Portrait photography and subtle nuances

Portrait photography and subtle nuances

Portraits and portrait photography seems such a simple thing doesn’t it?  They’re just photos of people, after all.  Of course, when you dig a little deeper, things become more complicated.

I shot these images for a health company earlier this year.  I was invited to visit them to shoot, principally, a magazine cover image; of the director of the company, to be featured in a local monthly magazine.  No problem – portraits is what I do all the time.  But the fact that it was going to go on a magazine cover meant there were a few things I needed to bear in mind.  The shape of the publication, for a start.  Magazines tend to be A4, or close to, so the photo needed to be upright.  It might appear full page, in which case there needed to be sufficient dead space in the image for the other things that occupy a cover; the magazine title at the top, the story and contents headings that are spread around the edges of the cover, the ISBN bar code, etc.  This necessity meant that shooting a half length portrait gave more scope for creating this dead space.  (Dead space, in case you didn’t know, means parts of a photo that have nothing or hardly anything in them.  In the design world, they’re the bits that are best for dropping text or logos on to, as the lack of clutter behind means that words, logos and images are clearer to see).  So, these portraits included some context, in the form of the company office space.  However, in placing the director in the space, there were things I needed to do to make sure the portraits worked.  No glaring colours or shapes in the background, for instance.  Nothing that would jar or distract the viewer’s attention from the person.

I was also asked to shoot some simple staff headshots too – quite different in format, shape and set up.  Simple head and shoulders stuff, shot against a plain (just off) white background.  Nice, clean photos, with clear, pleasant expressions.  Perfect for Linkedin and other profiles.

So they’re all portraits, but if you compare them you see the different intentions behind them; and how those intentions make the photos very different indeed.  Of course, you don’t need to think about that – it’s part of my job to make the format and content fit the intended outcome.  (As a slight aside, the same applies to other types of photography I shoot – see this post for a similar discussion of advertising photography)

portrait photography for a magazine cover showing plenty of dead space portrait photography of businessman in office building

Part of the trick of good portrait photography is to make it seem simple, while paying attention to the subtle nuances that differentiate one kind from another.  It’s one of the main reasons for hiring a professional like me.