Advanced Portrait Making
This isn’t Portraits 101; it’s a deeper look into the mind of a good photographer during a portrait session. You may have some thoughts about one or two these considerations. If so, you certainly shouldn’t be afraid to raise the issue to any photographer that you’re thinking of hiring. If you get a blank stare in return, it might just be that you’d be better off entrusting the camera to someone else.
When I’m on a portrait shoot, one of the first things that I think about the is the subject’s angle of view. Is she looking straight at the camera? Well, that’s the best was to establish contact between the subject and the audience. But there’s always a chance that the the staring-at-the-camera approach can be overly sincere, even cheesy. Or that we’re missing a more interesting angle of view in favor of the straight-ahead answer.
(I should note that while I usually strive for gender neutrality in all my writing, for the purposes of this piece, I’m pretending that I’m the photographer and that my subject is female. Humor me, please.)
There’s no end to the possibilities when you start thinking about angles of view. What if the the subject is focussing on something outside the frame of the picture? This can create a feeling of both candidness and intrigue as the audience wonders, “What is she looking at?” This intrigue is heightened if the subject is showing some kind of emotion, i.e, “What’s making her laugh?’
Alternatively, the subject could be looking at someone or something that’s inside the frame. By doing so, a second point of interest is created, and a relationship, a story, is created between the subject and whatever it is that she’s looking at.
Just as moving the subject and her angle of view can create interesting possibilities, moving the camera around can do the same. What if I raise it above my subject, or if I get down on the floor and shoot up, or I put a plate glass window between us and try to create some interesting reflections. Nothing is out of bounds! (You can see my Portraits page here.)
Where the subject is placed within the frame is also a chance to amp up the drama. Although photographers talk endlessly about the “rules of composition” that they supposedly must follow, why not put the subject out at the edge of the frame? Or dead center, staring straight at the camera. Rules, after all, were made to be broken.
Lighting provides more room for experimentation that any other technique. A photographer with two or three lights—and who knows how to use them—can create different moods, a different sense of place, practically any effect desired. If the imagination is there, the possibilities are endless.
And we’ve only just touched on the alternatives that are available to a creative photographer and subject. Add props, shoot candidly, go somewhere that is out of the subject’s comfort zone. You can feel free to ask for the standard portrait, but you should also feel free to try something new. The only limits to a portrait shoot are the ones that you impose.