Creating classic portraits

How to prepare a subject for a shoot

My key priority when preparing for a shoot is to get to know your sitter as well as I can, and to ensure I capture their personality as truthfully as possible. I put a big emphasis on listening and asking the right questions; I make the experience all about them and what they should expect as opposed to what I can do. My job is that of a problem solver first and foremost; I need to create a product that resonates with them as an individual or a family and with what they have seen in my portfolio, so I need as much information as I can to be able to do this.

I always start with a thorough telephone consultation or face-to-face meeting in their home, asking all about them as a family, what they do for fun and what their ideal image looks like in their head. I also ask how and where they plan on displaying it and when they would like the shoot to take place. I also talk about styling and choice of colours in their home too; i.e. do they consider themselves to be contemporary or more traditional? This is then followed by what clothes they should or shouldn’t wear. I ask them to have two or three outfits available for each person on the day, and to avoid certain styles and brands which could cause the image to date or clash. It’s so important that the clothing complements the family as a unit and the style of the shoot so that final composition will not date.

All of these are golden nuggets of information for me and the result is a concise brief about the portraits I want to shoot starts to materialise, and that’s where my research on a suitable location starts.

This initial chat can take around 45 minutes and by the end of this the sitter is confident that they will have an amazing experience, that I am the right photographer to fulfil the need they have.

What makes a classic portrait?

For me, a classic portrait is something that does not date and that evokes a strong sense of emotion and a feeling of nostalgia. It’s an image that holds a deep meaning to the viewer, one that captures a fleeting moment or an emotion that can never be repeated and is something the viewer never tires of looking at.

I think that by working for two global stock photography companies I have been exposed to so many different iconic images and love so many different types and styles of images, from highly creative styled shoots to award-winning photojournalism that rocked and shocked the world. I have so much respect for photographers who have captured a moment truthfully; it’s what my own brand values are based on.

I look to create portraits that cannot date, that you look at and could not pinpoint to a specific date and time, only to a memory of the particular stage. It’s a combination of knowing the family, getting the children to engage with you, using the light available to you and how you finish the images. It should show your distinctive style as a photographer that captivates your viewer. Finally, it is the way it is displayed and treasured; and it needs to be treasured indefinitely.

Timeless locations

I’m constantly looking for potential shoot locations that I know will produce safe and beautiful backgrounds so that I’m able to maximise my use of the light available at the specific time of the day.

Light is more important to me than the actual locations are, but there are a few obvious choices where I would suggest going to based on the seasons and the weather on a particular day. I’d avoid anywhere that has cars or houses in the background, street signs or advertising of any sort; they would be a massive distraction and also would cause the images to date more quickly.

The essential professionalism

It is key to be consistently professional and onbrand. Of course you need the right location, clothing and skills to create an image your sitter will love, but never underestimate the importance of your brand and how you manage your sitter’s experience.

Who you are shooting need to have a consistent, highly professional and fulfilling experience, from the moment they land on your website, to meeting you, experiencing the shoot and selecting their wall art. My brand is about nostalgia, capturing moments in time and treasuring beautiful keepsakes and that’s what I strive to deliver.

Brave the British weather

When it comes to shooting in British weather I just get on with it, to be honest. I’ve rarely had to call off a shoot as there are always alternative options available, and as long as the people I am shooting are reassured that I am in control of the situation, and can shoot in any conditions, they trust that I will take the best images possible of them.

I have various venues that are my back-up options in poor weather; it’s really worth befriending local farmers (big barns), warehouse owners or constantly scouting for locations that have cover from the elements. Unless there is lightning or dangerous gale-force winds the shoot goes ahead as planned, and worse-case scenario we work indoors; it’s important to be able to offer this option and have the suitable equipment to do so.

classic portrait

My advice is, embrace it as a photographer, invest in suitable outdoor clothes that you are comfortable in and make the most of getting muddy and working in wet conditions. Puddles create fabulous natural reflectors, so use water whenever you can to create beautiful catch lights and luminous skin complexions, and at the end of the shoot (with parental permission) get the kids to jump in the muddy puddles. They love it!