Shooting captivating video portraits – trends and tips

Video portraits are becoming increasingly popular on social media platforms. Portrait and fashion photographer Jaroslav Monchak gives his best advice for bringing your portraits to life via video.
A fashion shot taken by Jaroslav Monchak on a Canon EOS R5 showing a model looking over her left shoulder at the viewer. There is a bright red wall to the side and her shadow is being cast in red onto a wall behind her.

Canon Ambassador Jaroslav Monchak's fashion photography typically features strong lighting, usually from a single source, and creative use of colours. His signature style naturally carries over into his video reels too. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM lens at 1/125 sec, f/5 and ISO800. © Jaroslav Monchak

Fashions are constantly changing, and fashion and portrait photography are changing too. Instagram, a long-time favourite platform for photographers, has shifted much of its focus to video, particularly Instagram Reels, with the result that static image posts no longer have the reach they once had. Video portraits are a growing trend, helping content creators to go where the audiences are on social media platforms, as well as learn new skills and showcase them to potential clients.

Portrait, commercial and fashion photographer Jaroslav Monchak is one pro using his Canon camera to create mini movies, injecting the element of motion to help bring his subjects to life. Here, we offer insights into how Jaroslav makes a video portrait, with technical comments from Canon Europe Product Marketing Manager John Maurice.

What is a video portrait?

In many ways, the aim of video portraits is the same as that of stills – to capture the subjects' character and personality, to convey their story, and in a commercial shoot to showcase the client's product as well. When shooting a still portrait, you'll often ask your subject to move, turn and pose in different ways around a concept or story; in a video portrait, the movements and transitions themselves become part of the story, recording an additional dimension of the subject. Jaroslav's Reels typically run for just a few seconds but sometimes longer, with carefully-chosen music added to complement the atmosphere.

A different approach is to show a more "behind the scenes" element to your video portrait, including a wider shot of the setup and the equipment you are using so that viewers can see what goes into such a production. Purposely showing the lights you are using, or the make-up artist at work, can help tell the story. Jaroslav's clever fusion of video reels with behind-the-scenes footage of shoots in his photography school, Lighthouse, has helped him grow a huge following on social media.

Jaroslav has worked as a photographer for more than 15 years, and first tried shooting video when the Canon EOS 5D Mark II (now succeeded by the EOS 5D Mark IV) launched. "I like shooting video very much," he says. "It gives me the opportunity to bring to life the emotions and dynamics of my subject. I now film with the Canon EOS R5, which gives very good video quality."

So how does Jaroslav film a video portrait?

A technician wearing white gloves cleans the sensor of a Canon camera.

Do you own Canon kit?

Register your kit to access free expert advice, equipment servicing, inspirational events and exclusive special offers with Canon Professional Services.

1. Showcase your individual style

Much as when you're shooting stills, you control the style of each scene or sequence you film. Lighting, the way you direct your model, the make-up and the clothing are ultimately all up to you, albeit with professional collaborators such as make-up artists to bounce ideas off.

"I really like shooting videos in atmospheric locations with natural light, usually large windows," Jaroslav says, although he sometimes brings in a large softbox when needed to control the lighting.

When it comes to adding creative touches that work particularly well in video, such as making hair and clothing move, Jaroslav highly recommends using a fan. "It also adds a nice smoke effect for portraits," he says.

John notes that your camera's ability to shoot smooth slow-motion brings further creative options to explore. "Canon cameras offer 4K resolution at variable frame rates such as 60p, and in some cases 120p, allowing videographers to create slow-motion sequences," he says. "Portraiture is all about fleeting moments, so having the ability to slow down these scenes is hugely advantageous, plus mixing up real-time footage with slow-motion can vary the pace of a film, adding further interest."

"The movements of the model are very important in video portraits," Jaroslav adds. A model who is able to move gracefully can add an aesthetic quality to the footage. "If you can, I recommend using models who have experience of dancing, especially ballroom dancing," he says. "It makes it possible to get beautiful smooth movements on video."

2. Find your inspiration and prepare your kit

Before hitting the record button, think about what you are trying to achieve. What is the story you are trying to tell? How do you want the video to look? Once you have a concept to guide you, the shoot itself will be a collaborative effort between you and the model.

"I don't use storyboards for video portraits," Jaroslav explains, "but simply take inspiration from images or movies, and improvise on location."

In order to improvise, it's important to have the right kit to quickly adapt, so he usually shoots with two favourite lenses: the versatile Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM and the Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM. With the zoom lens you can go from a wide-angle composition showing more of the scene to a much tighter framing to isolate the subject. The wide maximum aperture of the 50mm lens lets in lots of light, making it easy to shoot in a variety of lighting conditions, while its light weight makes it comfortable to handle. Both of these lenses also enable you to create a very shallow depth of field, blurring the background and creating attractive bokeh from any artificial lighting.

A portrait taken by Jaroslav Monchak on a Canon EOS R5 with an impression of motion blur.

Although 50mm lenses produce a natural perspective widely regarded as comparable to that of the human eye, Jaroslav enjoys adding unexpected or creative elements to his portraits, hinting at more going on under the surface. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 50mm F1.2L USM lens at 1/15 sec, f/5 and ISO200. © Jaroslav Monchak

Fashion photographer Jaroslav Monchak holds a Canon camera up in portrait orientation to take footage of two models in cream clothes in front of him.

One feature of EOS cameras that is a huge help when capturing vertically filmed video reels is the vari-angle LCD. Not only are the screens high resolution, they're also much easier to use when capturing low or high angles that can be awkward to compose with a fixed rear screen. © Jaroslav Monchak

3. Take advantage of your camera features

Because movement is key in a video portrait and he wants to be free to move as well, Jaroslav usually does not use a tripod, or even a gimbal. "I just turn on image stabilisation in the camera," he says, trusting that the EOS R5's advanced In-Body Image Stabilisation (IBIS), working in tandem with its Movie Digital IS system and optical IS in stabilised lenses, will give him the steadiest footage possible even though he is shooting handheld.

John adds that the EOS R5's autofocus is a major advantage for video. "Autofocus is one of the most important features for videographers, enabling them to lock on to subjects and track them accurately without losing their focus point," he says. "Canon's Dual Pixel AF technology is ideal for video because every pixel in the sensor functions as both an image point and a focus point at the same time, so there's no compromise to focus performance or image quality in your footage. Canon's R&D team tested this system in all the lighting conditions videographers could face – low light, high contrast – and this is why it performs so well.

"Additionally, there are focus features found on the latest EOS cameras that portrait videographers especially will appreciate, such as the Face and Eye detection and tracking, which is critically important when videographers like Jaroslav are shooting with wide apertures such as f/1.4 or f/1.2, where exact focus is critical."

For maximum creative control over the appearance of your footage, John recommends filming with Canon Log, available on advanced hybrid and video cameras including the EOS R5. "Canon Log can be of huge benefit to videographers like Jaroslav because it extends the dynamic range captured inside the footage," he explains.

"The advantages of this are twofold. It enables greater exposure control in post-production, which, for example, will allow you to pull down highlights to recover detail. It also affords videographers greater tolerance for colour grading their footage, which is where users can put their own creative stamp on variables such as colour balance and levels of contrast for a final, stylised look."

A person wearing a black jacket, a ruffled cream shirt and a black hat leans back against an elaborately painted wall, one hand up to their face with fingers resting on their chin.

Javier Cortés discusses moving to motion

Fashion photographer and filmmaker Javier Cortés talks about his transition to video using Canon's EOS R System and shares five considerations for those keen to follow in his footsteps.
An image shot on a Canon EOS R5 by Jaroslav Monchak showing a model wearing a large white robe, sitting at a desk with a filing cabinet behind her and working on a laptop. The whole image is bathed in violet light.

Creative colour makes this otherwise everyday environmental portrait look surreal and otherworldly. Taken on a Canon EOS R5 with a Canon RF 28-70mm F2L USM lens at 54mm, 1/400 sec, f/3.2 and ISO1600. © Jaroslav Monchak

Fashion photographer Jaroslav Monchak shoots two women standing and sitting against a white wall, the whole room lit by the large window at the side.

Jaroslav enjoys the creative freedom of shooting handheld, relying on his Canon EOS R5's image stabilisation to keep his footage smooth. © Jaroslav Monchak

4. Refine your finished video portrait

Jaroslav tries to get the look he wants in-camera and keep his edits minimal. When he's after a particular look, he reveals, he uses the camera's standard Picture Styles.

"If you take care of good light, correct white balance and exposure when shooting, the EOS R5 produces very good colours and you don't need to edit them in colour editors at all," he says. He often uses just iMovie to assemble his final footage.

That said, however, finessing your footage in post-production can elevate the final video portrait, with editing and colour grading ensuring a narrative flow and a consistent look. John points out that many Canon cameras can deliver 4K resolutions, or even shoot in 8K in the case of the EOS R5 and EOS R5 C, which means that if you're not completely happy with the look of a sequence, you can change the framing in the edit. "This increased pixel count offers videographers benefits such as being able to adjust the composition and framing of the scene by zooming in or cropping, and the increased resolution means that quality isn't compromised."

This ease of cropping is particularly helpful if you prefer to shoot in landscape and crop your videos into a vertical aspect ratio in editing. If you choose to do this, use guidelines while you're filming to ensure perfect framing every time.

Don't forget the audio too – adding the right music track to your video portrait can help enhance the mood you are trying to convey, helping viewers to engage with it.

A close-up of a model's face, turned to the side. He has a neat moustache and beard and is wearing dark glasses. The background is dark, and the model is lit with blue and purple light.

Jaroslav's favourite lighting is natural light through a window, but he uses a mix of natural and artificial lighting as needed when capturing his still and video portraits. Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS R with a Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM lens at 1/125 sec, f/6.3 and ISO100. © Jaroslav Monchak

5. Share with your desired audience

Platforms that focus on video content include Instagram and TikTok, as well as YouTube's Shorts platform, which is geared towards shorter, vertical-style videos. You can of course post video elsewhere, such as on Facebook, LinkedIn, Vimeo or your own website.

For Jaroslav, the impact of including video on his social media has been huge, especially when it comes to Instagram Reels, where his videos regularly receive thousands of views.

One option that will help you share your footage more quickly is Canon's Camera Connect app. It is free of charge and can transform a videographer's workflow.

"The app enables connection from a Canon camera to a smart device such as a phone or tablet via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or even tethered if you wish, which is a good option for videographers as it can act as a second monitor," John explains. "Once connected, videographers can control their cameras remotely to a high degree, not only starting and stopping recording, but also adjusting settings such as aperture, shutter speed and ISO.

"Footage can then be transferred to the smart device to upload to social media channels, which will appeal to videographers recording live events, where it's important to share the footage quickly."

However you go about making your video portraits, they present an exciting opportunity to try out new techniques, and to engage with new audiences in a fun and creative way.

Matty Graham and Sarah Bakkland

Related Articles

Get the newsletter

Click here to get inspiring stories and exciting news from Canon Europe Pro