Challenges, responsibilities, and benefits of being a professional portrait photographer
Portrait photography is one of the most difficult types of photography out there but at the same time it is extremely rewarding. In modern era when anyone has a decent camera attached to their belt buckle or earrings but it does not mean that anyone can take a good portrait photo. Great portrait photographer is very quick and accurate in reading people and connecting with them. In addition an impeccable sense of composition is needed because unlike in landscape, architecture, or even some types of commercial photography, etc. the composition is very dynamic, and there is no tripod to slow things down that allows for careful composition setting. The face expression is there and it is gone in a blink of an eye. You need to be either quick as hell or have the skill to evoke one. Composition in portraiture is on intuitive level. What's more framing of the shot has to complement and remain in sync with the face expression and body language of the model. There has to be a harmony and symbiosis of the two. Portrait photographers often work with very shallow depth of field and telephoto lenses. Those are creative tools that can deliver stunning powerful images but they impose new challenges such as extremely narrow areas of focus. At aperture of 1.4 on 85mm lens you are working with about 1cm of area that is in focus. It is so narrow that if you or the model take a breath things that were meant to be sharp are blurred. This is also why manual focusing is portrait photographer's best friend.
Portrait photographer has to deal with moods, various characters and attitudes, or wishes and desires and be capable of blending those with his or her own style. Portrait photography is extremely time consuming and requires a lot of effort during and after the shoot. A lazy photographer will pass you .jpgs processed by the camera (or even RAW files...) or generic edits processed in bulk with few movements of adjustments sliders in Lightroom. A professional portrait photographer who really cares about the quality of the images will spend about 1-3h on each image individually. Every single image will be different because it is portraying various moods and is linked to a memory of the moment. A close-up image will take far more time to edit than a full length portrait. If I decide or (client's wants me to) manipulate the photo in photoshop then it can take not hours but days to complete it. This is behind the scenes work that is rarely taken into consideration, especially by those who have no sense of quality or no knowledge of how the entire process looks like. The same goes to the photoshoot. There are too many factors to determine the length needed for acquiring 6 or 7 great shots. It could be 200 photos or 1000. It could be 3 hours or 7. So let us say that the shoot lats for 5h and there are 7 images to be processed. So that is 5h of shooting (plus the preparation and commuting time, which in Tokyo could be even as long as 3-4h in total), and then 2h x7 images inside photoshop. That is about 24h n total. Aside the time required there is a skill and talent involved in photo editing. One has to have a vision of post processing while capturing the photos, and superb knowledge of photoshop, or any other professional photo retouching program, to be able to finalize that vision. Photo editing is an art and only an artist can do it well.
Portrait photography can be extremely rewarding. You can literally change people's life with your images for better. You can inspire them, pour confidence in them, or simple capture elusive moments that are unrepeatable. You can help them discover themselves or make them realize something they were not aware of. At the same time it is a huge responsibility, because you could do the reverse with poor images. As a professional portrait photographer it is my job to make anyone look at their best under the lighting and environmental conditions I have to work in. The true challenge is to capture who they really are, but imbue the photos with my own photography and photo editing style. People are very vulnerable in front of the lens (even professional models). They get very tense and self-conscious and it is up to me to gain their trust and do not lose it by cutting corners. There is no room for excuses, only solutions.
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Ponte Ryuurui (品天龍涙)