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Stop taking portraits! Do this instead.

black and white portrait of a man on the stairs in his Brunswick apartment. why I stopped taking portraits

Stop taking portraits.

It seems like a pretty wild statement to come from a portrait photographer, doesn’t it? Isn’t that what portrait photographers do? Some do, that’s for absolute sure, but the good ones; the good portrait photographers go beyond just taking a photograph of a subject. Taking portraits of people was briefly mentioned in another post but the subject needs a little more in depth discussion and clarification.

Hey, don't take my stuff!

It doesn’t feel nice to have things taken from us. Imagine walking along, minding your own business and enjoying an ice cream. A person walks up and politely asks, “Hey, I like that ice cream. Would you mind if I take it?” Oh, that’s a heeellll NO. You’re not going to let someone take your ice cream. There’s just no way. So why would you ask to take someone’s photo?

No wonder people don’t like their photo being taken.

Have you had resistance to your request of taking someone’s picture? Did you give them a compliment and therefore they must want their photograph taken now, right? Absolutely not. That’s not how the dance works.

Stop taking portraits & Start by making connections.

The whole point of a portrait is to connect. A corporate headshot will connect on a different level to a family portrait but they’ll both have something that pulls you in. It’s not possible to have a portrait like that without the photographer and subject joining forces in some way.

Start with conversation, again as I already mentioned in my street portrait post, and get to know your subject. A conversation isn’t a lecture, is the back and forth of ideas and topics that help keep the chatter flowing. It’s the same with a portrait.

A good portrait photographer will start with an idea. They’ll set a backdrop, lighting or location but then they’ll ask the question of the subject. What’s their input. How do they feel in front of this wall? Then the conversation, or the movements, facial expressions, eye twinkles or hair flicks move and change and develop as together question is asked and answer is provided.

black and white portrait of a middle aged couple in Melbourne's outer suburbs why you should stop taking portraits

And the dance ensues

The back and forth between subject and photographer becomes a sort of dance. Lights flash and faces glow and the intertwining collaboration grows into a harmonic bliss. The photographer is the choreographer and the subject the the ballerina demanding stage presence. They both hold incredibly powerful roles in the end results; without the choreography, or the photographers direction, the dancer may not know where to move next. But the dancer is the one moving. Tiny micro movements are going to be unique to the dancer and make the piece their own. These are the sorts of individual traits that during a portrait session, the photographer will pick up on. They’ll then help emphasise, or hide these in a portrait photograph that you both can be proud of.

So the key is to make portraits

That’s the point; you’re no longer taking something from someone. As you stop taking portraits, you are both now making a photograph together. It is a collaborative team working on making a portrait that is going to connect, draw in the viewer and reach an audience to tell a story with much more kick. 

The subject no longer feels a sense of loss but that they have received a great gift. Even without seeing the photographs you made together, they’ve received the gift of time. They’ve been seen and, if only for a brief moment of time, the human in front of your camera felt safe, appreciated and valued. Together you both made something far more than a jpeg on a screen. 

Let's make portraits together

As a portrait photographer, little makes me more happy than seeing you glow underneath my studio light. Than seeing your reaction to your portrait. But the conversations and moments we share will stay with me (& hopefully you too) forever.

If you’re interested in making portraits together, head over to the booking page and find a time that suits. 

black and white photograph of construction in melbourne photo of the day

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