While you might think photographic portraiture should be quite straight forward to set up and execute, it’s actually not always the case. Editorial portraits, in particular demand a little more imagination and creativity. In one simple photo, your aim is to convey as much relevant information about your subject as you possibly can—hints about their character, the work they do or the world they inhabit. Simply plonking them in a studio in front of a plain background won’t give anything away.
So How Do You Do It?
If you need to produce a photographic portrait for editorial use, you may well be given a tight creative brief – the writer or the editor of the article it is to accompany might already have firm ideas about how best to represent their subject. In this case, it will be your job to interpret that brief to achieve a result as close to their vision as possible. However, it may be the case that they’ll leave the creativity to you, while still expecting a portrait that truly captures the essence of the sitter in relation to the editorial piece.
In other words, you’ll need to find out a little, or preferably a lot, about your sitter. What makes them different, unique or special? What’s the purpose of the portrait—is it to show them in their working life? Is it about something they’ve done or created? Something that’s happened to them, or simply because of who they are? Before you make any decision about how to set up your picture, you’ll need to discuss the concept with both the sitter and the commissioning editor.
Techniques For Creating Interesting Portraits
Once you’ve decided upon a place and a composition, you’re next challenge is the execution. You may have decided to do a studio shot, using props to tell the story, or you may be taking the picture at a specific location, such as a work place or particular spot with relevance to the article. It might be indoors or outside. The important thing is to create an image that informs. This means thinking about the pose, lighting, how your subject will dress, their facial expression, what props might help and so on in advance – and then making sure that you have everything you need to make it happen on the day.
Here are a Few Considerations For Ensuring Good Editorial Work:
Your sitter – an editorial portrait is not a snapshot for the family album, so you probably don’t want them looking straight at the camera with a cheesy grin. Try to position them in an interesting way, perhaps shooting from above or below, or placing them to one side of the picture. If you can photograph them doing whatever pursuit is being written about, so much the better—the result will probably be more dynamic.
Wide angle or telephoto? Conventional wisdom might suggest telephoto but you should experiment with wide angle as well. Editorial portraits do not have flattery of the subject as their driving element and by using a wide angle lens, you should be able to introduce some drama into the image. Furthermore, it allows for more of the background to be included, which as we know is important to creating the story.
Lighting – if you’re taking your portrait in the studio, naturally you’ll be in control of the lighting, so think about how you can use it to alter the mood of the image for a more dramatic result. On location, lighting may be more of an issue. Natural light may work for you or you made need to supplement it. Out of doors, try timing the shoot for dusk or dawn to add more interest. But remember, this is still a portrait, so focusing enough light at your subject’s face is critical.
Depth of field – by increasing your depth of field you can draw more of the physical environment into the picture and thereby add more information to your portrait. Another interesting idea is to position your subject relatively deeper in the field and place something enlightening in the foreground. If you do this, experiment with your camera angle—shooting from below can be highly effective for a composition like this.
Get creative – it hardly counts as a technique but my last piece of advice is, think outside the box. You may not be in the ideal location or have the perfect prop, but use light, colour and composition to lift your portrait above the run-of-the-mill corporate headshot.