Making Powerful Professional Portraits

We all have our pictures online. But do we have a picture that defines who we are as a professional and what we do? In this competitive world where your digital presence is a business card, what difference does a professional portrait make? 

In this digital age, everyone meets everyone virtually before catching up in person. The pictures that you publish online on your website, social media, biography page, are very important. First impressions are everything. That is where a professional photographer and portraits come into play. A powerful portrait can clearly establish your presence in a sound way and elevate your professional outlook. So, how do you make sure these powerful portraits work your way? 

To pen out my thoughts on this topic, I pulled out a quick shoot in my studio to present a live case. Kiruba Shankar, an entrepreneur who wears multiple hats in terms of the work he does, was a good friend to me and wanted to get some portraits. Let me walk you through the process of making powerful portraits. 

Start a Clear Channel of Communication 

It is important that the photographer starts talking with the client way before the shoot date. Important preferences like the outfit, the shoot dates, and every essential thing need to be discussed. Is the client supposed to come prepared with makeup done or is it to be done on the spot? How long is the shoot? How many wardrobe changes are in the plan? All these questions need to be answered. Failure to have these ticked in advance will lead to hassle on the shoot day. You don't want the client to run all over the place on the shoot day for last-minute preparations. The more you invest in the client communication, the easier it is to plan for the shoot.  

Plan the Kind of Shots

With all the essential information from the client, the photographer will then have the ground to plan the kind of shots that can be pulled off. In case the client has preferences from images that h/she has seen online, ask them. It will guide you to plan the theme of the shoot. In this instance, my client needed profile shots that portrayed him as an entrepreneur, public speaker, and an author. So naturally, I pre-visualized poses in that line of thought. With a list, it can be ensured that no shots are missed. 

Create the Perfect Setup 

Make sure your studio setup is equipped with the needed lights and props for the shoot. What are the kind of lenses you are going to use? Do you have your assistant informed about the arrangement you have in mind? Are the cameras charged and set with memory cards? Special attention needs to be given to the kind of backgrounds you will be using. The color of the background will define the mood of the entire picture. You have to make sure it is color-coordinated with the client's costume. In my case, I used hand-painted backdrops from Mizu Backdrops, which worked well for me. It is good to have an array of options that you can keep shifting for the kind of shot you are taking. The significance of a hand-painted backdrop is a separate topic by itself. We will discuss it in a coming article. 

Direct the Subject

Assuming that the setup is ready, the next important subject of focus is the subject. Yes, as a photographer, you might have already established a clear line of communication with all the expectations noted down. But what is more important is the subject's cooperation. Not everyone is a model, so it might be a little intimidating for the subject to be at his/her natural ease. It is the photographer's duty to start a conversation and make them feel comfortable. Direct them with poses, and see how best you can capture them. Once in a while, show them the shots you are making, so they feel confident about the way they look. Every little thing matters. For instance, where should he/she be looking? Should the subject be smiling in a big way or subtly? Feed the client with all these essential pointers that will make them free-flowing. In fact, it is a good idea to play some light music in the background, which will act to keep the void away. In a matter of time, they will be in sync with you. The results will be impactful. 

Improvise in the Situation 

There might always be a surprise awaiting you, the photographer, no matter how much you plan. For instance, in this case, my subject had just lost a considerable amount of weight, so his favorite coat looked a little looser than usual. We used a set of clips to hold his coat tight from the back. You might have had a set of shots listed down, but a few of them might not come out well or the client might not be comfortable. The photographer then has to adapt to the situation and come up with solutions. Such improvisations on the spot are very essential. This will show the professional that you are rather than an amateur who might tumble. 

A good deal of post-processing is necessary to refine things. With the culling of the images and editing done, at the end of the day, when the client looks back at the pictures made, he/she is bound to understand the importance of the professional portraits. Compared to the casual images that people easily tend to sport on their professional pages, a good, solid portrait will bring in a world of difference and set the stage up for a conversation. Everything said and done, all above entirely depends on the skill and mindset of the photographer to execute this to perfection. For these are not just pictures that will fade with time, but portraits that are powerful and unique, defining the individuals shot at their best during that time.  

Scroll up to watch the full video to quickly grab the highlights of the power of portraits and the role of a professional photographer (and the client) in them.   

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9 Comments

This dude looks powerful... a powerful predator.

Michael Comeau's picture

He's one step away from being a James Bond villain. And I mean that in a good way!

Thanks! I love reading about portraiture, especially the interaction with the subject. It would be nice to have articles about facial expressions and positioning (hint, hint). :-)

Jeff McCollough's picture

How about more photography articles period and less political nonsense?

That should go without saying and something I can't recall Amar ever being guilty of.

Jeff McCollough's picture

Yeah I was making just a general statement, nothing directed towards him.

Studio 403's picture

One fine post. Well done

Jay Jay's picture

The photos look like they were shot in the mid 1980's. Think it's that backdrop, lighting, and what he's wearing. Not bad photos at all, just looks like it was shot in a different decade. There are technical details to always be aware of when shooting promo and headshots, it's not all just the pose but the smaller details, as these become very noticeable when printed, or as some publishers do, crop, enlarge, and print- and that's the eyes. The whites are not evenly white, and in photo 2, they're actually red, likely because that bow tie is reflecting into them. That makes him look a sickly, not to mention the red vein that's next to his eye on camera left.

I like to tell my models to pose with hands a little off axis from the camera, so that the back of the hands do not face the camera, because they'll show all the bones and veins in the hand, which lighting will pick up and amplify.

Again nice photos, as a photog and retoucher, certain things stand out more to me than others. :)

Yeah, well some of that has to do with the subjects style and haircut but I don't disagree with you. I think this article was pretty lame personally.