Portrait photography requires a level of trust, intimacy and spontaneity that other types of photography work simply do not. Your subject can often also be less than comfortable with one of these elements, so as a photographer, it’s important to have a failsafe routine in place that you know is going to produce great results, whether you know the subject or not.
First of all, it’s always worth having a conversation beforehand. Have some specifics in mind when speaking to the subject, such as what they hope to get out of the experience and how they want the end result to look. Try to keep subjects away from talking about physical aspects of the photo and more to the feeling they want to capture. It’s also essential to ascertain anything they would never be comfortable with doing before you start shooting, as often subjects can feel coerced into something once behind the lens, or lose a sense of the rules they had set for themselves at the start of the process. When all of this has been established, just chat. People tend to forget how important simple conversation can be in workplace situations, and as the person that holds the camera, you can often hold an intimidating ‘authority’ without even realising it. Reveal things about yourself and what you would like from the day – this will give you and the subject a fair and easy exchange. It’s true that time is money, but a friendly chinwag shouldn’t take you too long and will help save you time in the long run, as you should start off with much better shots from the get go.
The Importance of Being Candid
Try to take your subject away from the camera. This might sound contradictory, but you and your subject have to remember that the camera won’t be featured in the finished product. Whilst you may be worried about the technicalities of the shot, your subject needs to elicit the right emotion, even in a corporate or formal setting. Try to catch your subject a little off-guard, such as when they are looking away from the camera, talking to others, laughing or simply lost in thought. They may not appreciate this approach at the time, but they’ll thank you for it later! A candid approach is often the best way to go in any environment. If the photos you have taken look like they were part of a meticulously planned photo-shoot, the overall look and feel of the piece may be compromised. The world is a much less formal place, and from a public-relations perspective, people want to see vulnerabilities or human traits in others, no matter how famous or powerful they may appear to be.
Set New Challenges For Your Subject
Finally, if you’ve followed these rules and you’ve kept your subject relaxed and comfortable throughout the shoot, it’s time to turn it up a notch and take people a little out of their comfort zone. Don’t ask them to do anything extreme or risqué, just encourage a little movement or a change in lighting or perspective (with the subject’s permission, naturally). If you’ve kept a free and open dialogue with the subject they should feel warmed-up enough and ready for a new challenge, as long as you keep in mind your initial conversation and want they want to achieve from the shoot. The juxtaposition of wardrobe and setting can create all different kinds of atmospheres, from warm and welcoming to satirical or even sardonic. Review what you’ve taken beforehand, ensure that you have a good array of ‘serious’ shots and then you have the freedom to experiment without sacrificing results.
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