Above: Image by Gina Milicia
“Authenticity starts in the heart.” —Brian D’Angelo
When I was a few years into my photography career, I discovered the lighting, posing and directing formula for shooting portraits that gave me consistent results. Finally, I could relax on my shoots and stop stressing about my exposure and awkward looking images. I was 100% convinced I had mastered photography and spent the next couple of years shooting on autopilot.
a person, as an artist or writer, who exploits, for money, his or her creative ability or training in the production of dull, unimaginative, and trite work; one who produces banal and mediocre job in the hope of gaining commercial success
The problem with getting comfortable with the formula is that my work became boring, clinical and lacked depth. The lights were on, but nobody was home.
“A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.”
There is no “one size fits all” approach to portrait photography. I thought I’d discovered the secret formula to success, but the reality was I was just lazy. I looked back over that two-year body of work and was shocked by how complacent my work had become. It was dull, clinical and lacked heart.
Here’s what I was doing wrong and how I turned things around:
1. I was lighting everyone the same way. Flat even lighting, I wasn’t thinking about my subjects at all. I started experimenting with different lighting types, hard light vs soft light and trying different lighting styles. It was hit and miss at first, and I felt like I was a newbie again, but I’m so glad I stuck with it.
2. I was trying to force my models into complicated poses that didn’t suit their body type or personality. I didn’t think about the fact that just because a pose worked on one person didn’t mean it would necessarily work for everyone.
Learning this was a game-changer for me. Once I started thinking about poses that matched the personality of my model and them the confidence to reinterpret the poses I suggested, my portraits began to look more natural and authentic.
3. When I first started shooting models, I spent 80% of my energy planning, posing and lighting my shot. Getting a good connection was a happy accident. I was so fixated on exposure and my settings that I barely noticed whether my model was genuinely engaged or not.
The day I first saw the difference between dead eyes and a fake smile and an authentic smile or engaged look was just as significant as the first time I could see the subtle differences in light. Once I saw this, it could no longer be ignored, and I knew that it was my responsibility to work harder to connect with and engage my models.
4. Finally, my most authentic-looking images began to emerge when I started to shoot subjects that I loved in a style that was unique to me.
What techniques do you use to ensure your portraits look authentic?