What is the difference between a headshot and a portrait?
You can think of a headshot as being more of an iconic representation. Featuring only the head and shoulders and set against a plain background without props, the subject is usually evenly lit, with their eye line directed at the camera. Headshots are used in professional settings by both corporates and actors alike. The traditional cropping for a headshot is 8” x 10” inches, however with Facebook and LinkedIn this can also be a circle or a square.
A portrait is seen as more or a realistic representation of it’s subject. Often it will accompany an article in an editorial or feature on a bio where a more in depth representation is required. As the intention behind a portrait is generally to convey mood and emotion, elements such as styling and lighting are usually more intricate. Because portraits are seen as a photographer’s interpretation of a subject there is no specific crop size.
While portraits can be taken anywhere, they will often use their setting as a way of enhancing their subject’s story. This can also be referred to as an environmental portrait. A studio portrait offers a more abstract representation. Often the sitter will appear against a plain background. This helps to isolate them from their environment and allows the viewer of the portrait to focus in on subtle details.
What is editorial photography?
The concept of editorial photography, can often be confusing to both clients and photographers who are new to the industry. In it’s general sense, it refers to the photography that accompanies an article or an interview in a book or a magazine. For discussion, I’ll use fashion magazines as an example.
Editorial photography tends to focus more on realism as opposed commercial photography which is geared towards perfection. Editorial photography may include a small credit or caption for fashion designers who’s work is featured in an article, however it is not used directly to sell product. In cases where editorial and adverting merge, we get what is known as an advertorial. This is where a designer or a retailer will commission photography which has the feel of an editorial spread but who’s purpose is to directly showcase their product. Like advertising and commercial photography, it’s usually more glossy and finished in appearance. It tends to use clean and even lighting in order to allow the viewer to see the actual detail in the clothing. The images are quick and easy to access. In the case of clothing you can usually make out each button hole and stitch.
Editorial photography is produced by magazines or publishers, who in turn commission fashion photographers along with stylists and make up artists to create content for a specific issue. Because of the trend setting nature of fashion magazines, editorial photography tends to be more creative and progressive. Clothing may appear out of focus or in shadow as a way of enhancing the mood of an image. As it works on an emotional level, many high-end fashion brands will use the style of editorial photography for their adverting campaigns in order to appeal to a more refined market. Often the look will be more edgy and sexy. In some cases, the design or product will not even be featured in the actual image.
Can you replicate a shoot I have seen elsewhere?
Clients who are new to working with professional photographers will often ask if the photographer can create a shoot for them based on an image they have seen in a magazine or on the internet. While this can be helpful in communicating your preferences, there can be however many hidden challenges associated with approaching a photography shoot in this way.
Firstly, it’s important to understand that the internet is awash with glamours portraits of celebrities dressed in designer fashion and shot in exotic locations. Because these images are so common place in our culture, they give off the impression that they are easily obtainable. The fact is, the budget for some photography assignments, particularly advertising campaigns can be massive. An example would be the iconic Pirelli Calendar, where the budget can be 1 million USD to produce 12 final images.
If you’re a small business in Sydney looking to undertake a branding campaign or an individual wanting some personal portraits, it may be useful to use these sourced images to stimulate some initial ideas for yourself. At the end of the day, you’re going to be far better off choosing a photographer who’s work resonates with you, and creating your ideas from there. The reason for this is that professional photographers spend years developing their own unique style - which is like a creative signature. While a technically skilled photographer may be able to emulate another photographer’s work, it will never be as good as work from the original source, or the work they would have done using their own techniques and ideas.
When you look at a film for example, it almost goes without saying, the sequel is never as good as the original. This has a lot to do with the way in which the project is approached. When you create an original work, you are in a creative space, where there are far fewer limits, boundaries and expectations. The film maker is free to work ‘in the moment’. With a sequel, you are working to emulate a style or idea that has already been established. There are rules and boundaries in place, and the approach is far more technical and formulaic. For this reason, a sequel never quite captures the essence and spirit of the original.
What is the difference between recording an image and creating an image?
Photographers tend to be divided into two categories - those who record images and those who create them.
When you record an image, you take it from an observer’s perspective. You have little interaction with the subject and so are relying of a random series of events to fall into place. Often, there is a high degree of realism involved with a high emphasis on being in the right place at the right time. You may encounter moments where for example your subject is well positioned in a street scene or the lighting is particularly striking due to a random reflection, however if you miss that moment you have lost the shot. Photographers such as journalists, street photographers, wedding and event photographers fall into this category.
When you create an image like a portrait or a picture in a fashion catalogue, you have far greater control of the elements, whether it be lighting, wardrobe or background. You can craft the image to the point where you choose the time of day, weather conditions and the actual pose of the subject. This is particularly so in the case of studio photography. While you have all this control, your greatest challenge in such a contrived situation is to create realism (depending of course on the assignment). This is particularly evident in portrait photography, where even the simple act of getting your subject to smile or look relaxed can be your greatest challenge.
Another important factor for photographers who create images is the ability to direct their subject. Having the ability to guide a subject and bring out a particular emotion without the image looking staged and awkward is a seperate skill in itself. If I were to simply say to a model ‘smile’, what I'd generally get is a conditioned response where the mouth reacts but the eyes look flat. Skilled direction involves guiding the subject to the point where they deliver real emotions. Experienced photographers have their own set of techniques for this (a topic which I will save for a later blog). Photographers in this category include editorial, adverting, fashion and corporate photographers.
How long does a portrait shoot take?
This one’s a bit like asking ‘how long is a piece of string’? Client’s who are new to the industry may ask this question as a way of comparing value between photographers, however in actual fact, it has little relevance. The reason for this is because you are commissioning a photographer to produce a finished result. The time taken to produce that result will vary depending on the way in which the photographer works. This often leads to confusion, as some clients may think for example that if two photographers are charging the same rate, and one offers a longer session time that the later is better value for money. In this situation, the photographer offing the longer session may not be as experienced, meaning they may need to take a lot more photos in order to get one that is reasonable - while the experienced one can nail the assignment in half the time and produce a higher ratio of usable shots. Valuing photography based on time in this example would kind of be like paying more for inefficiency.
Looking through my own portfolio of work, some of my favourite images are from assignments where I have literally had a few minutes with my subject. Limited time ends up being very normal when working with time poor subjects such as celebrities and corporates. Having come from a film and television background, thinking fast and working under pressure is simply drilled into you if you want to survive as a unit stills photographer. After a while, I found I actually worked better with a bit of adrenaline flowing through my veins. The key factor is good pre-production. Knowing your light sources, your environment and having a good backup plan should it all fall apart on the day.
When there is no restriction on time, I would say 20 minutes of shooting time is more than sufficient for a portrait session where there are no outfit changes required. If you have n't got something good by then, the chances are you probably won't that day. The reason has a lot to do with the fact that your subject has a limited amount of optimal energy. As a photographer, if you loose this energy, your subject’s self-confidence will begin to fade. Once this is gone, your chances of getting anything decent will be very slim.
Can I choose the location for my portrait?
While suggesting locations can be helpful in terms of conveying the kinds of setting you favour, if you’re working with a professional photographer and the choice of location is an option - it’s generally better to let them decide. The reason being is that experienced professionals will often have a signature style to their work which they’ve spent years developing. In order to maintain this style they will need to control certain elements, such as the the time of day for the shoot, the camera lens they’ll use and the choice of location.
There can also be many technical reasons why a location may or may not work - for example, lighting conditions for landscape photography are usually not favourable for portrait photography. For these reasons, even experienced editors in the world of fashion magazines will leave such decisions in the hands of their photographers.
How can I become a better photographer?
Advice I've often given to new photographers who are interested in ways in which they can improve their work is to take up drawing classes. These days many photographers rely heavily on filters as a way of creating style. It’s all too easy to lose sight of the fundamentals, such as the very nature of light. Drawing teaches us to be present, and to see. Through drawing we are forced to really observe our subject. We discover the way in which light falls on every surface plane and how different textures reflect light. Through drawing, we learn how to manipulated and emphasise form, volume or shape.