Becoming a photographer ? Read my little story and take my subjective advice
Some people think, that being a good photographer is having the best gear and this alone will allow them to take great photos, because they are sharp or have amazing bokeh*. Technical quality, yes of course it counts, but real portraiture photography is the way you see, how much you can seduce the person you are photographing, how creative you are and how you can make your model comfortable with herself.
Yes, one of those people who thought everybody is a great photographer was my uncle who took a photo of me by the White House. On the first one my legs are cropped weirdly and on another my head was gone (uncle, why do you hate me so much, whyyyy). But, I admit, the White House was in the shot.
I'll tell you a secret. A bit of psychology knowledge definitely helps. I was a real outsider when I was a teenager. I'm not saying I didn’t enjoyed my friends company, but I preferred observing people, how they behave, what they like and what they think about themselves. On top of it, because I’m an artist, I saw all surroundings as never ending stories, seeing in pictures and paintings. I cached myself constantly that I’m painting in my thoughts unconsciously. And I was ( I am ) obsessed with faces and expressions. It’s awkward sometimes, because I stare at people admiring their faces, so they probably think I am a Waco!
Aesthetic is really important to me and I truly care about details as much as it’s possible.
My first experience with the camera:
I was lucky to have a friend who was a musician and his whole family was artistic and all of them had a sense of art. He knew already how the old school, analog cameras worked, so he offered to help me purchase my very first ( here I will surprise you) Russian ZENIT with 50mm lens on it- BOOM!!!
The camera was amazing, I had to set up everything manually, adding film with a maximum of 36 photos (or frames?). It seems insane, but actually, because you only had those 36 chances with the film, plus development was expensive, I had to really think about and focus with what I would photograph. It was the best, hard core lesson I had received. Development took up to two weeks, and I always waited with excitement , just like when my mom baked some pie and I couldn’t wait for the results! Sometimes, of course, photos were unusable, there was no Photoshop option, but you learn baby, you learn!
above: couple of scanned photographs I took about 14 years ago with my Zenith.
The next camera I could afford as a student and I would take with me everywhere was my little “idiotcamera” Pentax. Unfortunately it was stolen when I was living in Germany.
couple photos taken years ago with my Pentax aka "idiotcamera".
After that I decided to purchase my Nikon and I stayed with that brand till this day and I love it!
Like I said, I had to learned all by myself and I didn’t go to photography school, but I did study Architecture where, again, they were constantly telling us:
- observe, observe, observe;
- pay attention for detail;
- good aesthetic;
My passion for art is helping me as well, for sure! All that rules though, match to photography for sure.
the best, subjective, simple advice I can give you from my experience is, If you would like to experiment with your adventure into your portrait photography is to:
- what camera will you choose, it’s totally up to you!
- don’t trust a photographer who is trying to “show of” with his gear, it’s great to have it but it does not determinate how good he/she actually is;
- try to shoot with natural light environment if possible, it looks more authentic and less flat than when you're shooting with a flash;
- focus on what you are shooting, don't snap here and there counting on luck, it's visible on the photos and they look random;
- try to see how the frame is composed, if it has something interesting to offer and if it’s in proportion;
- I know there is photoshop, but when you see some ugly background, change it, it will cost you so much less post-production work, you’re welcome;)
- if you are taking a portrait in a horizontal position, place the model a bit to the side, It looks more flattering and interesting ( also, horizons in general shouldn't be placed in the middle of your frame. This leaves an image feeling unsettled composition wise. A more effective technique is to place them in the upper or lower third of your frame);
- talking of post-production: BALANCE, is a key word. “Plasticky” looking, overdone portraits it’s never a good idea (unless you decided on a cheesy style then go for it!);
- choose your favorite topic: If you like to photograph kids, dogs, boudoir, focus on it and master it. The best photos are when you love and understand what you are photographing;
- Play with your model, make that experience fun and relaxed, it is a stressful time for both of you, a specially when you don’t know each other;
- move!!!! Change ankles, positions, don’t stand like piece of wood clicking from the same position (yes, I’m talking to you my friend);
- If you spot any light and shadow, reflection – use it in your shoot, it always looks amazing and add depth and an artistic feel into your photo;
- If you are shooting for the client, don’t expect that it will go exactly as you planed it. Different people, different reactions, so creativity and fast decisions definitely help!
- always double check in viewer what you did shoot during your work. It's happen many times that the camera is out of focus, even when captured moment was amazing, so we want to make sure we have some good shoots or we can try again;
- don’t be afraid to help your model to pose, you want to be a pro, he/she is counting on you ( do I have to mention in a nice, fun way?);
- and last but not least : SMILE and make others smile back :)
* BOKEH: The name actually comes from the Japanese word for blur or haze: boke. It also comes from the Japanese word for blur quality: boke-aji. All you need to know is that bokeh is the aesthetic quality of out-of-focus blur in a photograph.
One of my newest sessions, beautiful Kim, taken with Nikon D7000, Lens Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G.
Credits: Title photograph by Jimmy Derouin.