Studio Portraits: A Gift of Yourself
I have always been drawn to strong portraiture, and single subjects pull me the most. A strong portrait can instantly convey the struggle, the love, the passion, the intelligence or the inner beauty of a person with nothing but their eyes and expression. When I photograph someone in my little studio using a simple light setup, and most often with a neutral, non distracting backdrop, I have the shot I am looking for in mind. I have the look I am hoping to pull from them. I am seeking the connection. From children to adults, a portrait, in its elegant simplicity, speaks a thousand words to the viewer.
To me, these images are a two way street. As a viewer you are not just observing an image, but you are sharing an experience with the subject. The subject draws you in, and whatever it is you hear in your heart while viewing, it makes you feel. This is always my goal when I am photographing a client or my own family and friends. To create feeling. Their eyes don’t always need to lock with my lens, but we must be connected. I am not observing and documenting, I am collecting a part of them that is very much alive and preserving it. When I am in the studio, my preference is to use a variety of artificial strobe lights with various ways to manipulate them depending on the look I am hoping to achieve. Will the light be fairly even and bright, or will something more shadowy and sculpted be appropriate. Sometimes I do not know until I start shooting, but quickly I lock in to what I feel will bring me the image I am seeking and I begin to shoot with purpose. Ninety-five percent of the time I have the edit in my head as I am shooting. Will it be warm, cool, black and white or vivid color? I almost always know how it’s going to look (or how I hope it will look!) just before I click.
As a photographer who is seeking to capture, and subsequently convey emotion through imagery, being able to connect with my subjects is essential. If my subject is not comfortable, they will not give and I will not be able to create anything memorable. For me, the way I get my subject to open to me is to open to them. People who are not used to being in front of the camera often feel self conscious so I look directly at them and simply ask for what I need, “Look at me”. “Look directly into the lens”. I make eye contact until I receive it back. I direct how I want them to sit, how to hold their bodies and usually, quite soon, there is connection and I have less and less direction needed aside from a few positioning tweaks here and there. Once we’re in sync, there is that flow of energy and I can easily get the shots I want – and when I get it, we are finished and hopefully everyone is happy and relaxed! I do this with children and adults. Children are especially challenging and fun for me to photograph as they have just as much to give as adults. Aside from their obvious, easy beauty, children are so much more than simply sweet innocence. There is a personality ready to stretch out and being able to capture that is so thoroughly satisfying. Nothing fuels me to continue picking up my camera more than when a parent of a client says to me, “You captured him/her the way I see them.”
When I’m in the studio (or shooting out in the world), I want my subjects to be comfortable, feel special, and I want there to be a give and take between them and me. You are giving me a piece of you as you are in this moment, and in turn, I am preserving that. It is my hope that I am creating something that will be treasured by future generations.
As I think of the treasured photographs of my own family, I linger on the faded and aged images of my grandparents, and my great grandparents. It is likely that the images I have of them in their youth were probably the only photos of them ever taken. The ones I have of my father’s parents are their wedding photos; solemn, standing, staring. They are formal and perhaps a bit uncomfortable, unused to this type of attention as they were not wealthy, not vain, and to them, a photograph was a luxury. The one of my mother’s grandmother; a soft smile plays on her lips, it is also her wedding day. She looks regal and soft and her life is ahead of her. A favorite image of my mother is from her nursing school graduation. She looks wistfully in the distance with her white, folded nurses cap pinned delicately in her bobbed hair. I could look at these images every day and see something different in them. They are not candid images by any means, but they are filled with emotion and the connection to the viewer is powerful. This is the gift of portraiture to not only the person who is having the portrait taken, but to the people who love them and who will look back at these images long from now. While we have endless opportunities to capture and catalog our children, our(selfies), our nights out and our nights in, there is something inherently unique about an emotional portrait. It is given, not taken.