POTD: On portraiture

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Steve, head chef. Nikon D700, 85/1.4 G

Although I’m not a portrait shooter primarily, there are occasions on which one is required to rise to the occasion – usually for something related to another job. A long time ago, I did shoot fashion. If you have professional models or outgoing, confident people, it’s pretty easy to get a decent headshot. But it’s difficult to capture their personality because they’re always in ‘professional’ mode around a camera – you can’t show them for who they really are, because they’re not comfortable enough to show it around you.

The flip side of the coin is when you have a person who clearly has a very distinct character, but suddenly gets uncomfortable and shy in front of the camera.  Steve is a great guy, and very, very passionate about what he does – but completely blocks up and gets stiff in front of the lens. The trick I always use is to fire away a lot of frames until they get used to you; then go in for the stealthy kill: this shot (for a client) was not one of the hundred or so ‘posed’ frames we did; that was my intention all along. It was captured during a coffee break while he was talking to the client’s marketing director. I had the camera by my side on the chair, which I raised stealth-ninja fashion and got off a double tap to the head: bullseye. We landed up using this image for the final selection. Moral of the story: anticipate, and be ready at all times. MT


  1. I was thinking about this blog post when i took this photo. What do you think? Do you think i captured his essence, based on the description i provided?


  2. Didn’t someone say to me a true ninja uses a 28mm or wider lens? 😛

    What you’re referring to above is that “decisive moment” correct? By observing patterns in a person’s behavior you can eventually predict their next move. Or by observing the environment, you can predict that something is going to happen and when it does, you have to be ready.

    • I did, but that was for street photography and photojournalism – not commercial work where the client specifically requested a more conventional perspective (but informal) portrait – i.e. bokeh.

      It’s the decisive moment, but not quite – for this kind of portraiture, there are always many moments. It’s up to you how long you want to wait, and which one you decide to use in the end. The longer you can hang around, the better the results – there is some element of prediction to it, which gets easier as you know the person better.

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