Ed Verosky is a professional photographer and author based in New York. Here, Verosky encourages you to get creative with your portrait photography every chance you get.
Experimenting with the technical aspects of photography; lighting, camera settings, and post-processing, are all good ways to grow as a photographer. But it’s also important for photographers to push themselves creatively. Some choose to only explore their creative options with personal projects and in their off-time, but the opportunity to push against your creative boundaries is always there.
Fortunately, many of the people who end up in front of your camera will be willing to play along if they feel there’s a reasonable chance that one of your ideas might actually turn into something interesting and have some artistic value (see Figure 1). If your work is any indication of your willingness to push the boundaries, you’ll find that many of the people who want to work with you choose you for those unconventional images. These are people who want to work with someone interesting and creative. Even if all they’re looking for are headshots or lifestyle portraits, something about how you present yourself through your work has made an impression on them enough to want to work with you over someone else.
Your photography is your opportunity and license to explore self-expression through the help of those willing to pose for you. There are benefits for the subject, too. As the artist, you are in a unique position to give them the permission and confidence to express themselves in an artistic, sometimes cathartic way.
Figure 1. Bonnie’s a musician who came over for some headshots, but we found a lace scarf and started experimenting. Lot’s of great shots came out of that shoot.
One of the best ways to stretch your creative muscles is to simply ask your subject—any subject, even a client—if they’d like to try some creative pictures. Explain that sometimes trying something unconventional can make for some surprisingly interesting portraits. If your subject is a model or actor who is willing to try out some creative ideas with you, there’s no telling what you might end up with. These are people who are used to playing characters and can be quite expressive and adventurous as long as you lead the way.
Figure 2. Yesenia and Claire. I started shooting this style of “wood floor” shots after an editorial shoot where I first tried it and liked the look. It’s a mix of direct flash and post-process vignetting. The model is almost always asked to play a character we come up with.
The direction and degree to which you push the boundaries are a personal choice, but where it is within your artistic sensibilities, allow yourself to explore. Not everyone will be interested in participating in a creative exercise, but more often than not, you’ll find people who will be just as happy to try some of your ideas, as you will to try theirs. That is when all sorts of magic happens. Photography can become an amazing adventure for you and your subjects when all the pieces just fall into place. And many of the resultant images can be great additions to your portfolio.
Figure 3. Jessica is a dancer in New York. While doing a quick shoot in Central Park, I asked her to show me some dance poses and we were able to capture several interesting shots.
Experimental Side Dishes
With any photography job I’m on, the required shots are first priority. Whether it’s a portrait or headshot, or an editorial piece, I will almost always try to get the “safe” shots first. That is, the shots I’ve been assigned to deliver. The same is true with concept shots I’ve planned with a model. If time allows, and the subject is willing, I will often try to throw in some last minute experimental ideas to see what happens.
Figure 4. This diptych was created from shots taken near the end of a model shoot. I asked Grace to get into character for a shot that used a single direct light source to acheive this dramatic noir effect.
When Mona Pitts and I set out to shoot some photos for my X-Reel project, the energy was running high after we got the shots I’d planned. People will often come to a shoot with bags of clothing and items that aren’t necessary for the planned shots, but they feel might be helpful if we get stuck for ideas.
Mona brought a red wig and a shiny coat that, together with a pair of boots, made for an awesome kick-butt femme fatale outfit. After a couple of posed cigarette-smoking shots, I positioned my lights to her extreme left and right for a strong graphic effect. The direction I gave her was, “you’re taking down the target in hand-to-hand combat, assassin-style”. I created a collage of the final image as a set of three identical images for a visual bam-bam-bam effect.
Figure 5. Mona The Assassin
Larin, a friend and collaborator of mine, came over for some basic glamour photos, but we also did some moody shots and experimented with the look of modern vampire movies.
Figure 6. Larin: Modern Vampire
So, next time you’re shooting a portrait, ask your subject if they wouldn’t mind experimenting with you to see if the two of you can come up with something interesting. The results might be something both of you will be very happy with.