The Hidden Ingredient of Portraiture

The Hidden Ingredient of Portraiture

When it comes to portrait photography, it is not uncommon for photographers to have a focus on the technical aspects of their craft.  However, what if the secret ingredient of portraiture is more than just nailing a technically perfect photograph? Portraiture is all about the human subject and displaying their authenticity with each photo taken. The hidden ingredient that can take an average portrait to an exceptional piece of work has everything to do with the human connection to the subject.

As we explore this concept, let's discuss some critical aspects of the photoshoot that will promote the greatest chances of bringing out the emotions, personality, and expressions needed to create an exceptional portrait.  

Building Rapport Before The Shoot

The experience with your subject before the photoshoot is very critical. As a photographer, it will be your job to get to know your subject, understand their fears, understand what motivates them, and how you will capitalize on these aspects to create the best photographs. During this time, you will gain much-needed information that will be instrumental to how you will direct the client during the photoshoot.  Additionally, this should be a time where you are helping your subject feel comfortable with your location, what will take place, and how they can feel like themselves while you are shooting.  As you do this, you will be creating a rapport between subject and photographer — something that is essential to bringing out personality and character in your photos.

Subject Direction and Authentic Emotion During the Shoot

Most photographers know that many subjects they work with are not comfortable in front of a camera.  As humans, we are most likely not aware of the expressions on our faces or how certain poses will look on camera.  As a result of this, it is the job of the photographer to continually direct the subject to achieve the best poses, facial expressions, and emotions possible. A valuable tool with directing your subject is to solicit authentic, real emotions from them. For example, if you are working with a couple, you could have them whisper inside jokes to each other while you are shooting multiple frames. This essentially leads to real facial expressions that are authentic to that particular emotion. There is no better way to bring out authenticity in your photographs. Remember, you are as much a creative director as you are a portraitist!

Photographer showing feedback to a model in the field

Review Images and Provide Regular Feedback

Building confidence in your subject is essential to the flow of your photoshoot. This can easily be accomplished by providing regular feedback and positive affirmations when things are going well. A powerful tool to build confidence is to show the subject some of the photographs you have taken and how their actions have resulted in positive characteristics of the photos you are creating. This helps the subject see that they have been effective in achieving what you are attempting to create, and they can repeat more of these particular actions throughout the shoot. This creates a safe, comfortable space to make adjustments that will ultimately result in better art being created.

Bringing it All Together

Portraiture is all about the human connection. It is about helping the subject feel as if the camera is not between them and the photographer. Getting into the moment promotes a creative flow that will result in better images, a higher level of art, and essentially more emotive and human images. This can only be accomplished through the development of rapport, regular and instructive direction, and the establishment of trust with the subject. Work to elevate the way you direct your subjects. Learn how to prompt them in ways that bring out authentic emotions and expressions. As these elements all come together, you will notice that your portrait work will see a transformational shift. 

Austin Miller's picture

Austin is a professional photographer based out of Salt Lake City, Utah. He is a graduate of the New York Institute of Photography. With a passion for people, Austin loves working with both individuals and couples. At the center of his art, he loves to focus on documenting authenticity, emotion, and human connection.

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It certainly helps to be an extrovert. It's a challenging type of photography for introverts but if they persist they can be very good as they understand uncomfortable and either overcome it or use it. It helps too is the model is skilled, you can direct a model but a skilled one knows their best poses and strengths. Photographers sometimes overrate their directing skills when really they are only following the model and not directing them. Some models are just superb and need no direction at all. For me lighting is the key skill. It transforms ordinary to extraordinary

Hector Belfort I totally agree that photographers can overrate their directing skills if they are working with a skilled model! The more extraverted subjects definitely help as well. Also, I agree, lighting is a transformative skill that will elevate any photographer's work - that is, if they know how to do things correctly! Thanks for your comment!