Specialize In: Portrait Photography

When we hear the word “portrait” we might leap to the wrong visual conclusion. We might picture a stiff image of someone assuming a very formal pose in a studio setting, but modern portraiture is anything but stiff. Just consider the works of Annie Liebovitz…she seems to capture some fundamental part of the individual’s personality in her work, and then takes it as far as possible through unusual poses, locations, and props.

This is the essence of a great portrait; so, if you note that the individual’s face is transformed by their smile – then try to capture them smiling. If you note that they use their hands a lot – then be sure you can record them with their hands in action. Speak with them before forcing them in front of the camera and work hard to recognize something special about them. This demands patience, but it is well worth the effort.

A Business Out of Portraits

This also means that anyone who wants to make a career out of portrait photography is going to have to develop their technical and business skills, and they are also going to have to work on “people skills” too. For example, a great portrait tends to come from a relaxed subject. This means that a photographer will have to use their personal charm as well as their camera skills to ensure that their subject is as natural and at ease as possible.

Additionally, they are going to have to really understand the best ways of making a flattering portrait too. This means a good and thorough understanding of the lighting, the best angles and lenses, and the best setting. Wait, you might say, aren’t most portraits done in the studio? No! Many people prefer to be captured in their “natural environment” or in a preferred location. Even corporate portraits have headed far outside the board rooms or the big business settings, and this means that a good portrait photographer is going to need to understand how best to record the environment too.

Pat David – Sarah (smile!)
Pat David - Sarah (smile!)

Portraiture and Camera Essentials

Before going much farther, however, let’s stop to consider the equipment necessary for good portrait photography. One essential thing (apart from a high-quality DSLR camera body) is a zoom lens. While you might be scratching your head and asking how a zoom is necessary, let’s just stop and think about what we have already mentioned. Firstly, if the subject is to be at ease and relaxed, then the camera cannot be extraordinarily close to their face, and this is only possible through the use of the zoom. Additionally, a standard or a wide angle lens is going to distort the face of the subject or the appearance of a group. So, an ideal option is an 80mm lens because it will allow for good results when taking images of individuals as well as groups. Such a lens will also provide control over the depth of field which can provide the photograph with the option of leaving it in full focus (long depth of field) or obscuring it with intentional blur to prevent distraction (short depth of field).

The use of a tripod might be a good option too, and a few easy to use lighting fixtures or floods might be a wise investment as well.

As to the camera body, if you are a photographer who intends to market yourself as someone specializing in children or even in pets, you must be sure that your camera has a super-fast refresh rate or allows for the “burst” mode to occur. This allows multiple shots per second and is the ideal way to record an active subject in order to get an accurate representation of their personality.

Looking for Inspiration

Something that is also helpful for the professional portrait photographer is to make a study of the works of others. Don’t feel that you have to restrict yourself to modern photographers or even to photography at all. If you like the portraits of a master painter, then try to determine what it is that appeals to you. If you like the way he or she happened to light their subject, why not try to emulate that in your work. If you like the way they positioned their subject in a particular setting, you can try to follow that as well.

The Need for Photo Editing

This is where a very good photo editing program can be extremely helpful because it will often allow the photographer to add special effects and make a few changes that can convert a good portrait into a great one. These can also be used to convert files to the best possible for online viewing. This is something that cannot be overlooked in the modern era, and a program that makes it easy to setup and run an online gallery, or to send proof copies to a client, is going to give even a novice photographer the “air” of a professional right from the start.

It is also a great idea to consider joining one of the many portrait photographers associations in order to network and keep up to date with trends in the industry. The most likely options are the Association of Portrait Photographers International, the Wedding and Portrait Photographers International, and the Professional Photographers of America.