You’ve been asked to shoot a portrait. You are thinking about which pose you’ll use, how you’ll set your lights, how far the subject is from the background, what exposure to use, etc.
Don’t forget the most important aspect of a good portrait – you’re taking a photograph of a living, breathing human being.
When you make a portrait, if you’re fussing with the lights and the camera and generally ignoring your subject, the results can be less than satisfying.
Most people don’t really enjoy having their portrait made. So they’re uncomfortable to begin with. Then you put them in a strange setting, with a person they don’t know (that would be you) and the level of discomfort is magnified. This leads to ugly photographs.
Spend as much time as you can getting your equipment set up and tested BEFORE the portrait subject arrives. Know how your camera and lights (if any) work together. Practice and make sure you’re confident. Then, when the subject arrives, get out from behind the camera. Spend some time greeting the person. Shake their hand. Touch them. Smile. Ask them questions and then let them talk. Compliment them. Tell a joke. Tell a story. Get on common ground.
You need to be encouraging when you’re making a portrait. This puts people at ease. If you treat them like a real person and not just a photographic subject, you’ll have a better chance of getting them to open up and relax.
Spend more time addressing your subject than your camera next time you make a portrait – and remember what my pal Rick Sammon always says: “The camera looks both ways.” Be sure to have your smile on if you want to see them smile.