Portrait photography, if you have the knack for it, is a very satisfying type of photography. I say you have to have a knack for portrait photography simply because it’s true. If you can’t put your subject at ease and get them comfortable sitting in front of a camera then as a portrait photographer you have a problem on your hands.
Your subject will turn out stiff and unwilling and it will come through in the photograph as well, and it won’t matter how good a photographer you are, or how much wizardry you can do with editing software.
If the original photograph you take is flawed then there’s not much you can do about it except go back to the drawing board. And by the drawing board here I don’t mean your portrait photography skills but the need for you to brush up on your people skills. And don’t worry if the first ever portrait photograph you take is of the person looking stiff and unnatural. You just need to keep trying until you get it right. And you will make it. Besides, most first attempts at anything invariably come out looking wrong so don’t get discouraged.
It’s only when things are still looking decidedly dicey after about two years of almost dedicated portrait photography that you might want to think about brushing off those people skills you knew you had but which you haven’t been able to find.
For my very first portrait photography session, I hijacked my sister into being my willing victim – oops, I meant to say guinea pig – and I can tell you that the end results were disastrous to say the least.
After that I just forgot all about it and left my desire for portrait photography behind me. Again at this point it was the whole film and processing thing, I didn’t feel like wasting my time and money on something that I clearly wasn’t good at. I also knew that no matter how much I tried to brush up my people skills that that was really as good as it got. So there I was, and there was portrait photography, a seemingly unobtainable goal in my photographic life, until that is of course, I bought my digital camera.
And I have to say that after that, whole new worlds opened up to me and I even went so far as to dream about doing some portrait photography as well. Luckily for me as the years had passed my people skills had also loosened up a little bit and I wasn’t so stiff-necked when I went it to this time. My photographs were still stiff necked, in the beginning at least, but they did improve with time and I can now take a decent portrait photograph without too much of a problem.
The moral of the story then? The digital camera is good for experimenting with photography. And portrait photography is good if you can easily interact with your fellow human being. But overall, don’t give up on portrait photography just because your very first shots were far from perfect. Give it a few more tries and don’t lose hope that you’ll eventually get something more than halfway decent.
Before I forget, I’d also like to point out that portrait photography need not only be about the traditional portraiture. You have many options open to you and which one you take depends to a large amount on your subject, basically which type of portrait would display them best, and your own inclinations. This was just to give you an idea of what type of portrait photography you can look forward to. Good luck!
By Muna Wa Wanjiru