First of all, this site is awesome and is the (sometimes) tough talk that we as photographers need. Thank you. My question is that while I've been building a portfolio doing TFP portraits and glamour shoots my portraits in particular feel bland. "Meh". Just a picture of a pretty girl. What would you suggest to take portraits and give them something "more". I know it's not more megapixels or lights, but I'm struggling to find a spark amidst the "just a pretty girl" shots in my work. Thanks!
Here we go! Answer number 500 on this Q&A blog!
This photographer hit me up on Twitter and I went through his site and 500px. I totally see what he’s saying. I’m not going to link to the work because eventually he’ll take it all down and replace it with new, and hopefully, better work. Let me describe the work.
Galleries with attractive guys and girls. Your model mayhem garden variety of people. While these folks are quite attractive they are not models. Frequent readers of this blog know I like car analogies. :)
A Subaru WRX is an awesome car. They are fast. They are agile. In some cases they can out perform some Porsches. But is a Subaru a Porsche? No. The spec sheet will show you how hot of a car a WRX is but what it won’t show you is that it is not a classic sports car like a Porsche 911. A Porsche has something special about it. Is a Honda V-Twin a Harley Davidson? No. Does it sort of look like one? It can. Is it a Harley? No it is not.
Is a pretty girl a model? Is a beautiful girl a model? No. A pretty girl does not a model make.
You take a Honda V-twin motorcycle. Paint it black. Put some ape hangers on it. Change the exhaust. Chrome it out. Drop the ass. Is it a Harley? You take a pretty girl and put some make-up on her. Do her hair. Buy her some underwear from the nice place at the mall. Get her to posy pose under some nice light. Is she a model? No.
Does the guy on the tricked out Honda look like he’s wanting to ride a Harley? Yes. Is he riding a Harley? No. That is exactly what your portfolio currently looks like.
Holmes, you have some pretty folks in your galleries but it ain’t fashion. It ain’t glamour. A few images are just one less piece of clothing away from girl next door soft core porn site material. I take it from your question that you aren’t really going after that market. They also aren’t “portraits” because everyone involved from you to the subject looks like you are trying to not be portraits but be fashion/glamor. Ever look at someone and say, “Boy, they’re trying too hard.” Yep. That’s what your portfolio looks like.
For the most part at least. There are a few images that start to look more like portraits than trying to look like fashion but not enough to build off of.
I’ll tell you what you currently have in your portfolio.
You’ve been reading all the lighting blogs. You’ve watched all the videos. You’ve been testing this light. This modifier. This angle. One light. Two lights. Three lights. Soft light. Hard light. Rim light. One fish. Two fish. Red fish. Blue fish.
Your head is stuck in the technical aspect of what you are doing. You aren’t directing your subjects. You aren’t finessing the light. You aren’t pulling the very best out of them or out of yourself. You’re fiddling with the lightstand more than you are looking at your subject. If you were paying attention to your subject they would NOT be holding that god awful looking book. (Model Bry in underwear holding the dragon something book.) The guy in the leather jacket on the black seamless is either the most bored and depressed he’s ever been or he’s about to throw up on your floor.
I’m hard pressed to find a single shot in your portfolio of anyone looking like they are comfortable in front of your camera. That tells me you aren’t that comfortable behind it. They aren’t bringing a natural presence to you because they aren’t models.
A model… a real model… the ones who have that element X in them bring something to you that you don’t have to direct. They can be having the worst day of their life but as soon as you pull the camera to your face they turn it on. Not sure what that “it” is but it’s something. Add good direction and they bring something unreal to the camera. Not sure what it is about a Porsche or a Harley but once you see the real thing then Subarus and Hondas just don’t hold a candle to the real deal.
Technically your photographs are fine. Lighting is good. (You missed the odd shadow on that girl coming from the camera right light. That’s what I mean by finessing the light. (Model Bry - Underwear. Black leather sofa. Dragon book.) Exposure is correct. Color seems to be right. You know how to light. You know how to expose for it. Now forget about it. Put it in your brain where breathing and kidney functions reside. It has to be second nature. You’ve done the hard work of learning it now forget about it.
You have to concentrate on the subjects in front of you. You have to work your minimal amount of shooting space and let your photos NOT be about that limited space but about the essence of who you are photographing. You have to stop being a photographer and start being a director. I don’t see any direction in your photos. I just see studio lighting on people trying too hard.
One other technical thing is a comment on your composition. You’re falling into the same rut of how your frame the majority of your photos. Go back through your site and just look at framing and composition and you’ll see it gets really repetitive. Just look at the thumbnails on your photo site. You’ll see what I’m talking about. Bust out of those frames. Shake it up a little. You have a lot of vertical head to shoulder shots. Lots of them. When you go horizontal it’s still head to shoulder. There are a few that break it up but not much. Break it up some more. Give your subjects a little more room to breathe.
Currently your photos are bland. They are meh.
What? Yes. I said good. Good. This is a good thing. You’ve gotten this bland meh shit out of your system. We’ve all shot the bland meh shit. I have 32 gallon storage totes filled to the brim with it in my basement along with archived DVDs filled with it.
I see that you can set two lights on a person, get the ratios down, and expose for it properly. Good. You can now move forward. NOT with more lights. NOT with more modifiers. NOT with more lenses. NOT with more cameras. Now with more direction. Now with more determination. Now with more head space to “see” instead of using all that head space to “light.”
Drop the TFP bullshit. It’s useless to you now. It’s not going to get you anywhere unless you want to shoot bad porn. You’re done with it. Go find different people to photograph. Go shoot portraits. Go shoot stuff that if you were to lose your IT job that you could actually pick up a camera and make some money doing so. So you want to work with pretty girls. Ok. But not like this. Go lifestyle with it. Go press and promotion with it. Go some other direction than mediocre model mayhem gallery fodder.
Hit me back on twitter if you get what I’m saying. Note that I’m saying you’re in a good place. Yes it sucks that you need to slash and burn your entire portfolio but now you can start with a fresh slate.
Easy for me to say.
(I slash and burn too.)
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