Our job as portrait photographers is often to flatter our subjects and help them look their best. There are so many elements that can go into this equation; lighting, posing, expression, focal length, camera angle and more. There is a lot to consider, so sometimes it is useful to train our eyes to see certain undesirable visual elements so we can weed them out.
I have both a creative and analytical mind. I do not like absolutes. I do no like rules. I do, however, appreciate guidelines that help give us photographers a better understanding of how to use our art to communicate. I’d have to side with Pablo Picasso on this one; “’Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.’”
This month I was invited by Sigma to test out their brand new Sigma 24-105mm F4 lens and to shoot a series of bridal images to demonstrate the versatility of the lens. I decided to put together a fashion-influenced bridal shoot in a stunning location and with the help of my incredible talented creative team. Once I had put together striking visual elements, I would then test all features of the lens that would be important to me as a working photographer.
For several years I photographed weddings, and all the challenges that come with them. I realized very quickly that the last thing I wanted to worry about was my gear. I had to focus on the posing, the lighting, keeping everyone happy, my extremely long shot-list, and much more. I needed to know my gear was reliable and would help me get those must-have moments. When I started I didn’t have a second shooter or assistant; I was the one-woman band expected to make every shot count.
When your job is to flatter your portrait subjects, you need as many tools in your photographic toolbox as possible so you are prepared for any features, and any ‘flaws’.
I think it is important to mention that I am not judging people’s appearance. As a fashion photographer, I often get to photograph what society considers “ideal” forms of beauty. What I notice time and time again, however, is that certain models’ “flaws” are what make them unique and memorable. In fact, there are several supermodels with so-called flaws like gapped-teeth, unusual noses, and more.
What matters is not what society says is ‘perfect’ but instead how your subjects perceives themselves. You want them to feel confident, attractive and proud of the images you provide them. You want to help them reduce anything they are self-conscious about and help their expression glow in their images.
As photographers, our job is to be problem solvers. We need to come up with visual solutions to a wide range of ‘problems’. Advertising photographers help their clients to express their brand and allure the target audience with their images. Food photographers must light and style the food to make any viewer’s mouth water. Portrait photographers must use the tools available to them to flatter their subjects.
While I consider myself a fashion photographer, a great number of my biggest clients are actually portrait clients including athletes, musicians, and celebrities. Together with my creative team we are helping them to express their personal brand through the images we make. These people are often NOT models or model-esqe. They have ‘flaws’ just like the rest of us, and my job is to help emphasize their assets and reduce attention to ‘flaws’.
Shooting a portrait at high noon can be an intimidating thing for many of us. The light is harsh, contrasty and unflattering. Furthermore, the light in the scene creates unsightly overexposed highlights and deep underexposed shadows. The ‘dynamic range’ of this scene is too much to capture all of the tones in a single frame.
Of course, it’s easier to just avoid high noon for portraits, but sometimes the situation is unavoidable. Don’t worry! You don’t need to bring tons of flashes or studio strobes on location or any expensive equipment to save the shot!