Directing Photography: Portrait

Note: 2HeadS‘ aim is to give tips and help other photographers, emerging, amateurs, even professionals who want to change, for example from landscape to human related. This means that your own tips and comments will always be helpful. Each one has each own way to work, and here we are to share, learn and help each other. It’s always great to hear other ways, thoughts or opinions.

Photographer: a Director of Photography” is a collection of 4 notes:

1 – Directing a Portrait;

2 – Directing People/Conceptual;

3 – Directing Fashion;

4 – Directing Street Photography.

When you work with other people, as in a relation photographer / model, you should know that is not only shooting, light and mood. You must know how to direct the model. And by model, I mean the person that you want to shoot. The main object has to become the messenger, the one who will give the subject to the viewer of the photo, no matter in which kind of photograph you do, so here I’m doing 4 notes on Directing Photography on Portrait, People/Conceptual, Fashion and Street Photography.

First of all you need to make the model feel respected and comfortable. That’s the basic! If you don’t show respect and don’t make them feel comfortable it will be hard to get the best of them. Even if you want them to feel uncomfortable!

A woman who commissioned me a portrait, with probably 65 yo, arrived half an hour before when I was still preparing the studio. It was great once I could keep doing it while naturally making her feel more comfortable in the set. Just talking to her, while showing my respect and making her feeling comfortable with my posture and attitude. We were like friends by the time I had everything prepared to take her portrait. Meanwhile I observed her without her noticing: her face expression, her natural posture, her personality, her best angles… she was very comfortable. But the moment came: I took the camera and looking to the viewfinder I pointed to her … and immediately happened the worst: she changed completely the attitude, the expression: she became tense, fake, worried.

This is something that happens most of the times: it can be your best friend but the moment they realise you’re seeing them through a camera that can register you for eternity, their souls just get nervous.

My aim doing a portrait is to bring the person’s personality and attitude. To bring the best of them. I don’t care about the wrinkles; in fact, wrinkles are and will always be part of one’s personality. They are witness of our life, our moments of joy and our moments of sadness. They are part of us. They grew up being us and we grew up being them, shaping them. Usually the beauty of the wrinkles is harder to accept by women (and by many men too), because somehow they show the aging process. Which people find scary. So they change the second we take the camera up to our eyes.

What can we do to avoid this to happen? Just put the camera down again, smile and say: “I’m not taking photos yet, you may be yourself, just relaxed: I’m doing light tests for now.” They will relax: and you take their portrait.

Usually I don’t take 200 shots; I probably take 2 or 3. But in fact, most of the times the very 1st one is the best one. After 3 or 5, people start loosing the natural attitude and they get tired. So you have to keep them entertained and somehow dynamic even if what you want is a still moment.

If it’s not a commissioned portrait but one in which you want a special attitude or expression: make sure you make the person feel the way you want, but that I explain at the next notes on Directing Photography: People / Conceptual.

Jean Paturel, by ©Gonzalo Bénard

Jean Paturel, by ©Gonzalo Bénard

Tomaz D. V., by ©Gonzalo Bénard

Tomaz D. V., by ©Gonzalo Bénard

Xavier C., by ©Gonzalo Bénard

Xavier C., by ©Gonzalo Bénard

Alexandros R., by ©Gonzalo Bénard

Alexandros R., by ©Gonzalo Bénard

André F., by ©Gonzalo Bénard

André F., by ©Gonzalo Bénard

Related essays you should read:

The Conspiracy of the Brain;
The Conspiracy of the Triangle (NSFW)
;

Pain should never be an excuse, but a tool for you to create with;

What Makes a Good Photograph? (part I);
What Makes a Good Photograph? (part II);

two articles about Portrait: “A Brief History of” and  “How to Face It.

Susan A. Z., by ©Gonzalo Bénard

Susan A. Z., by ©Gonzalo Bénard

Alex R., by ©Gonzalo Bénard

Alex R., by ©Gonzalo Bénard

40GBenard VTomaz bars

Alice C., by ©Gonzalo Bénard

Alice C., by ©Gonzalo Bénard

André F., by ©Gonzalo Bénard

André F., by ©Gonzalo Bénard

text and photographs by ©Gonzalo Bénard for 2HeadS
december, 2013
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