portrait of a lady hiding behind leaves

How I Shoot | Creative Portraits

Burak Bulut Yildirim

When I started photography, I loved shooting portraits and telling the stories of the people in my life, and I still do after 17 years.

portrait of a man wearing a gold ring

© Burak Bulut | Sony α7R IV + FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA | 1/160s @ f/4.0, ISO 640

Presenting Your Subject

Portrait photographers need to think differently about how they approach their subjects. When you are a landscape photographer or a macro photographer, your subject remains the same. But a portrait photographers' work is about our subjects, and we must understand human behaviours. Whenever I shoot a person's portrait, I make it a conversation with them. I ask about their emotions, career, loves, sadness or hope. When I learn about their life, I can better portray them in the final composition and shot.

portrait of a lady wearing a large green gemstone around her neck

© Burak Bulut | Sony α7R IV + FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA | 1/125s @ f/4.0, ISO 400

Composing the Image

I currently photograph my subjects with a Sony Alpha 7R IV. The camera has an incredible 61-million-pixel resolution which is fantastic when I shoot commercial images and personal projects. The resolution is excellent when I need to crop into an image to reframe for a particular use, for an advertisement of different sizes or ratios. It allows me to be creative in my composition when editing the photos.

portrait of a lady with a gold painted hand

© Burak Bulut | Sony α7R IV + FE 50mm f/1.2 GM | 1/320s @ f/1.2, ISO 100


When I shoot portraits and fashion, one of the things I love about the camera is Eye AF. I always have the Eye AF feature switched on, so I can simply take my Alpha 7R IV out of my bag and start shooting right away. I’m then able to concentrate on making conversation and communicating with my subject, never worrying about the eyes being in focus.

portrait of a person with red and blue blurred lighting

© Burak Bulut | Sony α7R V + FE 85mm f/1.4 GM | 1/13s @ f/2.8, ISO 3200

Be Creative With Light

The most significant way I stay creative and exploring is by playing with light. For the last 17 years, I have been learning about light, and I am still learning and experimenting. I have many different types of lighting, including LED lights, flashlights and many light modifiers. Over the last couple of years, I have been working on a project using UV black lights using UV makeup, in which the makeup becomes the light itself as it only shows under UV light. I am always buying new types of light for my studio – experimenting with light can make all the difference and produce new, creative ways of shooting.

portrait of a lady half hidden in shadow

© Burak Bulut | Sony α7R III + FE 85mm f/1.4 GM | 1/200s @ f/2.8, ISO 100

The lights can help me tell the stories of my subjects. I took a shot of a model with what I would call a 'cold look', creating the photo with a Fresnel light that lit just the top half of her face. I wanted to take away some of the details in the image to study this part of her face. So, I created a contrast between the cool blue, almost black, background and the orange and yellow tones in her face and makeup. This created a feeling of contrast with both the colour and light.

black and white portrait of a lady looking sideways

© Burak Bulut | Sony α7R IV + FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA | 1/160s @ f/8.0, ISO 100

Lens Choice

I'm lucky as a Sony user to have many exciting and different types of lenses that I can use. I use a few 'go-to' lenses for my portrait shoots. The first is the FE 85mm f/1.4mm G Master lens. It produces such creamy bokeh when shooting with the aperture open. It is excellent when shooting outdoors, so I can separate the subject from the background.

Equally, I love my FE Sonnar T* 55mm f/1.8 ZA lens when I shoot full-length or mid-length portraits. It offers an excellent level of contrast and sharpness. Then the FE 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master is a versatile lens when I shoot outdoors or on location, and I have limited time. The zoom allows me to change the composition quickly.

side on portrait of a man praying

© Burak Bulut | Sony α7R IV + FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS | 1/125s @ f/4.0, ISO 500

One final, perhaps surprising lens that I use is the Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS lens. I use this lens a lot on commercial shoots as it is one of the sharpest lenses out there. I often use it when I take portraits, but also for when I need to take some close-up or macro shots, perhaps of makeup or jewellery. It is an excellent focal length for taking standard portrait shots and has a very close minimum focus distance, so I only need to step closer to get the detail shot.

Keep the Flow

Finally, another helpful feature is being able to wirelessly tether my Sony Alpha 7 IV. I transmit my camera screen to a tablet so the client or art director can see what I am shooting and offer live feedback. It helps to keep a photoshoot flowing, without needing to stop and review the images.

It’s practical features like these in Sony cameras that offer me creative freedom. If I could give one piece of advice for anyone looking to embark on a commercial portraits project, I’d tell them to know their light, but know their shadows better. Who is afraid of the shadow, does not know the light!

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Burak Bulut Yildirim

Burak Bulut Yildirim | Turkey

"My camera is my only tool that allows me to communicate in the language of light with the world and the people I photograph."

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