Saturday, 14 May 2022

Thinking about portraiture by Paul Lack

The May meeting of BPC included an excellent presentation about portraiture by local photographer, Paul Lack. 

The following notes are an outline of the main points he raised and apologies to Paul for anything that has been missed out!

Q.  What is a portrait?

A.  Portraits, generally, are photographs, paintings and even sculptures of a specific person, a person who can be identified by that particular image. If an image is a general interpretation of a man, woman or child, it's considered to be a representation rather than a portrait.

Before embarking on a portrait shoot, ask:

Q.  What is the portrait going to be used for?

A.  There is a vast difference between something that will be used as part of a resume and an image that will be framed and gifted to a loved one.

Q.  What's the image about, what message will the final image give?

A.  Caring mother of a newborn baby or harassed mother who is juggling work, homelife and children on a day to day basis. Same people, different story.

Q.  What are our choices and how do those choices affect the portrait?

A.  Lighting (natural or artificial), costume, pose, backdrop, composition to name but a few can affect the message and meaning of an image. A beautiful child, immaculately dressed and posed in a big, comfortable chair will charm any parent or grandparent. Now smear some jam around their lips and pop a plaster on their knee and it's a different story!

Q.  What is the difference between a 'subject' and a 'model'? 

A.  Photographing a model, or somebody who is trained to pose for the camera, is usually easier than photographing a 'regular' person or subject who may need encouragement and guidance if 'good' images are to be created.

Q.  How do I get the subject to understand what I need from them?

A.  The best portrait photographers are those who can quickly build a rapport with their subject, this relationship will be a the heart of a pleasant and productive portrait session. Subjects aren't telepathic. If you, the photographer need a look, pose of approach from the subject you simply need to tell them; this is where the rapport really comes into play.

Q.  How can I start to build my subject's confidence in me so that I get the images I need?

A.  Ask the subject to go somewhere in their head, to think about something that might create the expression you're looking for. Imagining walking along a beautiful beach or a meadow filled with wild flowers is more likely to capture a relaxed and happy expression, whereas being stuck in a traffic jam on the M6 or taking part in a particularly difficult interview is likely to present exactly the opposite.

Q.  What about safeguarding for both the photographer and the subject?

A.  Having a third person at the shoot; someone who the subject knows and trusts usually helps them to relax and protects both parties from any misunderstanding.

Q.  What should I take to a shoot?

A.  Apart from the regular paraphernalia of camera and lighting equipment etc. and depending upon where the shoot will take place, it's well worth considering what the subject may need. A coat, hot drinks, energy bars or other snacks and even a hot water bottle. Naturally, if the shoot is somewhere hot, cold drinks, fans and shade are essential.

Q.  What should the subject wear?

A.  Unless it's a wedding shoot it's best to avoid large expanses of white as it's all too easy to lose any detail under bright lights or strong sunlight. It's not quite so difficult with black, but comfortable clothing wherever possible, in mid-tones will cut the amount of post production editing and can present a balanced palette to the final image.

Thank you Paul for a most illuminating session and we look forward to your next visit to BPC.