Building a relationship is the key to a great portrait image.
“The one thing that you can do to take better portraits is to actively show an interest in the person you are photographing,” Hannah says. “Don’t just ask how their weekend was without ever really caring about the answer. Ask them about their work, their friends, their family. I ask these questions and look at their faces to see their different expressions - I can tell the difference between how they smile when you pick up the camera and how they smile when they are truly happy.”
Another reason to really communicate with your subject is to make them feel comfortable and relax. This helps when it comes to posing your subject.
“If you talk for long enough, people naturally pose themselves,” explains Hannah. “They may shift their weight onto one leg, or stick a hand in a pocket - they’ll do something that makes them comfortable, so I just observe what they do. Sometimes I will have to take control and I think about their body language and what we are trying to say in the image. You must always remember the objective of the shoot and pose the subject accordingly. A portrait accompanying a press release may need to look like the person has authority. A portrait of a children’s school teacher will require a very different, softer, approach.”
Eyes are key to a portrait image - they have to be the point of focus and you can change how intense a portrait is by how much of the face is in focus.
To make sure the eyes are always pin sharp Hannah uses the Eye-AF feature of her α7R III, as “it gives me the flexibility to move around my subject and know that the camera will focus precisely on the eye each time.”
By far the most important part of telling a person’s story in a portrait is how you light their face. Different types of lighting can completely change the narrative of image, so it is important to use what you know about the subject to tell their story correctly.
“Because every person is unique, I don’t have a ‘go-to’ lighting setup,” Hannah explains. “I believe in keeping my lighting as simple as possible. I can use up to six different lights on an image, but some of my favourite portraits that I've taken are just with a single light. So to start I like to keep everything as simple as I can with focus on the subjects face and nothing else; for me it isn’t about fashion, or the clothes, I don’t care about hair or make-up, I’m interested in the person.”
When you’ve spent a few hours photographing you can end with hundreds of photos of the person, so how exactly do you choose the images that you want to show the client?
“When I’m going through my shots, I’m looking for images that are accurate for what I saw and what I know of the person that was sitting in front of me,” says Hannah.
“As for expressions, it does depend on what the images are used for, but I will often show a variety so I might leave something where they look very stern, just so they can see the difference between stern and serious, or smiling and really cracking up laughing. But my general rule is I don’t ever put an image in the final selection that I don’t want the subject to use as their chosen image.”
Hannah concludes: “I do give them as wide a selection as possible however, because how we see ourselves is completely different to how someone else is going see us.”
Hannah is a Sony Europe Imaging Ambassador and you can see more of her work at www.sony.co.uk/alphauniverse
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By Park Cameras on 21/04/2020
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