Who are you? A Photographer or an Artist?
When I first started portrait photography, I fell in love with the fact that you could enhance the mood of a picture with the addition of an individual. To be able to portray a story within the photo was simply intriguing. However, the more I started to take portraits the more I realized that I was no different than any other person who labeled themselves as a photographer, simply because I take a picture with a camera. I was trapped in a mindset of taking portrait ideas everyone else was doing. Not that I was afraid to do something new, but rather I was unable to be creative and develop an art of my own. I reflected upon my work and the work of others, and questioned what made photographers different from each other. Why did some photographers attract more attention and audience than others? What made their ideas so worthwhile that others also started to replicate it? It was within my questions that I realized the answer to all my questions…
Those that create new ideas were more than just a photographer, they were artists. They didn’t just rely on meet ups and shoot whatever was provided, but rather spent the hours thinking about how to develop an artwork that expressed their original idea, turning that idea into a reality. From researching the location of their shoot, to finding the most suitable models, to styling the models, a lot more effort was put into the works of artists who wanted to create something new. Furthermore, they engaged with their model and with their surroundings to enhance the mood they wished to capture. I want to be artist; to be able to turn my ideas and thoughts into an artwork.
I asked myself, to be an artist, how should I start? Simply enough, the answer laid right in front of me: Be creative. To be honest, a photoshoot doesn’t necessarily require any money at all. Use what you have around you and get creative with it! In the practice, I developed my style of portraiture:
Pick a random item
Don’t take too long deciding, just choose. Your hesitation in your decision making will only hurt you in trying to become more creative. Decide how to incorporate that item in your shoot. Ask yourself, “what kind of story/mood do I want to create using this item?” Don’t stop at just one idea! Allow your creativity to ramble and try all those ideas. Recognize the fact that the item is not simply just a single item. You can break it, transform it, mix it together with other items, etc. This process of thinking will get you away from the simple “place and shoot it” kind of thought, and will get you to be more creative instead.
Shoot location and time
When deciding on your location, take into consideration if this should be taken indoors or outdoors, and if during the day or night. Are there other items that are needed or provided? I personally love shooting outdoors because it gives me the perfect opportunity to shoot with different backgrounds. You could shoot in a park and still result in many different frames. Take advantage of what your surrounding provides, as it will evoke the emotions and feelings your photo is trying to convey, connecting with the emotions and feelings of your audience.
Find your model
There is a diverse community of models to choose from, however, it doesn’t mean that just any model can be suitable for your photoshoot. I do believe that anyone can be a model, but I also believe that certain models will provide better features that can enhance the mood you wish to capture.
Explore options for an outfit that will connect your model and their surrounding together. Always, always, always check with your models first to see what clothes they have! If they don’t have the outfit that you wish to shoot in, see if you or your friends or family have similar outfits they are willing to lend you. If that option fails, think about how you can use items you to create a similar outfit. For example, in place of a shiny silver dress, I tied a reflector board around my model to make it into a convincing dress. Whatever happens, save the idea of buying an outfit last. In terms or makeup, if your model is doing their own makeup, let them know the details of the type of look you want and what colors they should use. Provide them with examples if you have any. Otherwise, just leave it to your makeup artist.
During your shoot, you probably already have ideas and poses you want to capture. However, don’t let that stop you from trying new ideas. Shoot from different angles, try different poses, and move objects around. Sometimes the shoot may not go as planned, but make the best of it and adjust! Engage with your model often so they are more comfortable in expressing themselves. Play some music in the background to keep the shoot lively. Something to keep in mind is to never lose focus on the details. Fix strays hairs, have your model adjust a certain pose, or adjust your frame to remove unwanted items in your background. These small changes in details will save you lots of time during the editing process.
Editing and Post-Shoot
When it comes to editing, my best piece of advice is to just be original with your edits and bring out the best mood within your pictures. People will always judge your work and some will tell you their ideal edits for portraits. Unless they are there to provide you with advice on how to better develop your work, don’t let society’s standards stop you from producing your own art and your own style. Personally, I like to keep my edits simple and closer to the raw version as much as possible. One key advice: keep your model’s skin tone as close to natural as possible. A model’s skin tone will most likely come out to be very “red,” so drop down the saturation in the “red” and “orange” if you are using Adobe Lightroom.