Those of you who know me would know that I have never seen myself as a portrait photographer. The reason for the need to classify myself in the first place as a “this” or “not that” type of photographer is something I have never understood. For years I have warned my students not to focus on just one specific genre of photography, as photography, in my mind is a heart and soul thing, a passion, a journey, a means to express, to communicate, to tell a story. However all of these labels relate right back to emotions, humanness and thus people and portraiture. Why is it then that I have never “enjoyed” photographing people? I suspect that the answer to this does not really lie in photography after all, but perhaps rather in my own personal journey. Could the years of being vulnerable, the rawness of my own spirit, the oceans of un-cried tears behind my eyes, have kept me from connecting with the subjects, causing an inability to truly and honestly, tell their stories? Did the treads of my own life, suffocate my desire to create beauty and inhibit my ability to tell the stories of people? Could this have been the reason why I detested my own photograph being taken – a fear that the camera would see the truth in my eyes? Could the fact that I was so guarded have prevented my subjects from showing me their essence? Did I sense that photographing people could or would mirror my own hurting soul? Could this have been the reason that my portraiture experience had almost exclusively been limited to photographing children – safe in their innocence and ignorance?
My life has given me a gift these past few months. One of self-acknowledgement, of self-care, of honestly and truth, and hopefully soon one of healing. With this gift has come a desire, an urge in fact, to photograph people – to tell their stories. Also with this has come a cautious consideration to have my own portrait taken.
So what is the secret to a good portrait?
The connection –
A successful portrait creates a connection with the subject. It captures an expression, a mood, something that reveals the spirit of the person – that magical spark to attests to being really alive. The experience of a making a portrait is all about trust and responsibility. Portraits are gifts to the artist – someone is giving us a piece of themselves, trusting that we, the photographers, can execute our craft skillfully enough to be kind, honest and respectful in our interpretations of them. Our approach as the photographer should be one that cultivates that trust and in doing so create ease in our subjects.
The experience –
In the recent months my experience of the portrait making process has changed. I find the interactions with my subjects to often be an adventure. The excitement of drawing something genuine from my subjects is rejuvenating. The intimacy of the experience and the awareness that I am seeing something authentic – their beauty, their vulnerability, their strengths, their truth, is humbling and precious.
A new perspective –
A successful portrait tells a story and how the story is told is influenced by the photographer’s perspective. “An image speaks a thousand words” rings so true. Taking the time to try various angles and perspectives, not only kickstarts my creativity, but allows the subject to see their life from a different perspective.
The Composition –
What you choose to include or exclude from a portrait and where you decide to place the elements in your composition will evoke or accentuate certain emotional responses. Making use of powerpoints and other design elements as well as carefully composing around your focal point will ensure that the viewers attention rests where you want it to rest.
Part 2 to follow……Lighting / Details / Post-processing