Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Fun With Profile Portraits

Self-portrait ranging from kind of 'normal' to way more fun

Even though I have been a professional photographer for over twenty years, and profile portraits are are not exactly rocket science, there is an art to portraiture, and many possible subtle and not-so-subtle variations on the theme of profile portraiture. As such, I never stop thinking about ways to refresh and renew the way I light and shoot them.

Another thing I'm always doing is weighing my clients' need and desire for professional (read conservative) vs. fun and artistic pictures. I have spent my whole career as a commercial, editorial, corporate and fine art photographer endeavouring to strike just the right balance. I must admit, though, that every time I see a slightly funky profile portrait online that's been enhanced by some filter or other treatment, or even just features an unusual composition or pose I am surprised, often delighted and often inspired. And also reminded how much fun it is to play with images, and how I would love to have been a painter, but I digress. Based on the popularity and ubiquity of Instagram-type filters, I'm obviously not the only one who likes to play with pictures, but usually I reserve that stuff for personal 'play' (note that I'm not even calling it personal "work").

Furthermore, I can't help hearing in the back of my mind the voice of a long ago mentor who thought of anything like textures and filters as gimmicks used mostly by unskilled, untalented photographer imposters. I did not agree, and I used to figure out all kinds of ways to manipulate photos by adding textures, etc. before the digital age. Today it's easier than ever to do.

I work with so many high level professionals I am used to, and respect and understand the tendency toward a certain conservativeness, but here, today, I'm going to throw out the challenge to portrait clients everywhere to consider having a bit more fun. Who do you notice stands out most in the "People you might know" in your LinkedIn feed? For me it's the people with the great portraits.

If we are putting our portraits out there to show the world who we are, is it unprofessional to appear to have a bit of a sense of fun and creativity? You don't have to go crazy, and yes, it's appropriate and a good idea, more often than not, to look more or less like you actually look. But a little creative license can go a long way to making your picture stand out and say a little something more about your personality.

So, in the name of creativity, I decided to make myself a new profile portrait and do a few things I wouldn't typically do with a business portrait. Just BTW, I shoot myself a lot when trying out new ideas, and I can tell you the more I do this the more sensitive I am to what it's like for my subjects/clients. 

Anyway, what did I do differently?

Well, first I indulged a recent personal obsession with recreating a particular, beautiful natural light that occurs in my studio only in certain kinds of weather at certain times of year. That light is no good to me professionally as I need it when I need it, and it's never really bright enough anyway. Of course, I have tried and true methods for great portrait lighting and lots of professional, manufactured lights and modifiers, but there is an elusive quality to natural light that many photographers have spent a lot of time throughout photographic history trying to simulate. Part of what's so great about this type of light is that it's directional but still incredibly flattering and forgiving, negating much of the need for retouching of, at least, lower resolution files -- my self-portrait samples here are not retouched at all (although, as always, if you needed these files at full resolution, they would definitely need retouching).  After some intensive previsualization, it actually took me very little time to perfect the set-up. And this is something I can do now for any in-studio client.

What else? 

- I used a new hand painted (by me) canvas backdrop with a subtle texture. Plain gray can be a bit boring. Unfortunately, this one's a bit unwieldy to take to on-site portrait shoots.

- I wore a sleeveless summer dress. Usually I recommend covered arms (the reasons for 
 which would be obvious to many of my clients) and non-seasonal wardrobe. 
- I love a sense of motion in a photograph, so I used a fan to blow a little 'wind' into my hair. 

- I posed a little less statically and a little more theatrically.

- And, I wore an absolute ton of black eyeliner and sparkly lip gloss which may have looked excessive and inappropriate in real life, but served the portrait perfectly -- something to note in terms of make-up for photography -- trust me, and your make-up artist.

And that's about it. There are so many possibilities! These are just a few, that worked for me. Call me if you're ready to do something a little different for your next profile pic! 

Coming up next: How often should you get a new headshot?

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