Portraits fall into two basic categories,
the so-called candid or in- formal shot and the posed formal portrait.
There are commercial studios that specialize in the latter and often
use view cameras and special lighting equipment. But the informal
approach is the more popular.
I have always enjoyed photographing
people. If a formal portrait is to be made, I try to meet the person
before the actual picture-taking session so that I can get acquainted
with the subject and establish some rapport with him or her. I also
like to allow plenty of time to analyze the available light conditions,
backgrounds, and the position of furniture and windows. If the
arrangement can be improved by moving things around, I make it a point
to ask permission to do so first, even though I know the answer is
bound to be "Of course." Courtesy pays off in more ways than one. In a
friendly and relaxed atmosphere everything always moves along more
smoothly from beginning to end.
For portrait work I bring with me two
cameras (one as a backup), four lenses-50, 90, 105, and 180 mm—a steady
tripod, and electronic flashes. I try to use whatever available light
there is, and position the subject accordingly. Available light gives
the most natural-looking results, but flash can be useful, sometimes
essential, for filling in or lightening shadow areas.
The background is extremely important in
portrait photography. Any distracting elements, such as an awkward
chair or a tall lamp situated directly behind the subject, must be
For formal portraits I usually mount the
camera on a tripod so that I can talk to the person I'm photographing
without continually raising the camera to my eye, a practice that often
makes a sitter nervous. I also find it much easier to work when I am
alone with a subject. Bystanders at these sessions have a way of
distracting the sitter, making the whole operation much more difficult.
Informal portraits are usually easier to
take, especially under conditions where additional lighting is
unnecessary. On these occasions—on assignment, for instance—one usually
doesn't have the chance to meet the subject beforehand. I take with me
35-, 50-, and 90-mm lenses, and often don't bother with a tripod. I try
at once to establish the right atmosphere and do everything to make the
subject feel at ease in front of the camera.
When being photographed, people are apt
to seem a little tense or self-conscious at first. Consequently, one
should be prepared to waste a few frames at the beginning of the
session and keep photographing until the initial inhibition breaks down
and the subject becomes at ease.
If it is you who feels shy about
photographing someone, instead of the other way around, my advice is
just to be bold and do it. It's not so difficult, and increasing
self-confidence comes through experience.