our case this was not an option, so we started to experiment with fill-in-flash.
This worked extremely nicely and provided some very nice unexpected surprises. The main improvement with fill-in-flash was that the face became brighter than the background. Also, we were able to get the proper exposure for both, which correctly exposed those nice looking clouds above the city.
This is one of the main differences separating portrait photography from, let say, normal sceneries. In portrait you always have to realize that, in practice, you have two different exposures in single frame. You use the exposure time to expose the background and the flash to expose the face.
Of course when using a mobile device those cannot be individually adjusted, but when using the face tracking and the flash, the phone takes care of this by itself. So in practice, the mobile device uses the flash to bring out the face and exposure time to bring out the background. If the background is still too bright, you can tone it down by manually adjusting the exposure with exposure compensation. Half a stop down should do the trick.
Now we can also see how the eyes comes out.
A small but crucially important detail is that flash also creates very nice catch light to the eyes. By catch light, I’m talking about that tiny little twinkle that we can now see in her eyes, which brings a more lively feeling to them. The surface of the water also provided a very nice surprise, creating this nice reflection highlighting the eyes even more.
So, pretty solid results already. But we still wanted to take this a little bit further towards the professional look we were after. This would have been rather easy to achieve with lots of external lights and hired helping hands but unfortunately we didn´t have the budget for those. Also, we wanted to keep the setup simple enough so that every user would be able to recreate the setup if so chosen.
So we decided to experiment with a reflector. In practice this means a piece of white cloth stretched with wire to a round shape. This is then used to reflect some of the sunlight back to the face of the model, and creates extra indirect light which gives that “professional” look.
A good starting point for using indirect light is to place the reflector 45 degrees to the side and 45 degrees up. This tends to create a nice, flattering light which allows you again to see that small twinkle in her eyes.
So, to sum up, what was needed to create this amazing picture?
• Interesting location
• Little bit of reflected extra light
• Locking the exposure to the face using face tracking
• Interesting framing and slight tilt in the frame.
• Nothing fancy, nothing secret, and definitely no Photoshop.
So what did I take from the shoot about the Nokia N8?
I learned that, yes, the N8 is capable of producing killer shots. You just have to go out there and get creative with it.