‘Before the invention of photography, a painted, sculpted, or drawn portrait was the only way to record the appearance of someone’. ‘But portraits have always been more than just a record. They have been used to show the power, importance, virtue, beauty, wealth, taste, learning or other qualities of the sitter.’ – TATE MODERN
How do i shoot portraiture?
There are many ways to interpret the essence of the above statement when taking a portrait photograph and it is these principals that I put first. Composition, placement, light, the angle of the subject in relation to the lens; these all provide different qualities and combinations to unlock what is seen to be true and developed.
In the same way there is no fixed approach towards the lens and settings on a camera. It depends on the individual you are documenting, no two are the same; it’s the photographer’s role to view what matters, what’s available to them, and how to build these different layers in a way that tells the story visually. Sometimes images require a clarity in the background and the sharpness increases the narrative, other moments require softer intimacy.
When shooting portraiture the two priorities first and foremost to me, and it’s a balance of the two, are the setting and the light. These are the most crucial to govern along with time.
I collaborated with a number of first class vinyassa instructors in Cape Town on a project entitled ‘Urban Yoga’. The theme was to demonstrate and encourage yoga to a wider audience. There are a great many images of yoga being practiced in remote environments; our portraiture project was to bridge a gap and reach out to those who visualised yoga as isolated to a few and requiring a particular mindset. To diffuse these boundaries we shot in the heart of the city amongst everyday life. Vital too was to capture the dynamic of each tutor and to make it more authentic clothes that would be worn outside the yoga studio were chosen.
Given the budget and time i’m capable of painting creatively with lights, preferring permanent lighting over strobes. I’ve had the history, i’ve done the work. However Mike Robinson, an established documentary cameraman i respect greatly encouraged me early on in my career to seek out what was natural, pure and real. That more often than not, simplicity yields more than an elaborate set up.
I believe the true worth and value of a photographer should be based on how resourceful they are, how able they are to work with what they’ve got- from equipment to environment.
The photographers in portraiture that inspire me most are the early works of Bailey and Liebovitz.