I love portraiture! I love the challenge of working with people and creating an image that they love and I do too.
Working with people can be tricky, I have found it takes a greater energetic investment than landscape or cityscape photos so you need to be in the right mood to be able to give to your portrait subjects, to then receive something back reflected in the image.
Marine | Copyright Carla Coulson
I thought it would be fun to share with you 5 tips that I take in my ‘toolkit’ each time I go to a portrait shoot.
What do they want? – Before I start any shoot whether it be for a magazine or a private client or even for myself I ask what the client wants? Magazines always give a brief to a photographer of what they require and over the years I came up with my own ‘brief’ when working privately to ask my clients questions that would help me formulate where to start! Their answers have proved invaluable to me. The more I know about them the easier it is for me to get it right.
Time – I give myself plenty of time on the shoot and make sure I am never late. As I am directing the shoot I need to be in a relaxed state otherwise my portrait subject will start to feel unnerved from the beginning. I make sure I allow an amount of time up to 30 minutes when I can chat with them, take a look around their house or have a coffee. Getting to know them is important before I get out the camera.
Your Vision – I like to have a creative starting point even before I arrive at my shoot. That starting point generally comes from a brief I have asked my client to complete and scouting the location or other historical, film or creative references. I love to make moodboards and often I do this on Pinterest. This can help a client get into the mood of things and see where I am going. Trust is everything and getting a client excited about your vision builds trust and the more they trust you the easier it will be for you to ask them to dance on tables or hose their husband down!! (well you know what I mean)
Lens options – This is not essential, so if you are just starting out please don’t think you have to buy numerous lenses but if you haven’t had a chance to scout a location having options of wider focal lengths such as a 35 mm can instantly give you more space in a room. Even though portrait lenses such as an 85mm are glorious, sometimes they can be too tight if you are wanting to tell a little more story with your portrait.
Playful energy – I don’t want to say that I am on a trampoline fist pumping before I go to a portrait shoot but I am very conscious of my energy. I have learnt that portraiture for women, in particular, makes them feel vulnerable and exposed and when women feel that way they often shut down. I try and make it fun so they forget it’s a portrait shoot and ends up feeling more like dress-ups with your girlfriends. The more your portrait subject gives, the better photos you will always have so I give as much as I can on the day and most of the time this is returned over and over again.
I hope this helps you take better portraits and have fun doing them. Love to hear your tips.
So many of the questions that arrive in my inbox are about how I take photos full of emotions.
How do I get people to laugh or jump, forget about me, or blow me a kiss?
Well, here’s my secret. It is my willingness to be vulnerable.
When we are in a vulnerable state we are wide open, we have our hearts on the line and we are willing to let people see it. We show them we are not perfect and don’t have answers all the time and that is OK.
For many of us, it feels dangerous but as the beautiful Brene Brown says ‘I believe that vulnerability – the willingness to be “all in” even when you know it can mean failing and hurting – is brave.”
When I am taking photos, I dare to show people that I am as vulnerable as they are even though they are the one in front of the camera.
In 2016, I was given the biggest compliment by a niece who I worked with for a whole year in Paris. She told me, ‘You don’t care what people think of you!’
For a minute, I was almost offended and then she explained, “No matter who you are with on a shoot, (including some famous folk) you goof around and make a fool of yourself and you don’t decide things based on what other people think of you.”
I loved her point of view. I will be discussing vulnerability along with other wonderful topics in the Heartland Workshop this October in Puglia and sharing all my photography secrets.
If you would like to take photos with more emotion and do it with confidence, I would love to teach you how. I have had one cancellation and would love to help you take your portraits and interiors to a new level.
This is a video about how my passion for portrait photography developed in the beginning of my career and how I found my style and vision.
Today’s blog is a video! To Watch click ABOVE OR HERE
Here’s the Transcript.
I was going to make a blog post about this morning, and then I thought, why don’t I delve into my archives and show you what’s in the box and boxes of my pictures and how my story. So, for those of you that don’t know my story. I had another life years ago and at 35, sort of had a midlife crisis look down. And I am back. So, during that time, I decided I had to work out what to do with photography, so I decided.
I just like taking pictures
I didn’t have any background in photography I just allowed myself to be attracted to what I like and it changed my life
So the one thing that I’ve learned by luxury of looking back, is that I get to look back at all these pictures, and one of the things that I feel when I see these images is extraordinary amount of people who were so kind and allowed me to photograph them.
This is all when I was at photography school so any poor person hanging around doing absolutely anything was game. This is on the street in Sicily. Anyone hanging around who didn’t have anything to do Carla was there to torture them! Flatmates who had a half an afternoon off at school. I would ask them to pose and I would try and come up with some sort of interesting fashioning looking picture, and this is another gorgeous friend who was kind enough to model for me.
My Love for Italy and Daily Life
I was really really drawn to people, also because people in different situations. And I just love Italy, and the daily life really so much it was so inspiring and even though I was shy and sort of awkward people were so kind to me. So, I felt like I could just keep going and taking all these pictures.
I just kept going and then when I was in Paris, some how the girls in bathrooms turned into girls at the Mouln Rouge and the Lido!!
Taking a Photo versus Creating a Photo
One of the things that I really learned is take pictures there’s sort of two different types of of ways of taking people pictures and that’s finding people in their environment and just taking a picture and then of course, trying to create something, and then create an emotion and have fun between you two or, or create something serious whenever you really click take pictures.
So when you’re creating a photograph from nothing from scratch and the two of you just sort of staring at each other, it really kind of feels like a rodeo ride in a sense that you know it’s exciting this tension, it’s kind of fun it’s nerve wracking. And you don’t really know where it’s going to go like that in the beginning, you feel like yeah I’ve got the good ingredients but I don’t have a cake yet, so you might have a nice location.
Thing is about having the ingredients you then try to make it into something.
And often, it really does feel like a rodeo ride and I think one of the most important things about portraiture is that when it is just so uncomfortable most people walk away.
But the art is to stay with it.
The camera connects
That the camera is an excuse to connect with people. My passion for portrait photography meant that I could go up to that person say hello and take a photo. And I loved it and kept doing it and it became my life.
And the wonderful thing was in the beginning, I didn’t put any pressure on myself so I just wanted to give you a couple of tips today.
You know, in the beginning allow yourself the joy.
Because, you know, when I was at photography school I had the most fun.
I experiment, I make a ton of mistakes.
Do What You Love
When I just noticed it the same kept coming up and up and out, and then eventually I allow that to happen that became part of what I do, how I do things, you know, these very first photographs like this girl, you know this is still at photography school this is in Popi’s bathroom the lady I use to live with in Florence.
This is one of my flatmates. You know, it is all movement in here I probably at the time didn’t really know what I was doing, but I was attracted to move and I didn’t like things to be static, then this became a big part of my style over a period of time so often in the beginning when we’re fresh, you know, we don’t have these preconceived idea that’s when when you are so powerful, so don’t ask yourself why you’re doing it just allow you to do it.
And even if you feel like you’re just going on, you know, over the same subjects, over and over again, just stick to it. Allow yourself to do it. So I thought I’d give you some little tips today on the rain day ride of portraiture, and how you can hang through it stick with it and get the pictures that you want to take. First of all, number one, is to stay with it. Okay, most people don’t stay with it. So, when you’re about to be thrown off the bull. Most people walk out.
The art is to hang on for the ride. So that is my number one piece of advice is to take a break, or to get really really uncomfortable and everything.
Often it could be, you could change position.
You could change the light you could change the energy to change your angle.
So, instead of walking away and starting from scratch all over, ask yourself what you could to change something.
Then, you know, I’m really love photos with energy so you’ll see all my photographs are kind have energy. Every now and then I do have a quiet moment. But, you know, a lot of my photographs, really are about being alive.
Getting the emotions you want
So, how do I get that. So this is the number. I provoke the situation in the nicest possible way. So if I want joy. I give them joy, so I make them laugh I do all sorts of funny things. My niece who worked with me for about a year and years ago, she said to me at the end of the year, that which I took as a compliment, was that “you don’t care what people think about you”
She came on many shoots with me, including the shoots for Harper’s Bazaar and saw that I would say to someone who was considered famous, something stupid, but I do it for purpose which is to get a laugh or get a reaction. S
So another tip for you would be to, to create that energy, whatever energy you want, create that energy.
One of the things that I would like to say to you, all these pictures I took in the beginning,
I didn’t know what I was going to do with these pictures, I just allowed myself, the time and the investment really of energy to take them. But when you do things that you truly love, they don’t always have to have a purpose, and, but often when they really good, they’ll find a purpose, one day, and I wanted to show you this because a lot of these pictures I’ve just shown you, which were taken.
Chasing A Dream
Even some of them from the beginning, these pictures became a book called Chasing a Dream. And a lot of pictures.
So all of these pictures that I just took with love and just with curiosity and trying to learn and get better over a period of years, they became the book really which is possibly one of my favorites, other than Italian joy because they became like a private collection of images.
And that’s what I would like to say just to finish this little message right now is to allow your intuition, and your instincts to be free.
You don’t know where they’re going to take you, but they are your strongest guidance anything in life that comes from the heart will always be the thing that will take you where you need to go.
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.
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.
One of my intentions as a photographer when I take pictures is to take pictures that have a feeling in them and we are lucky with photography to have many different tricks to be able to do this, even when there appears like not a lot is happening.
One of the techniques I have always loved is panning. My first book Italian Joy had a photo of a couple on a scooter ‘panned’ and I have since incorporated it into photographing or panning people.
You need a lot of patience when panning people as the technique is even more difficult with people as they are moving slowly. You ‘pan’, move your camera from left to right or vice versa at the same speed as your subject in a fluid movement and then click when you like the frame.
Panning creates the feeling of motion even if your subject is moving slowly.
Here’s what I do:
Set my shutter speed at about 1/20 sec depending on how quickly the people are walking – the faster they are walking the faster your shutter speed needs to be
I wait for a subject that is parallel to me on a straight line in front of me
I set the focus on manual and focus on a point between them and me knowing they will pass that line
I remain still but allow my camera to follow them and when I see the composition I like I press the shutter but I don’t stop there
I continue to move the camera with them in a fluid movement to complete the ‘pan’
The part of your photo that you have focused on is in focus but the rest is fluid and blurry,
Don’t despair if your photos are ALL blurry the first couple of times you do it. Often it is because you AREN’T moving at the same speed as they are.
Check your focus and make sure if you are using autofocus to set it to single shot not continuous and keep your finger on the shutter with the correct focal point till your subject appears in the right spot.
For instant feeling just pan, stir, shake and rinse and repeat!!!!
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