The difference between recording an image and creating one.


Understanding the difference between recording an image and creating one.

Basically there are two ways in which you can make an image using photography. For this reason 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’ or produce an image like a portrait or a fashion catalog in a studio, 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 particually 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 someone ‘smile’, what we 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. 


Understanding 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. 


Advice on how to look good in front of the camera


Undertaking a professional photo shoot for the first time can be nerve-racking for most. The good news is that the anticipation is usually far worse than the actual event itself. For this reason, I've created a list of tips and advice that will help address the most common issues that tend to arise.

Project energy through your eyes. This technique is basically a micro squint with the eyes. One of the most famous squinters of all times was actor Clint Eastwood. While he may claim it was due to having light sensitive eyes, there is no mistaking the strength and intensity of his gaze. Once you’ve got the basic physical aspect of this technique down pat, you’ll then be ready to move to the next stage and turn it into an energetic technique. While the full ‘Clint Eastwood’ will definitely get you a seat on the bus, you can simply adjust it accordingly.

‘Smile through your eyes’ is a term you will often hear in both portrait and fashion photography. The reason why photographers including myself will say this is to avoid what’s known as a fake simile. Fake smiles are generated when the subject is engaging with their mouth and not their emotions. This is often the case with portraits because the subject can get caught up in their mind trying to create a smile with their mouth, rather than letting it come from their heart. While in some situations, for example, a model working on a fashion shoot, this would be impossible to maintain during a full day of shooting. The technique of projecting a smile through the eyes can work extremely well. If you struggle with the concept of moving energy out through your eyes, try instead to simply visualize your eyes smiling. 

Keep your chin down. It’s a strange phenomenon, but when faced with a professional camera for the first time, 8 out of 10 new people tend to raise their chin in the air. Simply meet the camera at eye level the same way you would if you were sitting opposite a friend.

Avoid pointing your elbows and knees directly at the camera. This creates foreshortening. If your aim is to look slimmer, turn your body slightly 3/4 to the camera. Women may also wish to cross one leg in front of the other which will help taper the line of the body.   

‘Find your light’ is a term originally used for actors in the film industry. It involves searching out the key light (most dominate light) on-set or on-location. A well positioned downward facing key light can be your best friend, as it will enhance your cheek bones and bring out your eyes. 

Be proactive. A photo shoot is always a team effort. If you are working with a professional photographer, you will receive the right amount of on-camera direction which will give you the confidence to let go and create some great images. Part of this process though requires you, as a subject to move from passive to proactive. This is very much a mental shift. Often I’ll get people to use visualization, or to react to a variety of scenarios. Adopting a playful and open attitude will allow a photographer to capture a greater range of images. Making 'mistakes' is part of learning, and anything that does n’t work can simply be deleted later. 

Look through the lens, not at it. If all you see when you are looking down the camera lens is an inanimate object, it will limit your ability to help create a good portrait. Instead, imagine that you're looking into the eyes of a friend or a partner. 

Project confidence. While it’s understandable that you’ll be nervous, the saying ‘fake it til you make it’ could not be more relevant. Be mindful of your body language, and avoid doing things like fidgeting with your hands, hiding your hands behind your back or tilting your head off to one side (unless the shoot requires you to look submissive). 

Having spent many years working in front of the camera, one of the things I personally found helped me get over my initial nerves and self doubt was the thought that I had a job to do, and to not do it to the best of my ability would be letting down the crew, the photographer, the editor… the list goes on. Whether you are posing for a corporate headshot or a fashion catalog, approaching your photo shoot from this perspective can really help make a difference.