Five leading photographers share their secrets for successful portrait photography.
While there are many aspects of portrait photography that I have learned over the past few years, key among them is how best to engage with my subject.
Wherever possible (and some jobs simply don’t allow for it), I try to sit with the person that I’m about to photograph for as long as I can before I even set up any gear. I usually keep the chat focussed on them and ask a lot of questions so that I convey that I am genuinely interested in them – not just there to get paid – and so that I establish trust between us.
It’s easy for us photographers to forget how confronting it can be to have your portrait taken, which means we are susceptible to a lack of empathy for our subjects.
I believe that if the subject feels comfortable that they are understood and that the photographer has displayed a sensitivity to their needs in what is a pretty vulnerable space, a great result usually ensues.
If you are trusted, you will get a relaxed and more natural portrait!
– Emma Phillips
Photo by Emma Phillips.
02 GENUINE INTEREST
It's important to have a genuine interest in the person you're shooting.
As a photojournalist I'm always searching for great stories. The better their story, the greater my interest and the better the image tends to be.
People will quickly relax into the shoot if there is a connection between photographer and subject.
– Darren Lunny
Photo by Darren Lunny.
03 BUILD TRUST
Spend some time with the subject before going straight into a portrait session. If you can create a feeling of trust before you get your camera out it really helps to set the subject at ease.
Don't rush the shoot, start with the expectation that you will be taking a lot of photos with the intention to come away with one or two really good ones.
– Tamara Dean
Photo by Tamara Dean.
04 POSITIVE FEEDBACK
Try not to rush in all guns blazing. Take the time to get to know your subject, where possible. Some familiarity will help them feel at ease and be more receptive to direction.
For lengthier portrait sessions make sure to communicate with your sitter and offer some positive feedback regularly. I normally try not to over direct my subjects but let them do what comes naturally, with only a little guidance from me.
Make sure that all the technical issues are sorted out before the shoot. During the sitting, concentrate on interacting with your subject.
– Daniel Linnet
Photo by Daniel Linnet.
05 MUSIC FOR MOOD
Create an environment that feels professional, safe and relaxed. Your subjects must feel comfortable and at ease.
If you are after a certain emotion, then pick music that reflects the mood you are after.
– David Knight
Photo by David Knight.
Article first appeared in Digital Photography + Design magazine. Subscribe here.
For part two of this series, click here.