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Why Time is crucial in Portrait Photography

Model with cigarette in black and white
Portrait of model with cigarette in black & white

In the early days of photography, you needed a lot of time. From setting up the camera, placing the model, and the moment the photo was taken to the finished development, everything took time.

Today, everything needs to be quick and efficient. We are constantly being inundated with visual stimuli, and photos have become commodities.

Many photographers have to get their clients through the studio setup as quickly as they can if they want to operate profitably. You can either hold your photo in your hand or have it as a digital file on a USB stick a few flashes later.

Time, the most crucial component for a good portrait, has long been in short supply.

Why is time so important? To do this, the question must first be answered as to what makes a good portrait and what is a portrait at all? The word comes from the French and means "effigy", i.e. a likeness of a person. A portrait does not necessarily only have to depict the head, but a full-body portrait is also referred to as a portrait.

Basically, a portrait shoot is nothing more than a short kind of relationship between photographer and model. Basically, you can distinguish between two types of portraits, one depicts the outer shell of a person, the other tries to depict the person and this is where the time factor comes into play.

Customers who contact me bring the time necessary to capture a distinctive portrait with them. They understand that the photographer's time is pricey, but they are ultimately investing in a piece of art of themselves that they will keep forever and further generations. It's more than simply a picture; it's a very private aspect of you.

Process of a portrait photo session

When a customer inquires about me, I first arrange a non-binding meeting to get to know each other over a few cups of tea. We roughly discuss the most important things. Such as the setting, the wardrobe, the makeup, as well as certain desired props such as cars, extravagant clothing or jewellery for example. This service is free and for me, it is a crucial component of portrait photography.

As a photographer, I also make time to listen, read, and get to know my subject. I unintentionally transform into a kind of confidante who sees beyond the exterior, breaking through the facade and explores the soul of the person in front of me. I'll delve into the persona and discover what makes them unique.

The second part consists of converting the information obtained into images. There are a thousand ways to shoot a good portrait, each photographer has their own approach. As for me, I prefer so named situational portrait photography. Depending on the circumstances, the model is not seated across from me; instead, I take the shots in various settings. So I let my model do something. These can be very banal things, it's about finding the right moment and photographing a specific situation.

Actor Johnny Depp
Actor Johnny Depp

The location also plays a crucial role for me. Which is why I don't photograph classic portraits, i.e. I don't take studio photos. If you would like to take studio photos, you have definitely come to the wrong place. My studio is anywhere. This could be a street scene somewhere in Dublin or any other city, a spot in nature, a fancy hotel or simply your home.

Especially when it comes to depicting a person in their entirety, or at least getting closer to them, for me the person portrayed belongs in an environment that is suitable for them. I call it “Environmental Portrait Shooting”.

I would even argue that the material used to support the photo is also a deciding factor. So whether film, glass plate or digital file. Wet plate photography is certainly the supreme discipline and in most cases will trump all other photo media. Especially since it also has the longest shelf life. But it's also the most expensive.

The classic film, whether medium format or 35mm, also makes a difference compared to the digital file. Ultimately, you will probably choose the digital photo because it can be easily archived, as a printed image, on a smartphone or computer or you can upload it to Facebook and Instagram or share it with others.

Breaking down the fences

Another aspect is to separate yourself from established norms. My motto is therefore: "Deviate from the standard".

The camera positions do not have to correspond to the standard textbook either. I know you don't photograph a person from above, but I do it anyway.

Actor Tom Cruise
Actor Tom Cruise

Let's take a look at the photo of Tom Cruise, apart from the fact that this is a paparazzi photo, there is much more to it, if you know the details. Although, I was limited in my position here, I could only take pictures from a bird's eye perspective to avoid being seen.

Secret Messages

But that's precisely what inspired me to use this circumstance as inspiration for some kind of artwork. The plan was to align the model's lines with those on the ground. Humans have a natural tendency to seek for straight lines on which to arrange objects. I set up for the shot of Tom Cruise so that every line, whether horizontal or vertical, was precisely even and I already had the thought that I would eventually encode the picture with a secret message.

Because you need to know how to understand the picture, it is not immediately readable. Even during times of war, efforts were made to conceal messages in images that only specific individuals could decipher. Here, the same applies true.

Even though this is a paparazzi photo, I have used and perfected this type of photography as a stylistic device in my "non-celebrity" portrait shoots.

You can read more about paparazzi style photography in my blog post shown at the bottom of this page.

But back to the topic, why time is crucial in portrait photography? Firstly, it is important to get to know the person being portrayed, to read their individual characteristics and to build a relationship. In my opinion, this can't be done in a few minutes or in a "click and go studio" in a shopping mall.

Above all, the model must feel comfortable in the situation with the photographer. The chemistry has to be right, you have to build trust. That's why I always meet my clients beforehand. Only then will we arrange a shooting date.

When shooting, I make sure that the person being portrayed has time to get used to the unfamiliar situation with the camera. We take a few test shots and I show each photo. We slowly approach a familiar situation where the model soon completely forgets the camera and behaves naturally.

But ultimately every photographer works in their own way and there is no patent recipe for how to do everything right. Photography is art and in art everything is allowed.

Thank you for your interest in this article, you are welcome to leave your comment.


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