• Paul Carver Photography

Capturing Character

Portrait of a lady in black and white

Whilst young attractive models are great to capture and provide your photography with vast amounts of creativity and life, there is something about older people that the youth can not deliver; character. OK OK, before you shout at the screen and banish my words, of course youth have character but I am talking about a life experience. Older people have lived and experienced life more than the youth, they have stories to tell and they have generally surpassed their egocentric personality.

I enjoy capturing (I prefer the word ‘capturing’ over ‘shooting’ as the latter just sounds violent!) older people as they tend to be more patient, relaxed and inquisitive (again not saying all youth are the opposite). Whilst I am preparing the stage you can have a good chin wag and a brew and listen to some great stories from your model and reminds me of eating toast and drinking tea round my nannies when I was a little one.

Whenever I capture an elderly person I want my photos to show a life lived, I want to see detail, ruggedness, wisdom and their imperfections. I do not want my photos to be blemish free, far from it in fact they should show everything about the individual. These individuals have lived through a lot and their stories deserved to be listened to and respected, some say “a photo is more than a thousand words”, if this is to be true, then the photo needs to tell a story not a few chapters.

Older people tend to have fantastic definition in their skin, they have layers, wrinkles, blemishes etc. They provide a photographer with so much to work with and due to their general slow paced approach, they allow you to take your time and think about the shot more. If you are lucky enough to find a willing model who is confident in front of the camera I urge you to cease the moment and practice with them.

The photo below is Maggie, a lady who still works and has a zest for life, she has stories in abundance and is well traveled. Maggie has experienced things some people will never in their life time and is such an interesting person to photograph. In my image below, I focused on the detail in her skin and the look in her eyes of pure wisdom.

When I captured Maggie, I used my Sony A77ii, Sigma 50mm f1.4 art lens (amazing portrait lens), Sony speed light and a location we were both content with. I already had a vision of my final image, so background was of no concern to me, so feel free to use a natural setting or a photographic backdrop of your taste. The Sigma lens is a prime, so no zooming allowed and you will need to get close to your subject. I shot this image at around f3.5 which is a few stops from its most open (f1.4) and will provide you with a sharper image.

I used a basic black background in my shoot and enhanced this with Photoshop as if Maggie was coming out of a shadow. Anyone who knows me will tell you how much I enjoy working with shadows and blacks, and I wanted this image to be rich in contrast. Make sure your subject is well lit but don’t overuse the speed light, just enough light to show the facial tones and textures. You could use a speed light or a fixed studio light \ torch etc. be creative and experiment different light sources.

Shoot at a decent speed and make sure it is equal to or just above your focal length, in my case I used a 50mm lens, so I shot at 60–100/1. Unlike children elderly people will keep still for longer and high speeds are not always needed. If you can use a tripod then do so, as this will provide more stability and a sharper image. Make sure to check your metering, when shooting portraits I tend to used a central point metering mode as I want the camera to measure the light on the model’s face and not the background.

When you are all setup, shoot and enjoy the experience and get to know your model. Always keep in mind who you are capturing and think about their needs, do they need a drink or the loo etc. Older people like children may struggle to keep still for long periods so allow them time to get relaxed and re-position themselves.

Most importantly, have fun and learn.

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