Don’t be frightened to photograph people
Portraiture can be challenging, not all of us are comfortable approaching strangers and asking if we can photograph them. You may be surprised at how willing most people are, if you ask them in a friendly manner. Failing that, we all have family and friends we can practice on. In many respects, this is the most important photography. We can take beautiful images of buildings and landscapes but when we look back, photographs that bring the most joy are often the ones with people in them – people we’ve met, spent time with; the memories of what we’ve done together. Portraiture captures images of the people we love, the children who grow up quickly, friends who move away and loved ones who are no longer with us. For this reason alone, it’s very rewarding to capture images of anyone who holds a special place in your life.
Engage with your subject and find out something about them
Let’s talk first about photographing people we don’t know. Brandon Stanton, who wrote Humans of New York, says he always approaches people in the way he thinks will make them feel most comfortable. If someone is sitting, he will sit next to them or squat on the ground. This is especially true of children, get down on their level when you are talking to them and photographing them. Where you can, spend time talking to your subject and asking them questions. Most people like it when someone takes an interest in them, the questions can be easy ones, favourite places, things to do, pets etc. If you are travelling and the person you want to photograph doesn’t speak English, a lot can be achieved with smiles and sign language, and the promise to send them a copy.
Choose your style of portrait
An environmental portrait is one that shows the person in their surroundings, it might be a vegetable seller at their stall or a swimmer by the pool. These sorts of portraits are usually taken with a wide-angle lens and share with the viewer something about that person’s world. Alternatively, you might choose to take a tighter portrait of the person up close, using a long lens to throw the background out of focus. TIP: The eyes are the key to the soul; always make sure that your subject’s eyes are sharp, take extra care if you are shooting at a low aperture like f1.8. Lighting is important too, do you want your subject to look bright and evenly lit or dark and moody? How will you achieve that look, will you be relying on natural light or able to use some fill flash?
Make them feel comfortable
Sometimes the best portraits are candid, either grabbed at the beginning of a session “just relax I’m just doing a test” or at the end when they’ve relaxed into it. Don’t be afraid to direct your subject. Give them encouragement, some people feel totally awkward in front of the camera and will be relieved if you give them some simple instructions, like “stand side on to the camera”, “try crossing your arms”, “look over my shoulder”, “drop your chin” etc. Getting people to lean on a wall can immediately make them feel relaxed. You can either pre-visualise, and plan, your portrait and props, or experiment with what you have to hand. Nervous subjects usually respond well to having something in their hands. Try something that tells us more about them, like a tool of trade or favourite object.
Shoot to suit their personality
Think about their personality. Are they a serious person? Sometimes you see far more of a person’s personality when they are in repose. Try and avoid asking people to smile for the camera. The image won’t look authentic because it’s easy to see when someone’s mouth is smiling but their eyes aren’t. Decide whether it says more about them to look straight into the lens or look away; try both. If your subject is fun loving, don’t be afraid to inject a bit of silliness to get them laughing. Kids often respond well to being told to pull faces (catch them after, when they are giggling!). Think about what you can do to make them loosen up or laugh, which can include instructions like “drop your shoulders”, “give your self a good shake”, “jump up and down”, “twirl”…. Use your imagination and match your tone to your subjects’ age, personality and how well you know them.
Look and learn and practice
Post processing and printing also provide opportunities to convey your subject’s personality. Decide if vibrant colour or black and white creates the right mood. Look at the work of portrait photographers you admire and learn from them. Above all, practice as much as you can and have fun.
Project Street 7.30
Currently on at Fox Darkroom in Kensington until 25th June. Last Saturday starting at 7.30 am, I met with 29 fellow photographers at Federation Square. The challenge? To shoot, edit, print, mount and hang for our exhibition which was to open at 7.30 pm the same night. I am happy to say that we raised nearly $12,000 for Kids under Cover.
To read more about the exhibition, head to the latest edition of Capture Magazine. All of the images can be seen by visiting The Fox Darkroom Gallery or online at the Project Street 7:30 website
This month I headed up to Sydney for the Head On Photo Festival. I was a semi finalist in the portraiture catalogue so went to the Museum of Sydney to see the amazing portraits on display as well as the finalists in the Mobile Phone entries. The standard of entries was just incredible, so much inspiring work. A particular highlight was meeting Maggie Steber, and seeing her work "The Secret Garden of Lily LaPalma".
Balnarring Beach on the Mornington Peninsular was the setting for the spectacular beach shoot highlighting Mrs. Tutton's new additions to the collection. With the sun putting in an appearance at 5.00 am it was an early start but worth it to see the beginning of a beautiful day and the local racehorses being exercised by the water.
Model: Martina Richardson, Assistant: Maurizio Salvati
When Imogen Tutton launched Mrs. Tutton, her range of equestrian clothing, she approached me to do the photography. In spite of threatening weather it was a very successful shoot and the day was captured by the talented team at Brave Films. Soon we will be doing another on location shoot at beautiful Balnarring beach. I can't wait to share it with you.