Monday, May 13, 2013

Photographing Individuals

I am often asked if photographing "the famous" makes me nervous, and the answer is yes, although not for the reasons you would think.  Photographing "professionals" is actually a piece of cake: the know what they are doing, they respond well to direction and posing instructions, they are not afraid of the camera, and they have been thoroughly "prepped" to look their best (i.e. makeup, hair, wardrobe, etc.).   I only get nervous about the unexpected or unknown, such as impromptu shoots, or additional people, weather conditions, or other such matters.   Photographing "everyday Joes" is definitely much more challenging, in this sense, than celebrities.  

Very few people like having their portraits made, that's a fact.  For some reason or another, our society correlates being comfortable in your own skin as a form of vanity, which is a negative thing.  I truly feel sad for generations of women who are insecure about their physical selves because they were always convinced that being happy and decisive about their looks (and "over it") was akin to being vain.  While I strongly wish that all women over the age of thirty should have a solid sense of who they are, are okay with the way they look, know what looks good on them and are instinctive about their wardrobe decisions, this is simply not the reality.  More and more often than not, I see women reach high levels of anxiety and discomfort before, during, and after their photo session.  Another photographer joked with me one time that being a portrait photographer requires you to be a trained psychologist 50% of the time: reassuring people, listening to their woes, telling them "no, you're not fat or ugly," or simply managing to work around a myriad of insecurities.  Photographs and portraits are a fact of life, they will happen, and for those prospective clients out there reading this (and photographers who wish to make it easier on their clients), here are a few strong but simple tips to help guide you to success (and, ladies, read this article about why portraits are so important):

  • Photographers: never book for the same day.  Allow one or a few days between booking and actual session so that the client has time to "set their mind" to the task.  Clients: make time for your photograph.  Find a photographer while you're on vacation, for example, so you can look fresh and happy.  Try not to book on weekends; you'll be forced to "make time" during the week, and this will push you to be more responsible about how you look.
  • Strongly recommend to the ladies that they take their time to get their hair and makeup done, and get a professional manicure and pedicure.  Have people you can recommend, with variable price ranges.  For clients, if you cannot afford this, do it yourself.  A little bit of care goes a long way.  
  • Recommend that people wear what they feel comfortable in, not what is "trendy." Ask women, in particular, to choose between two or three different outfits.  Ask them to wear colors that are good for their skin tone.  For clients, you can ask someone you trust to tell you what you look good in.  Ask them to be honest, and don't take it personal.  
  • I've always been told to tell clients to wear minimal jewelry, but instead I have found that interesting jewelry helps to elevate the clients' confidence level, especially when they are "showing it off."  Pose ladies, in particular, with an emphasis on wedding rings or other poignant jewelry.  Clients, don't wear something that makes you feel vulnerable or "weird!"  
This wonderful lady in these sample photos teaches volumes about being prepared for a portrait session.  She may not be a celebrity, but she took the time to get her hair done (she did it herself), has on simple but appropriate make-up, got a brand-new manicure and pedicure (used a LivingSocial coupon!), and chose simple clothes in color tonalities that worked perfectly with her skin tone, body and shape.  It made my job incredibly easy, because when I  posed her, I did not have to worry about hiding bad nails, lopsided makeup, or wrinkled or hitched-up clothing.  As I find it very important to include the hands in my portraits, the photos were instantly successful due to her bright nails and interesting jewelry.  I was able to work with her in different environments and in different poses, without having to adjust for "inconveniences."  

© Katherine Agurcia 2013 - All Rights Reserved, Reproduction Prohibited
© Katherine Agurcia 2013 - All Rights Reserved, Reproduction Prohibited

© Katherine Agurcia 2013 - All Rights Reserved, Reproduction Prohibited

She was definitely happy about her photos, and I did remind her that most of that was due to her, and thanked her for taking the time to prepare.  

Technical Details:

Canon EOS Rebel t4i (camera)
Canon EX 600EX-RT Speedlight (flash)
Canon 17-55mm (lens)

I always photograph using manual settings.  Usually, I photography at ISO 200, except at sunset, when I like to "soften" the images, and I use an ISO 400.  I set my background first, usually around 1/200 or 1/125 for speed.  Since I use a camera-mounted flash, I set that usually at 0 TTL (depending on the light--if the light behind the subject is strong, I bump it up all the way to 3 TTL), and then I work on my f-stop (usually between 5.6 and 14).  

Photos were edited using Adobe Lightroom 4, Photoshop 6, and Portrait Professional.

As always, come back for more tips on photographing people and taking portraits, and check out some previous posts by clicking on the different topic labels to the right.  


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