I reckon about every three years you need to do a professional portrait update. Your body and face change, you grow your hair, you get glasses, you drop some weight (or put on, as is the case for me!). I’m a bit slow on that uptake and have been using the same portrait (a selfie, actually) since 2009. I’m very attached to the memory of where it was taken, and just love the image. But I also love what it says about me.
I was free as a bird, travelling for ten days around the Greek Islands. On this day I took a photo wander around the island of Antiparos and rolled around in a field watching the sunset in this ancient place. I look relaxed, I like what I’m wearing, I look a bit intrepid, and the background has a bit of travel interest. At the time, this was very ‘me’. But the other day someone thought I looked a lot older in this picture than in person, which is weird really. And I also realised that I’m not quite doing that intrepid travelling thing anymore. So I was prompted to get off my butt and get some new ones done. That band-aid had to come right off.
A professional portrait is vital. It’s not just the technical execution, which is always going to look better than a point-and-shoot effort. $6000 in gear vs $600 – you are going to see a difference. It’s more than a mug shot – in that little rectangle is a world of possibility regarding the first impression people have of you. They will see this photo on all your networks like Linkedin and Facebook. You might put it on your business card and website. If an article is written on what you do, you may be asked to submit a photo to go with it. The most important thing about your professional portrait is that it must speak to you, and you must feel proud of it. If you’re cringing when you’re hitting ‘send’ on that photo you’re emailing to an editor, then something is wrong. You wouldn’t turn up to an interview with a prospect or for a job looking less than your best, so why would you put up something average for your professional portrait?
Years ago I studied with Sam Sagona at RMIT University, together we completed our BA (Commercial Art Photography) degrees. I was back in Melbourne, not knowing lots of people, and turned, as we often do, to someone I knew. That said, there were the two keys things I needed that I knew Sam would deliver on:
Connection: In the final pictures you pick for your portraits, you need to look for believability. Is the picture authentic, does it seem real, do I feel like I can do business with this person? A great connection with your photographer will take you past the nerves and get you into that great zone where you really look like you as the shutter is being fired. You need to feel you can trust this person, that they won’t judge you, that you are safe in their hands.
Collaboration: I knew Sam would collaborate with me to get the right result for me. She wouldn’t bark orders at me, she wouldn’t over-pose me, she’d listen as much as direct. I can’t see the light and angles and compositions, that’s for her to decide. But she can work with me to put me in positions and ideas that flow for me. Because a great portrait means a happy Beth which is what we’re aiming for.
Before our session we decided on the location and clothing. This stuff is important to cover off before you shoot so on the day you can get on with it. This is when we go past what we ‘do’ as people to who we are. Why? Because your business is an extension of who you are. So when someone looks up your business, they need to see continuity across your collatoral. You say what you do, who you are and why you do it, and your pictures should reflect that. Me, I’m spontaneous, fun, and I’m quite the earthy/organic person, I love anything in life that has a feeling of long term value. I’d take one pair of pearl earrings over ten pairs of plastic. Simplicity and elegance ring true for me, and I’m a low maintenance gal – so you will never see me all glammed up and looking bling. It’s just not me. So I wore my favourite jeans and leather sandles, my classic and beloved pearl earrings, a soft blue top with a flattering neckline and we went to a space that has this brilliantly earthy, textural background at ACCA, the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art. The place inspires me for its architectural design, and of course for what’s going on inside too. It’s a pretty cool Melbourne space to serve as a canvas or backdrop.
Sam and I agreed that I’d take the RAW files and give them the post production look and feel that I wanted. But this is part of the service you should expect from your portrait photographer. This is not a shoot and burn process, meaning you shoot, select a few, give the images a few touch-ups, export to the format the client needs, burn to disc. That approach is slap happy and does not service the client. The look and feel that you describe should show up in the post production. If you’re a bright, fun, quirky person then your photos would look great in punchy, contrasty bright colours…if you favour a classic, dramatic style then black and white may suit better…and so on. For every idea, there is a visual solution. For me, I knew I would minimise most of the colour, and give the images some earthy tones. The remaining colour set would reference the classic era of sepia, because I like classic styling, but not go as far as black and white as this would get too serious.
On the day we captured about 175 frames, what I’m going to show you here are the final selection of 39. We are trying to get to the one that really kicks and ticks my boxes for magic and authenticity. Do I look like a nice person to deal with, do I look professional, a bit arty (as in, not too stuffy, I don’t work in an office).
Sam has done a brilliant job. In the first part of the shoot you will see more structure in terms of posturing and body styling, which is where Sam has the most experience. As we went along I felt like I needed to shake myself up a bit, so did what I needed to do and started running around. That loosened me up and then we did a few more styled ones. Then we changed lenses and came in close for some more intimate up-close face portraits. There is a more of a soul connection there in the second half. Commonly it happens that after a bit of time has passed you relax into your shoot and get in the zone, and your photographer will go through the same transition. So it didn’t worry me that the first part of the results weren’t quite hitting it, because later on we hit our stride and got the right images.
So we begin.
Sam finds her way with the light and composition, I find my way with having a big lens looking at me.
A couple of things to watch for: not too boobalicious and glammy.
The hair was working it!
This one is OK but the posturing is not really something I would do normally.
We tried a few of me moving through the space.
And then a wild one with hair flying, why not?
We moved over to another area to try it.
It was worth the effort to find that we preferred the original darker walls.
Plus my tummy looks terrible! (A woman’s license to edit.)
Sometimes it’s what you leave OUT that makes the picture!
I thought this was clever, getting me to stretch out to lose the tummy.
The hand/arm connection to my face makes it more intimate.
A lovely one for Mum but not quite professional in the sense of posturing.
This is a very Beth-face!
Then we switched lenses to a 50mm F1.2 lens.
If you’re a tech-head then you’ll know that this isn’t the right lens for portraits.
But it does give a dreamy, ethereal quality which I wanted to bring out in my portraits.
The hair drifting this way and that with the focus on the eyes and spirit.
The next couple would be great for more alternative spaces.
Images showing you in thought or at work can be great options
for some publications looking for a more creative spin.
I do talk with my hands…sometimes...
And then we bring it in.
Just happy, laughy smiley Beth that clients experience a lot with me on their shoots.
This last pair shows the same image before and after post production.
The original capture is too orange, there’s too much colour which distracts the eye.
I am spoiled for choice. I’m going to put this up on my Facebook biz page and see what the popular vote is. So please have your say and help me pick the best one!