Alpha 7R IV Review: Picture-perfect Portraits with Pilar Bonnin
By Pilar Bonnin
Mastering portrait photography is something of a feat. It is one genre that goes beyond a photographer’s technical aptitude, such as getting the hang of the right gear, the camera settings, compositions, lighting, and more.
In fact, portrait photography demands a certain extent of interpersonal skills. From connecting with your subject to getting children to sit still for a shot, there are so many things to keep in mind.
Shedding some light on this intricate craft is Philippines-born photographer Pilar Trigo Bonnin. Renowned as a wedding, portrait, and fashion photographer, the brunette holds more than a decade’s worth of shooting experience, and has worked as an editor for numerous publications such as Photography Magazine and Lonely Planet Philippines. Now, she divides her time between various ad campaigns, pursuing portrait projects that she shoots in the studio and on location, and imparting photography knowledge through workshops.
Capturing souls with the Alpha 7R IV
Right off the bat, Pilar enthuses over the capabilities of the Alpha 7R IV and how it exceeds her own photography needs and wants.
She goes on to suggest that at 61 megapixels of incredible detail and 10 frames per second, Sony’s Alpha 7R IV proves to be suitable for various genres of photography.
In portraits, it is crucial for the eyes to be in total sharpness—a challenge Pilar consistently faces for moving subjects. With the Sony Alpha 7R IV, she no longer has this problem. She also breezes through shooting in low light situations, thanks to the camera’s high ISO that delivers beautiful grain without distracting from the image’s essence.
Other features that Pilar adores are the in-built image stabilization for consistently sharp images, and the ergonomic design of the camera for shooting longer in total comfort.
“For photographers like me who like to use prime lenses, turning on the APS-C mode increases the distance of the lens while still shooting at 26 megapixels,” she adds.
Her favorite portrait lens
You can tell how seriously Pilar treats her craft when she reveals that she goes through several lenses during her portrait shoots.
But if she had to choose a favorite portrait lens, it would be the FE 85 mm F1.4 GM. She explains:
“It boasts versatility to shoot from full length to head and shoulder portraits. At its full opening of 1.4, this lens creates a creamy bokeh. Combined with the incredible eye focus of the Alpha 7R IV, moving subjects are tack sharp. Lastly, the weight of the lens at 820 grams makes it easy to hand-hold for long periods of time.”
How Pilar captures beautiful portraits
Pilar is very particular when it comes to lighting in her portraits. Attention to detail is also important. Here is Pilar's personal commentary on her portrait-taking process.
Alpha 7R IV | FE 135mm F1.8 GM | 135 mm | 1/50 sec | F1.8 | ISO 2500
1. Quality of light
I wanted a soft wraparound light, so I positioned the model in a shaded area where natural light was coming in for the added touch of beautiful highlights.
I wanted to focus on the model’s natural beauty, so I kept styling to a minimum. I removed unnecessary jewelry and only kept her earrings and a flower behind her ear for an added touch of the tropics.
As I wanted a tight portrait of the model’s face, I positioned her shoulders so that her face was angled slightly away from the camera. I avoided having both shoulders facing forward towards the camera to achieve this angle.
Remember that the background can make or break a photo. Choose wisely to complement the subject or story. Any unnecessary distraction will remove attention from the subject.
5. Gear selection
I used Sony’s Alpha 7R IV for this shoot for its amazing image quality, especially its Eye AF that even works in low light—this is a crucial feature for every portrait photographer.
My lens for this shoot was FE 135 F1.8 GM. Even though the sky was overcast and the sun about to set, I was able to maximize the quality of this beautiful lens by setting it to a full opening of F1.8, the shutter speed to 1/50 sec, and ISO 2500. Otherwise, this image would have been almost impossible to achieve, given the low light and settings used.
Alpha 7R IV | FE 85 mm F1.4 GM | 1/1600 sec | F1.4 | ISO 2000
1. Quality of light
For this photo, the sky was overcast, which created a very diffused, soft light. The sun was about to set on the other side of the cove, which created a bluish tone to the image—something that I used to my advantage to achieve this stunner.
I wanted to create a simple yet impactful image, so I kept the styling to a minimum.
I made the model pose so that she’s angled slightly away from the camera to draw viewers to her face.
4. Gear selection
I used Sony’s Alpha 7R IV for this shoot, paired with the FE 85 mm F1.4 GM. The lens was at a full opening of F1.4 with ISO 200 for the purpose of making the photo a little grainy for an artistic look.
5. Have fun!
A portrait session is creating a story with one's face. Connecting with and directing your subject should be fun and lighthearted. Always call your subject by their name when giving instructions and praise them for a job well done!