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Portrait photography tips


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Hi all, I'm starting to consider photographing my fellow musicians/artists for promo shots, etc. I very much gravitate towards candid photography: street/travel and shooting concerts. Anywhere where there's something going on and I can respond quick and decisively. I love that. I do it from an art/fine art perspective. Making books and selling prints.

Working one on one with people is nerve wracking, and being 'in charge' etc. for an introvert...I've only done 2 paid shoots, one with a band years ago and one (just this weekend) with a solo artist. The client wanted color shots (however my heart is in B&W) - I brought my M6 for color film, and M240 with 35, 50, and 90 lenses. And my TLR too...I need to edit this week asap...film is sent out.

It was fun, once I got used to being directive...and certainly it was great getting actual money for photography, up front...(but that comes with the results/delivery pressure too). There is a side of me that would love to be Danny Clinch (in addition to Bresson...)

A couple things I'm thinking and have learned:

-color film is indeed very expensive to process - I shot 5 rolls which will be $80 for dev and scan not including the cost of the film

-I took 500 digital shots over about 3 hours in 3 locations. This ratio is vastly more than what I shoot when I go street shooting (recent trip to London, over 3 days I took 1100 shots).

-I don't like shooting that much, but when you're standing in front of someone paying you to take photos, one's nerves perhaps makes you shoot a ton. Which is also why I burned through 5 rolls of film.

-lastly, I love my M's dearly but this shoot is perhaps finally convincing me to get an SL (for any paid shoots like this). I think I really would have loved to see the photos as I took them (in full exposure in the EVF), knowing with more certainty my results in the moment. 

Any tips from portrait shooters regarding these concerns?

thanks

Brian 

Edited by bdolzani
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Posted (edited)

Random tips from an amateur.......

  • 500 digital shots over 3 hours is not that much different from what I might do. I delete about half in my first cull before processing, and then delete more during processing, leaving me with 35-40% of the original number.
  • For portraits and headshots, I want to take photos very quickly, the moment the person I'm shooting is ready. I don't want to think about my gear and they don't want to hold a pose or expression while I'm fiddling with the camera or lights. This means a camera I know intimately, and it means presets. For me it means digital, AF eye-detect, and mainly A mode, sometimes S, and Auto ISO (unless it's strobe lighting). 
  • You have to like people, and want to interact with them. From past personality tests, I know I'm a mild introvert, but as long as I can have my chill-out moments, I enjoy the company of my subjects. When I first started 1-on-1 portraiture, I found it very difficult to engage with a subject and manage my camera at the same time, but it gets easier with practice and familiarity with technique.
  • You write about 'fellow musicians' so I guess you're in their same age bracket. Many of mine are not; some are half a century younger, and female. The stand-out rule I tell myself every time is 'Don't be an old creep with a camera'. Respect their personal space while photographing. I'm a photographer, not a mate in their social group. If I fail to do any of this, I will not be invited back, or get word-of-mouth recommendations. (So far so good).
  • I read quite a bit about posing for portraits before starting out (and looked at the work of a lot of favourite portrait photographers), not to copy particular poses, but to understand what might go wrong and what might work. Should you shoot a face from below or above, shoulders square to you or side on, the perspective effects of different shooting distances, what to do with hands, or props.
  • Understand both available light photography and (off-camera) strobes. Available light can give the best look, but the challenge is getting light into the eyes; getting confident with strobe/studio lighting is valuable. I have a lighting kit I can carry in/on a backpack on a bike: SL2-S + 24-90, 2 x lightweight stands, 2 x cheap brollies, 2 x Godox AD200 strobes, Godox Xpro trigger.
Edited by LocalHero1953
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You might enjoy watching some of Mr. Leica's portrait discussions on You Tube, or even taking one of his classes (I know he's in the UK, but he does travel around for some of his seminars)

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2 hours ago, LocalHero1953 said:

Random tips from an amateur.......

  • 500 digital shots over 3 hours is not that much different from what I might do. I delete about half in my first cull before processing, and then delete more during processing, leaving me with 35-40% of the original number.

Hi Paul, ok good to know your number is similar. I know I'll certainly toss off a good amount of them. 

 

2 hours ago, LocalHero1953 said:
  • For portraits and headshots, I want to take photos very quickly, the moment the person I'm shooting is ready. I don't want to think about my gear and they don't want to hold a pose or expression while I'm fiddling with the camera or lights. This means a camera I know intimately, and it means presets. For me it means digital, AF eye-detect, and mainly A mode, sometimes S, and Auto ISO (unless it's strobe lighting). 

*thumbs up*

2 hours ago, LocalHero1953 said:
  • You have to like people, and want to interact with them. From past personality tests, I know I'm a mild introvert, but as long as I can have my chill-out moments, I enjoy the company of my subjects. When I first started 1-on-1 portraiture, I found it very difficult to engage with a subject and manage my camera at the same time, but it gets easier with practice and familiarity with technique.

I'm deciding on this one. I'm someone who likes people in general (like a distant fascination) but maybe not in particular :-). Joking aside, I would be great at choosing selectively who I'd like to work with. I'm a very heavy introvert. I'm great at being quiet (my superpower), which is why street and concerts/events are perfect for me. 

2 hours ago, LocalHero1953 said:

 

  • You write about 'fellow musicians' so I guess you're in their same age bracket. Many of mine are not; some are half a century younger, and female. The stand-out rule I tell myself every time is 'Don't be an old creep with a camera'. Respect their personal space while photographing. I'm a photographer, not a mate in their social group. If I fail to do any of this, I will not be invited back, or get word-of-mouth recommendations. (So far so good).

Yes what I mean is I'm a musician first and then a photographer second. Though I'm just as passionate about both now. So I know and have access to all the fellow musicians I crave, they/we would be my easiest subject if I were to offer myself to them. I know a lot of 50-year old musicians like me but I wouldn't want to limit myself by age. I hear you/understand this advice. 

2 hours ago, LocalHero1953 said:
  • I read quite a bit about posing for portraits before starting out (and looked at the work of a lot of favourite portrait photographers), not to copy particular poses, but to understand what might go wrong and what might work. Should you shoot a face from below or above, shoulders square to you or side on, the perspective effects of different shooting distances, what to do with hands, or props.
  • Understand both available light photography and (off-camera) strobes. Available light can give the best look, but the challenge is getting light into the eyes; getting confident with strobe/studio lighting is valuable. I have a lighting kit I can carry in/on a backpack on a bike: SL2-S + 24-90, 2 x lightweight stands, 2 x cheap brollies, 2 x Godox AD200 strobes, Godox Xpro trigger.

This is all very helpful advice, thanks again! 

 

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1 hour ago, spydrxx said:

You might enjoy watching some of Mr. Leica's portrait discussions on You Tube, or even taking one of his classes (I know he's in the UK, but he does travel around for some of his seminars)

I do love Matt's channel and work (which always drops my jaw, in both form and content). 

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3 hours ago, bdolzani said:

Yes what I mean is I'm a musician first and then a photographer second.

I'm a singer, in a choir, and started out with group photos and portraits of fellow singers. There's no social hurdle to get over.

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3 hours ago, LocalHero1953 said:

I'm a singer, in a choir, and started out with group photos and portraits of fellow singers. There's no social hurdle to get over.

shoot what you know 🙂 

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  • 2 weeks later...
56 minutes ago, Nijol Creative said:

What are some essential tips for an introverted photographer transitioning from candid street and concert photography to more directive portrait sessions?

I'm an introvert myself and tend to stutter at times; I never got rid of that entirely. In my journey to becoming a film director in advertising, I met a few experienced colleagues. They had one common theme: slipping into that role when on the set. What you basically do is build a director persona, a character that is yours when working. 

Another essential component is the project. Only a proper project allows you to do that job and slip into the required role. If I were you, I'd figure out a project that interests you deeply and must be done, no matter what. If you have that, you'll be prepared to ask people to help you with that project and sit for you. Just taking nice portraits won't cut it, that's for sure. There must be something in this project that interests your collaborators as it does you. 

Some people on this forum do what you aim for. Maybe @trickness could give you some advice?

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2 hours ago, Nijol Creative said:

 

What are some essential tips for an introverted photographer transitioning from candid street and concert photography to more directive portrait sessions?

Welcome. Good to see a post from a new member that is about taking pictures, and not about gear!

I really don't like to label myself or anyone else with a tag like "street photographer" or "portrait photographer" because a term like that can never define the entirety of anyone's work, but if I HAD to put myself in a box, I guess "portrait photographer" would generally fit. I do all my work on the street and almost all my pictures are spontaneous interactions, which is to say I'm stopping people who I don't know and asking them to give me their time to take pictures. It helps that I give everyone I meet copies of their pictures - we exchange contact info on Instagram - and that my IG is filled with photos taken under exactly the same conditions, in the same/similar places. When people see you can take a good picture and they're going to get copy, there's an incentive. I will move people into light, in front of better backdrops, give them direction on positioning, etc. 

Anyway, here are some general thoughts about this kind of photography - not sure if that's what you mean by "directive portrait sessions", but hope this is helpful:

1) The most important thing is to establish rapport with the subject - if you don't, the pictures will never have that special sauce that only comes from making a connection. Showing some interest in them, asking where they're from, what they do, etc helps - you need to be confident and at ease in these interactions, or you'll come off as creepy. It takes practice, and you need to keep doing it so it becomes second nature. It's almost like public speaking - you have to be confident in what you're saying and make a connection. There is no way around this if you want good portrait photos.

2) Always think about your frame - the picture isn't just the person. I see so many street portraits where there is clutter in the frame, which totally distracts from the subject. All the photographer probably needed to do to avoid this was to move the subject, so why didn't they? The composition is the entirety of what's in the frame, in all photographs - so many photographers don't get this. I took a mentorship with Ralph Gibson and he kicked my a$$ about this, made me justify everything that was in the frame. One thing he said that really stuck was about street photographers that shoot with a 28mm and don't think at all about what's in the frame - he said they're not photographers, they're camera operators. That sounds a little harsh, but I think it's a fair criticism. You have to take responsibility for everything in your frame - its one of the things that sets good photographers apart from everyone else.

3) Develop your visual signature: the highest level you can reach photographically is when you photos look uniquely your own. It takes a lot of shooting to develop your own style, we all start by copying those we admire, then we gradually become ourselves. If we keep at it we can hopefully get to a place where our pictures are easily identifiable as our own by anyone who views them. This is really hard - its also not just about shooting a lot, your visual signature is the result of all the things you've experienced in life, travels, emotional experiences, music, food, books, films, hardships, love, sorrow, joy - you bring all of that to the viewfinder when you pick up the camera. If you haven't lived, have;t done anything, your pictures are going to look that way.

4) Look at work by the masters and try to understand what makes their pictures good. How did they frame, what's in the frame, what's the depth of field, what emotions are the subject conveying, where's the light....and don't just look at photos. Look at paintings and films too. I have a lot of books by Arnold Newman, Anton Corbin, Avedon, Peter Lindberg...to name a few. Borrow or steal from them, but don't try to be them.

5) Re: gear - keep it simple and have total confidence in your tools. You don't want to be screwing around with lights etc in a portrait session. And truly, we all need less gear than we think we do. One camera/one lens can get you 99% of the way there. That said sometimes I change things up to challenge myself - I'm currently shooting with a film MP and a 75 Noctilux which is a completely torturous setup for portrait photography (relative to the same lens on my SL2 for instance). If you have a friendly subject and you're not being paid to deliver a specific result, you can learn a lot by experimenting.

6) I print all my worthy images (probably 10% of what I shoot) and then live with the pictures for a while to see if I still like them a month or two later. More times than not, I like them less down the road, because I'm seeing things I could have done better. I guess that's proof of progress. Also, I have never done a session where taking 500 pictures got me more than 50 pictures (unless the subject is doing costume changes or we're moving locales). 500 pictures to me is more about covering a lack of confidence that I got what I needed - I shot like that in the beginning, I never shoot that much now. Especially because I'm shooting film! I'm not shooting 500 pictures of every sit with Portra 400 - I'm not a Powerball winner 😂

Lastly, keep shooting, keep going, in moments of doubt just "act as if" you are the photographer you ultimately want to be. And have fun, otherwise what's the point? 

 

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14 hours ago, trickness said:

And have fun, otherwise what's the point? 

Absolutely. Now I could start with citing Hegel that recognition is ultimately what keeps us social beings moving, etc. But isn't recognition what portraiture is about? Great post!

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Posted (edited)
19 hours ago, Nijol Creative said:

 

What are some essential tips for an introverted photographer transitioning from candid street and concert photography to more directive portrait sessions?

I read the emphases of your question as being on 'introverted' and portrait 'sessions', and, from that, how you deal with interacting with people and guiding them when you're not in your own comfort zone.

Almost by chance I found an approach that worked for me, a mildly introverted character. I sing in a choir, and I asked for volunteers who would sit for me as models, either in formal  portrait sessions, or in their place of work, or at their home. This was always on the mutual recognition that they were helping me become a better photographer, and that they already knew me well (and that I was not a creep!) I was already known as the guy who took the group (etc) photos of the choir for its website. Part of the informal fun that helped me with the personal interaction was finding suitable locations. You can see some of the results here. (I would do many things differently now!) 

Of course many of them didn't work - the location was unhelpful, the model and I were both a bit stiff, or I got the technique wrong. But as I got better I learned to talk to the model at the same time as I managed my equipment - gaining the experience to automatically set things up was helpful - it is unnerving for a (amateur) model to feel they've suddenly lost the attention of the photographer.

Professional models (I have shot them three times in my life, once at a workshop, and twice I found that friends were former models) know how to do things with minimal instruction: wait for the click, select a new pose or expression, wait for the click, and repeat..... I sometimes ask others to do the same - some get the idea and you can continue almost in silence - some need more guidance.

As to giving precise instructions/guidance on posing, I did a lot of reading about what poses work with different camera angles: what shows up a double chin, what makes a body look fat or ill-proportioned. Such guidance as I give to models now comes from working out as quickly as possible what works with different people. Some are naturally smiley, others find smiling for the camera difficult. Some show off well side-on or at 45 deg; others in the same pose just look narrow-shouldered. Some are comfortable in their body and looks, others need encouraged.

IMO experience, and the confidence that comes with it, is all - there is no substitute. Find a group of people you know well, explain that you are learning, and practice with them. 

 

Edited by LocalHero1953
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