What makes a portrait great? Can you think of a portrait you have seen or have created yourself that really stands out as a great portrait? What is it that makes that portrait stand out? Is it the lighting or background? maybe the depth of field? While these are important considerations, they are not in themselves the things that are going to make a portrait outstanding. What really matters is how a portrait moves a viewer emotionally.
Creating a portrait that has emotional impact has to do with capturing something; an expression, an emotion, or a reaction in the subject that the viewer can feel. If the portrait is something that any viewer might be moved by, that’s a pretty good sign it’s going to be even greater to a parent or other loved one. For our business success, what really matters is how moving it is to the person hiring you to create the portrait.
Great portraits reflect something of the inner nature or experience of the subject in a given moment. Our job is to facilitate that moment in a way that the subject is at ease enough to give us a glimpse of their inner world. Doing so requires that they not be thinking about having their portrait taken, rather, they should be in thought about something significant, perhaps a meaningful event in their life, something that evokes a desired emotion, or perhaps simply responding to the photographers comments with a genuine smile.
If the subject is a child, playing with them and engaging them in activities, while adjusting camera settings, lights, or tripod, without causing those equipment maneuvers to be a distraction from the connection with the subject. That can be very challenging at first. But given enough time, can become automatic.
A good practice is to have camera settings, lighting, and props set prior to a subject arriving for a session. Also have questions you can ask the subject to get them talking about an themselves, perhaps an experience they had, and keep their mind off of being photographed. I like to get them talking and be ready to shoot right when the perfect expression happens. With children, I will have toys or things of interest within a certain area that will get their attention and keep them in the area I want them in so I can be all set to shoot and again, just wait forthat magic moment.
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