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Posing for Portraits: A Quick Way to Get Inside Your Subjects Head


The big day is here. You thought it might never come, but now that its here, you feel yourself nervous with excitement.

Your first big portrait assignment.

You’ve been asked to shoot portraits for a local youth choir. You have less than two hours to shoot 55 members. You could mess up big. Or you could score big. Your not quite sure which one will come about yet.

While you clean you equipment, you review the facts:

  1. 55 Members.
  2. 100 minutes of rehearsal.
  3. Not quite one minute per person.
  4. [yikes]
  5. There are a lot of personalities.
  6. The practice location is a nice brick church with green grass outside. You definitely can use it, but…
  7. It’s the great Northwest – it could rain.

Hmmm. This could be interesting. For this shoot you have your Canon 30D, and your favorite little 50mm 1.8 lens. You also have a reflector you plan on having one of the choir kids hold.

You get in the car and start the drive down. And of course, it starts raining. Ok. I guess we are inside. It’s a good thing I brought that reflector.

You get to the church and quickly scan the foyer. Two benches. Bathrooms. And – your breath catches in your lungs – a window and plush chair. Hope rises. This just might work. The window light is your best friend. The chair you can use as a prop for posing people. The reflector will add a nice fill light.

But no time to breathe easy. The choir director sees that you have arrived and calmly greets you. “Okay, are you ready? I will send them 3 at a time. After you are done with each individual, they’ll go back to rehearsal and send someone else out. Is everything ok?” You nod confidently [after all, confidence is the key for any photographer]. “Absolutely. We’re set.”

You do some quick thinking as the director turns to leave. No way are you going to do the standard mug shot portraits. Even having to shoot 55 people with a fast turn around time. You want them to be artistic. You want them to be individualistic. So, how do you do it?

It’s then you remember a trick from an old photography mentor. His handy suggestion for quick personality profiling. Pick 5 sets of opposites in your pocket. Then ask your subject to choose which opposite they would prefer. If they choose the ones that are more dramatic, pose them like an extrovert. If they choose the ones that are more quiet and solemn, go with poses that are for an introvert.

You don’t know if it will actually work, but hey, with the first 3 choir members approaching, you figure you’ll give it a try.

“Hey there!” You introduce yourself. Ask their name, and then launch. “OK, here are a couple quick questions for you.” You pause for a little drama then dive in. “Do you like apples or oranges?” A blank look is your only response. You hurry to cajole them, “It’s ok, really. Just tell me, what do you like better? Apples or Oranges?” Apples are soft, oranges are bursting with flavor?

She giggles but replies. “Oranges.”

“Ok. Cool. Here’s another. Would you rather ski or snowboard?” You smile at this one – a hot topic among profiling in the North West. [Snowboarders being very youth culture, skiers being confident of their own individuality].

“Snowboarding.” She answers with another laugh.

“Last one, I promise. Would you rather see a movie with friends at home or in the theatre?” This one got a little tricky. One preferred the security of ones home, the other enjoyed the public life.

“Definitely movies at the theatre.”

“Great! Let’s do this then!” You decide to pose your subject as a girl who loves adventure and public life – but don’t forget a bit of pizazz. For the next hour and a half you go through these questions with each of the choir members with great results. The questions keep the kids smiling and wondering, and you have a general idea of how to work their personality posing.

As you get in the car after the shoot, you know that it probably wouldn’t work all the time, but that tip was a great success this time.

3 weeks later, the choir year books are published. You have the pleasure of seeing the kids as they are handed out. You note the excitement their portraits generate with a smile. The kids all felt that their portraits described them well, and you gained a good reputation as being a fast, fun, and unpredictable portrait photographer.

Yeah. This is what I love.

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Christina N Dickson
Christina N Dickson

is a visionary artist and philanthropist in Portland Oregon. Her work includes wedding photography www.BrideInspired.com and leadership with www.RevMediaBlog.com.

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