photo by Jennifer Peel

Annabel Williams takes two readers out on location and shows them how to arrange a simple portrait shoot with the minimum of fuss. Oliver Atwell joins them

Most of us have tried our hand at portraiture, whether it’s on holiday, at a wedding or during a stint of street photography. Yet portraiture can be a tricky genre. What we imagine to be a simple pursuit soon turns out to be a minefield of technical considerations, as well as a real test of just how confident we are as photographers. Directing people isn’t exactly the easiest task in the world.

‘Rather than working with “real” people today, we’re going to be using a couple of models,’ says Annabel. ‘The reason for this is that it gives us the freedom to lay down the basics of arranging a simple location-based portrait shoot. However, directing people is an important part of any successful portrait shoot, so we’ll also touch upon that today.’

Annabel will demonstrate to our two readers, Jenny and Izzy, how to set up their cameras, look for the best lighting, choose the correct background and how best to compose and frame their subject.

‘Whenever I lead a workshop, there are four key things that I always say are the most important aspects of portrait photography: rapport with subject; light; background; and equipment – in that order,’ says Annabel. ‘In many ways the camera is the least important thing that you need to take a picture. It needs to be set up simply so you don’t need to worry about it. Digital technology has made things so much easier for the portrait photographer that we don’t have to spend too much time messing around with the technical side and can instead focus on composing our shots.’

While it would be easy to imagine that shooting people on location is a vastly different discipline to shooting in a studio, the two share many common factors. Light reacts the same no matter where you are, and learning how to work in different conditions will significantly build your confidence as a portrait photographer.

‘Today, we’ll be using a variety of locations and you’ll see that light is never the same in two different places or even at two different times,’ says Annabel. ‘It doesn’t matter under what conditions you’re shooting – even a dreary day can give you interesting shots. You can always work around the light, no matter what it is.’

So, with that final thought in their minds, Annabel, Jenny and Izzy move off into the city (accompanied by their two models Chynna and Chi) to see what the streets have to offer.

Your AP Master…

Annabel Williams
Annabel Williams is one of the world’s leading portrait photographers. She is passionate about working in a very simple way with natural light and has forged a successful career as a photographer and tutor. Combining previously acquired skills as a special-needs teacher has allowed Annabel to understand the psychology of people and utilise those skills to get the best possible images of them. She is based in the UK and the USA. For more details, visit

The AP readers.

Isobel Murphy
Isobel is a keen photographer with a particularly strong interest in portrait imagery. She uses a Canon EOS 7D. ‘The workshop with Annabel was amazing,’ she says. ‘We had so much fun, but learned a lot too. Annabel has a very relaxed style of teaching, which helps a lot with the practical side of photography.’

Jennifer Peel
Jennifer is a keen portrait photographer and has been keen to attend an Annabel Williams workshop for a long time. She shoots using a Nikon D300. ‘It was a really good experience to watch Annabel shoot, and to see how she directs her models into poses to get the expression she wants,’ she says. ‘I’ve learned how to get a variety of shots by making small changes to the pose and changing position to get a different backdrop or angle.

Would you like to take part?

Every month we invite three to five AP readers to join one of our
four experts on a free assignment over the course of a day. The experts
are Tom Mackie (landscapes), Cathal McNaughton (documentary and photo
essays), Annabel Williams (location portraiture) and Andy Rouse
(wildlife). If you would like to take part, visit for details of how to apply.
Please remember to state which Masterclass you would like to attend and
make sure you include your name, address, email address, daytime
telephone number, some words about your work and three or four of your

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