Having spent many years working with people and the psychology of what makes them tick, it comes as second nature and really helps to capture that essence in photographic form. Yet it occurred to me the other day that there aren’t that many ‘good’ portrait photographers around compared with say, Landscapers.
It took me a while to come up with the reasons why and all I could summon up were a few loosely based and untested theories.
The first is a generalisation but I wonder how true it is in the modern digital era. It is that photography at any serious level is a relatively technical business. It is all about f stops, shutter speeds, iso’s, depth of field, bokeh, focal points and post production. And all this before you start to get involved with any artificial lighting in studio’s etc. This means that very often, (here is the untested, generalised bit!) people with a technical ‘bent’ will gravitate towards photography as a hobby while more ‘artistic’ individuals get lost in all the technical waffle.
In turn (more generalised theoretical stuff), as these people are generally more technically minded, they are less likely to be ‘people people’ and therefore are more likely to gravitate towards landscaping and wildlife work rather than people work. This is more likely to apply to the general public rather than professionals for the obvious reasons. What are they I hear you shout! Well, there is little money to be made these days from stock libraries and general sale of images in the wildlife and landscaping business. This means that those photographers who grow on to become pro’s will usually have to be good with people for several reasons.
The first is, that to run any successful photography business well, you will need to have a certain minimum level of people skills. Whilst we would all love to be shooting for 5-7 days a week, the reality is very different and sales and marketing will employ a new business for well over 50% of any photographers time! The second reason will be that the more lucrative work in the industry (generalising hugely again but please bear with me) involves taking photographs of people in some shape of form. If it doesn’t – say high-end product work for example, then it will still involve a great deal of work with people in the client company, art director field in order to come up with the correct approach to shooting the product in the first place.
Now, going back to my discussion with myself about people imagery. Those that have mastered the craft will very often treat the technical side of their work as incidental to the image creation process. Yes it will all be taken into account but the style, the look, the location will all have been considered to be more important than the f stop and the shutter speed. It isn’t of course, it will just seem and feel that way. The most important consideration in any portrait will be the connection the photographer manages (or fails) to achieve with the sitter. That word ‘rapport’. I learned very early on that sometimes negative rapport can achieve the look you are after and I have been guilty of employing this method myself once or twice.
A fellow pro said to me just the other day that he always felt that he had a ‘special’ connection with his models/sitters after a shoot. I would agree entirely. You have both ‘gone through’ something special together. Something that even an assistant won’t be a party to. You have a ‘special’ relationship that is impossible to describe but both know exists. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a closeness, although it can be, more an understanding.
Now, is it really unfair of me to then take this to the next step and suggest the following?
It is generally unlikely that those of us that have a strong technical approach to photography and indeed probably, life, are too willing to engage in this way with people that they hardly know and are often unlikely to ever meet or converse with again. Thus, I have now managed to convince myself of the reason why few photographers gravitate their way towards people imagery and stick to more solitary subjects such as landscapes and wildlife.