Designing A Portrait That Visually Makes Sense

My process of portrait design is simple, I start with the elements I have the least control over and coordinate those elements to the ones I have the most control over. This means I start off with the client’s clothing and work though the process coordinating everything to the look and style of the clothing and make-up. When working with a senior in the studio, we have huge variety of sets and props, designed to coordinate with different styles of clothing. At outdoor locations we must inform the senior/teen how to dress to coordinate with the overall look of the location. If they have selected a typical park location, we have the senior wear shorts, jeans, summer dresses, letter or leather jackets or anything else that is more casual. Should the senior select to be photograph in a interior location that is more elegant (there home, a theater or museum that you might have permission to go to) the senior is told to wear more elegant clothing and make-up to coordinate with the location. Once the senior starts to put on a certain outfit, my staff starts putting together the background/set they will be using. Backgrounds and sets have a certain overall style or look. Some will look very upscale and elegant while others will appear very natural, perfect for more casual style of portraits. The best backgrounds and sets are designed to reflect the feeling of the other elements they are paired with. Many of my professionally designed sets look very elegant with a prom or evening dress, while looking casual enough for a pair of jeans with the girl going barefoot. And like the color of money, I like to think that a black Fatboy and a red Viper go with anything! After the set/background is selected, the style of lighting is chosen, again to fit the look of the clothing and set selected. Should it be a more ‘slice of life’ image the lighting will be more traditional, if the clothing and background are more glamorous I may use a ring-light, butterfly light or the diamond spot light for a more glamorous look. The last consideration is the pose. When I select the pose I am looking at two things, first is coordinating everything else I have selected so far and second (and even more important) is a pose that will make the client look her best. Although I make many decisions before I see the client in her outfit, I am always ready to make changes once the client appears. I may have everything set for a full length standing pose to show an elegant dress and the senior/teen comes out barefoot and says she forget her shoes, then we go to plan B, which would be simply take the image in a ¾ pose and don’t show the feet. Many photographers lack flexibility when working with their clients. I told a story in one of my first books about a photographer working with a client in an outdoor location many years ago. His client was a young lady a few years out of high school, she was in a dark shirt and black jeans, with black shoes. She sat on a rock by the lake and here pant leg raised showing her white socks underneath. She asked the photographer if her white socks were going to show, he responded “of course their going to show, it didn’t want to see them you shouldn’t have worn them!” He then proceeded to take the shots full length as if to teach his client a lesson. He did in fact teach his client a lesson and the lesson was he was a ‘horses-ass’ and she should have selected a more professional photographer! This guy could have asked her to take off her shoes and sock or simply changed the composition to not show the feet, but he was inflexible. Once he had decided on what he was doing, he wouldn’t change it to fit the needs of the client. He paid the price that all arrogant photographer pay, he is now fifty years old working for his father. Once I see the client in the outfit I make my final decisions about posing and then I go through the variations of poses for that idea. The client then selects the pose, I help her into it, adjust the lighting and then go to the camera. At the camera there are still more choices to make. Do I take the image at a normal height, elevated or lower height? Do have the camera straight or tilted to distort the vertical and horizontal lines?

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~ by jeffsmithbooks on July 17, 2011.

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