Sunday, March 30, 2008

Approach to taking a portrait

Portrait of Amitabh Bachchan. Click on the image to see larger version.

Every portrait is different but there are also elements which are the same, whether you’re shooting the famous or the locally famous.

Fame is of course all relative. It depends on profession, accomplishments or media celebrity status. Whoever the ‘famous’ individual is there are millions of people in the world who will never have heard them.

For example I photographed the legendary Indian Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan, who amongst his many accolades was awarded the Legion d'Honneur, the highest civilian award of France. But I’m positive that many people in North America will not have heard of him – although he has more fans than Tom Cruise, Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro put together.

I find that however well known a person is cracking through egos and insecurities is really important when it comes to getting authentic strong portraits. However I hasten to add that when it came to photographing Amitabh the experience could not have been better. He is a gracious, warm, friendly and actually very interested in photography being a photographer himself.

Some photographers like to arrange every single thing before the photo shoot and they know exactly what they want and how they are going to get it. I’m different. I like spontaneity. I like to set the stage for interesting things to happen. Sometimes though you do have to take a more rigid approach particularly if time is severely limited, like when you’re photographing a well know individual who has decided to spare you ten minutes for a portrait shoot.

Taking an open approach to a photo shoot however doesn’t mean you can ignore preparation. It’s absolutely essential. Here are a few things to think about:

Background. Find out about your subject. Whether you’re photographing a politician, an actor or a school teacher, it’s good to have common ground that you can talk about and the more you know about them the better. By the way if you’re photographing a football player, don’t chattily say you’re not interested in game. Tact is important!

Equipment. Only take what you need and make sure that it all works properly and you’ve got a backup plan if something goes wrong with a camera body, flash or lens.

Location. Some will say it is essential to scout locations. I think it depends on the circumstances but you should have an idea of what to expect. Make sure you know where you are going and that you get there in plenty of time. Nobody likes to be kept waiting.

To show or not to show. Shooting digital means that you can show the portrait session to your client/subject as you are taking the shots. Be careful not to kill the flow of the shoot though by stopping and starting too often. There will be natural breaks during changes of clothes and lighting. It can be good to show what you’ve been up to and sometimes this leads to great creative collaboration. Always keep control of the shoot though.

Making magic. In essence when your subject is in front of your lens they are acting themselves and you’ve got to help them give you something special. One well known portrait photographer used to speak very quietly and the subject would lean forward straining to hear, and at that moment the shot would be taken. The result was the subject looked alert and attentive. Another photographer makes his subjects stand for hours in a swimming pool before taking their portrait – thereby stripping away all facades and expressions. Whatever strategy you use it is up to you to direct your subject and create the right environment for something special to happen so that you have a unique portrait that is meaningful and has authenticity.

There is much more to write on this subject but for now I hope the above has provided you with food for thought and that you’ve found it useful.

Till soon,

Paul Indigo

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Creative insights

For many years I have admired Victor Habbick's creative genius. He combines tremendous skill in photography, the digital darkroom and graphic design to come up with extraordinary images.

Victor has finally given in to the constant requests for information about how he achieves his images and decided to share his wisdom in a book, CD and as a download which you can buy here.

He describes his book on his website:

"The first collection of work by Artist and Photographer Victor Habbick, including chapters covering the first 10 years as a conceptual stock artist for The Science Photo Library. Candid biography of his early years and articles providing a fascinating and insightful look into the creative processes involved in the creation of his art and photography. Featuring a cornucopia of ideas and styles, science, technology, space, the human condition, fantasy, wildlife and so much more. Includes articles dealing with presentation and typography and a large selection of before and after shots giving the viewer a chance at last to see the raw imagery that goes into many of his most popular pieces. Foreword by Dr. Gary Evans, Manager of Scientific Relations at The Science Photo Library, London."

I can highly recommend a visit to Victor's website. He's an inspiration to many photographers and I'm fortunate enough to count him as a friend too.

Till soon,


Thursday, March 06, 2008

Where's the passion?

A couple doze peacefully on an English beach during a bank holiday weekend.

The title of the blog, where's the passion, has got nothing to do with the image, although I admit the juxtaposition amused me.

The question is really addressed to other photographers but I suppose it could apply to anyone in their career. Photography is one of those jobs that requires passion and care.

As the years go by I have encountered many professional photographers who sadly have lost their passion. It's usually replaced by a cynical attitude, cutting corners, going through the motions and often hidden behind a massive ego. These photographers use a tired formula that hasn't changed in years, get paid and move on to the next routine job. Even more sadly they frequently don't realise that they've lost that wide-eyed passion and enthusiasm they had when they first started. Yes, life can wear you down but when it does you've got to do something about it.

Fortunately some photographers realise what's happening and they move on to other fresh photographic challenges. Sometimes you'll hear about a really successful photographer, maybe in advertising or fashion, who gives up their mainstream career to pursue their own projects. These are the photographers who realise that the time has come to move on and reclaim their passion.

Amateurs often have more passion than pro photographers. They aren't exposed to the chores, repetition and constraints that pros face. Some amateurs though are more passionate about equipment than photography but that's another story...

I'm fortunate, I've never lost my passion and the joy of getting it right down to the smallest detail. There's always room for improvement, always a new challenge and more to learn.

However if you're reading this blog and secretly you think to yourself, "Hmm I recognise what he's saying here." Then I implore you to take action now to make yourself happier and more satisfied in what you do. Re-ignite that passion. Change direction. Start doing research. Get out of your rut. Take a course. Start shooting with film again (if you work digital now) or vice versa. Don't use that old excuse about having to pay the bills. A fresh boost to your creativity and passion and you may be in much stronger position to earn more than you do now. What are you waiting for?

And to those photographers who are sitting there reading this and who have got passion... I say, watch out for the early warning signs, like when you think to yourself, "Is it worth the extra effort. Will the client even notice? If the client doesn't care why should I?" These are not the thoughts of someone who is passionate about what they do.

One last thing. Don't flog a dead horse. If you don't feel passionate about photography anymore, and you can't see yourself taking a different route in photography, then why not consider doing something else? Life is too short to be stuck doing something you don't feel passionate about.

And if you are full of enthusiasm, obsessed with getting every detail right, love what you're doing and photography is your passion and life then be happy. What you have is rare in this world where most people work to live, rather than live to work.

Right that's enough for tonight. I'm off to work on my latest batch of images. Can't wait!

Comments welcome as always.


Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Life on the street

Leeds is a vibrant city for of life and diversity. I love it.

A big thank you to everyone for their emails and messages. I'll be back soon, April I hope. In the meantime I'll keep uploading the odd bit here and there.