Ok so before I explain what I mean by the title, let me just say that I am completely 100% aware that there are situations when we don’t have the luxury of time to take a portrait; at times the shoot can literally setting up, the subject sits down and 3 frames later they’re up and gone. I get that. I too have that occasionally. What this short post is about, is when we do have the luxury of more time to work with the person we’re photographing so that we can get way more than a picture.
Over the past few weeks I’ve started including close-up portraits when photographing World War 2 Veterans for my 3945 Portraits Project.
One thing that I noticed more and more when spending time with these great people was how much their eyes say about them and what they’re experienced. Sometimes I even find myself looking at the eyes when editing the picture and I’m sure I could guess what they served in during the War be it Parachute Regiment, Royal Marine and so on; there’s just something about the eyes.
Slow Down: Part 1
So getting to the point of this post…
I cannot stress enough how much slowing down has helped me over the past few years. There was a time when the kit and setting up dominated a photo shoot but through constant practice and continually shooting, this soon turned around to where it should be i.e. the subject / model, and the relationship with them being the number 1 priority.
In some recent posts on social media I’ve mentioned that when I take these close up portraits, they’re always done after I have done the subject’s 3/4 length portrait…
This I do for a couple of reasons…
- It gives us time to get to know each other a little more
- Helps the subject to relax into the photo shoot
If the first thing I did was to come in really close to the subject and ask them to stare straight down the lens, it just wouldn’t work; well, it certainly didn’t for me when I did it straight away anyway. It looked forced. It looked like they were uneasy.
Once we chatted for a while as we do when setting up and doing the 3/4 length picture, and also when I’ve shown them how that is looking, it makes a HUGE difference.
Slow Down: Part 2
Now that’s the first part of slowing down. The second part comes when you’re actually taking the close up portrait…
What I find works really well for me is that in conversation I ask them to stare straight down the lens. When they do I don’t take the shot. I pause and whilst they’re staring down the lens I talk but slower and softer …. “That’s it, straight down the lens; really concentrate on it” or whatever; anything, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that I talk slower and softer. It might sound odd but me slowing down causes them to slow down and relax so that when I do take some shots I think this means getting a much more intimate portrait where you find yourself drawn to the eyes.
Ultimately when people look at these portraits I don’t want it to necessarily be a ‘That’s really nice’ kind of comment (although of course that’s great); what I really want is for people looking at the portraits to be thinking ‘What has this person seen? What have they experienced? and to almost see the subject’s life and experience in their eyes; does this make sense?
Anyway, thought I’d share this with you because since posting these pictures I’ve had a fair share of questions about how they’re done. The technical side I’ve covered in an earlier post (LINK) but the most important part of all is … Slowing Down.
Catch you next time