This week, we’re looking at what it takes to shoot the perfect portrait – how to capture someone’s true essence, freeze a moment in time, and allow the viewer a little day-in-the-life snapshot. Simply put, we couldn’t think of anyone more qualified to speak on this topic than ImageBrief photographer Martin Adolfsson. With years of experience in portraiture and a knack for bringing out the best in each of his subjects, his tips are sure to improve your own portrait work, whatever your skill level might be. Read on below for Martin’s top six tips on taking the perfect portrait…
1. Have the conversation first.
My process is a collaboration between the subject and myself, regardless if it’s a coal miner, a CEO or a famous actor in front of the camera. I am a naturally curious person, so I begin with a lot of questions. The more I understand a person’s rhythms and process, the more I can extract visually interesting narratives from the conversation, and be able to re-create those moments together. This also becomes a warm-up to the person you are photographing, allowing them time to get used to you and feel comfortable.
2. Bring your experiences and strengths to relate to people.
I have lived in multiple countries and cultures that have ultimately allowed me to be more fluent in my interactions with people, especially when they’re not used to being in front of a camera. The best moments often happen when the subject feels that they’re part of the process and that they get something out of it. This will also mean taking it the opposite way and pulling from their strengths and experiences. Take time to find and develop those.
3. Work with what you are given.
I often get thrown into a new environments with challenging elements: bad lighting, not enough space, not enough time. To handle these sort of situations, I try to work with the challenges. I first turn to a natural location for the subject, take the ambient light available and make it my key light, and then use my equipment as a compliment, instead of creating a whole new atmosphere. That in turn reduces my set-up time, requires less space, and makes the subject feel more comfortable! Using flaws, in all forms of the word, has become a staple in my work to be more authentic and natural.
4. Allow yourself to move.
I prefer to keep a relatively simple setup -often mixing natural light with strobes which allows me to move around more freely without being limited by the light rig. This allows me to capture the subject and the environment in a more authentic way that doesn’t feel too rigid. Not only that, but it encourages trying different angles and compositions that I would otherwise be limited in.
5. Try new things.
Portraiture doesn’t have to be the same thing every time! It’s not always the best idea to experiment with an idea for the first time with a client, so personal work is important! Try new lighting set ups, challenge yourself, and break boundaries. I began working with video as a personal challenge to myself, and it has greatly influenced how I shoot stills and has become more prominent in my work. Every time I enter into a new personal project, it is a strong foundation for more confident and unique commissioned work. Let your paid and personal work influence each other.
6. Be a partner.
As photographers, we are skilled in knowing how to take a question or a statement and put a visual to it. I’ve started to see more and more clients asking me to pitch ideas for them at the beginnings of their creative process instead of being hired at the final stage. Your unique ideas and angles to the project, as a partner, could very well be a benefit to the client and allow you more creative freedom.