A Lesson in Portrait Photography

I was recently asked to do a portrait shoot for a lovely friend of mine with the purpose of providing some images that could be used for a biog and media information etc in her line of work.

Jane Evans is an up and coming expert in the field of parenting post domestic violence trauma. As her reputation grows she is getting called upon more and more for training and media interviews etc for her particular specialism. Her unique blend of gentle personality combined with a realism of everyday life make her input and training invaluable to anyone that meets her.

The portrait session was arranged and we decided that a studio scenario was just not going to work for Jane. Like most unprofessional models, Jane didn’t relish the idea of having her photograph taken and was understandably concerned how the results might make her look and perhaps more importantly, feel.

It is very important in these situations (i.e. all portraits!), whether photographing for pleasure or commercially, to put your subject at ease and not ‘overpower’ them with paraphernalia or barked instruction. I am lucky enough to know Jane but if you don’t know your subject it is always worth spending whatever time you can, having a chat with them.  This helps you understand what they want from the shoot and get to know the characteristics of the person you are about to subject to, what to many people, is a dreaded experience.  It also means that they can get to know you as well. A good photographer will never under-estimate this conversation.

This quote sums up my philosophy totally and I believe should be taught at EVERY Portrait Photographic training course in the world! “It’s one thing to make a picture of what a person looks like, it’s another thing to make a portrait of who they are.” – Paul Caponigro.

This is where the difficulty and the excitement lives in photographing people. It doesn’t matter who the subject is, rock star, politician, next door neighbour, brother or a stranger in the street. The skill is in executing the capture of an individual’s heart. Many say ‘soul’. Another famous quote is: “Portraiture is a window to the soul.” I am not sure that is necessarily the case but it certainly is more than just a photograph of a person.

Too many times we are witness to photographs of people that are merely a record of what someone looks like. Capturing the inner person is the secret and the reason the greats are great. Sometimes I have had a portrait session with someone and feel I have let them down. I have failed to capture them in the way I should have. Is that their fault? Is it mine? Always it’s mine, talk to any model sitting for the real greats, Avedon, Blumenfeld, Testino and they will not mention the equipment or the studio or even location. They WILL talk about the photographers passion, engagement, conversation and how they were made to feel fantastic, maybe carefree. They trusted their photographer. This is what should be taught at any photographic educational establishment but is so rarely touched upon. A photographers ‘style’ only develops when they have grasped the mastery of these simple concepts.

Anyway, back to Jane. We decided that as Jane was nervous (not uncommon at all) and that she is a country gal at heart, we went for a walk in the country! As we got going, I shot a few of her with a longer telephoto lens so as not to ‘crowd’ her and get her used to me taking some photographs. I explained what we were doing so nothing was a surprise. As we proceeded, Jane became more confident and we had a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.

The results are, I feel, fantastic. I showed Jane these images (and a few others) last week and I am always hugely surprised at the impact a good set of images can have on the sitter. It is why I love this job! I didn’t alone make these images….it was, and will always remain, a collaboration. Jane made a comment that I am not sure she realised the impact of. She told me that she trusted me. The highest compliment she could have paid me in my opinion. I hope that although the vast majority of you will not know Jane, you can start to know her from these few images. If that happens, then surely the photography has done its job!



About squashimagery

Uber cool photographer bloke!!
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