I love taking portraits and I am excited to share these 5 favourite portrait tips. I still get a tingle of excitement and nervousness before the shoot. What will they be like? Will I be able to do it? Will I get what I want?
The thing about taking photos of people is that it is a totally organic process, there are emotions and expectations involved, moods, weather, light and things that come up on the day so even though you can plan in advance (and I do) you also need to be willing to let go of ideas on the day.
Here’s what I am always looking at when shooting portraits:
Yes, dear folks even though I have a human being in front of me I am always considering the ‘shape’ they are making and how I can make it more interesting. I ask my subject to turn in increments to get a better ‘shape’ that is more interesting or flattering or works better with the light. It can be these micro-movements that make all the difference in a photo.
You can see in the above photos my outlines as to what was catching my eye.
- THE LIGHT
If you have interesting light almost anything can work so most times I start with the light. Then I see what I can do, what if I move her/him away from the light or turn them slightly, what happens? Sometimes it can be the smallest pop of light like a spotlight that can create an interesting effect and then I add some of the other tricks in my bag to take it to the next level.
Sometimes it’s subtle, like the shot above where it is just a pop on her face but because of the dark background, it becomes interesting. In the other shots, on the left, I looked to a lamplight to create the backlit effect in her hair and on the right the direct window light on him created a dramatic effect and the background became non-existent.
If I am not starting with the light it’s because a background has caught my eye or would work best with what I have in mind. When I start with a background I will ask my subject to jump in to see what’s happening with the light and where it is falling. I will move them around from left to right watching how the light is falling on their face and whether it can work.
In the above shot, I loved the idea of having the entire theatre behind the model and worked with window light in the foreground to light her.
- WHAT’S MY VISION FOR THE SHOOT?
So before I start a shoot no matter what it is whether it’s working for Harper’s Bazaar or a private portrait shoot I take the same amount of care. I pre-visualise it otherwise it scares me too much. I have to scout the place, see the clothes and understand the spirit of the person or the idea. Once I have the basics, I can research some ideas, create a mood board and start to get excited!
When I was approached to do a shoot of wedding dresses in Paris I thought about how it was when I was married in Paris, going to the café and walking there. I loved the idea of an urban bride so I scouted typical Parisian things such as the newspaper stand, Metro etc all ways that people arrive to their wedding in Paris and what they do before and after their wedding.
- HOW DO I SEE (FEEL) THIS PERSON?
Portrait photography is like doing an advanced course in psychology! There is a lot of ‘feeling’ your way to get to know your subjects, watching the person, gauging how far you can go and also how you would like to see them.
Remember Richard Avedon said ‘All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.”
Ask yourself how do you see them? I start somewhere, anywhere like warming up before you go for a run. I will ask people to do very simple things, make sure they are in a place I like and with the light I like and then slowly I will start telling them jokes, getting them moving or something to let them forget about me and be themselves. And all the time I am looking for something, in my case it’s joy, authenticity, connection and I snap.
In the above pic, I wanted to keep the youthful feel of this girl, at once solemn and also fun.
I hope these Portrait tips has helped and you can try some of them next time you shoot.
If you enjoyed My Favourite Portrait Tips post, you may also like the tips on the Creating A Young Opera Singer’s Portfolio.
Sending portrait love