I have been shooting people for over thirty years.Environmental Portraiture is a powerful way to create compelling stories. Regardless of the subject matter, exceptional photography is storytelling. Great imagery captures a moment and reveals that moment through emotion, story, composition, and craft. A beautiful picture creates an intimate relationship with the viewer that suspends time and envelopes the viewer in the story.
Environmental Portraiture and the story of you:
I try not to wax poetically about capturing someone’s essence. While this may be possible, I think who we are is readily accessible. I am a keen observer and sensitive listener. I pick up on the visual nuances that make you unique and translate this into compelling imagery that tells your story.
Great photography makes you angry, joyful, despondent, full of lust, wanting love. Great images throb like a bruise, ache like a broken heart, smell like sweat and taste like blood…
This video illustrates what bothers me about stock photography. When you boil it all down, stock images are so antiseptically perfect that they lose the power of emotion. Today’s lifestyle imagery comes out of central casting and is sprayed with Febreze. The light is perfect, the people are perfect and the subject matter is perfect. I know how hard it is to create these images, so this is by no means a dig at those of us who work in, or have worked in the “industry.”
Not only are lifestyle images aesthetically limited, they are thematically limited. It is as if the images are the logical endpoint of a structured keyword search. (Because they are the logical endpoint of a keyword search). Stock is driven by the vocabulary that unearths key concepts advertisers/marketers are looking for.
I think that all of this is encouraging to photographers/artists. As stock increasingly becomes a node in the lexicon of verbal/visual communication, the need for art that transcends these commoditized buckets of pixels becomes all the more important. Pictures that are “flawed” are relevant and sought out by marketers looking differentiate their message.
Cheap outsourcing and technological innovation are commoditizing the once revered occupation of photo retouching. Yes, this is hyperbole, but applications such a PortraitPro do a remarkably good job of producing a LOOK that many customers have come to expect in portrait photography. This is particularly true in generic classifications such as; “the senior portrait” the “prom picture” the “engagement photo”. As a photographer, you must take this into account as many/most clients want this and clients pay the bills. But I worry how the ubiquity of retouching amplifies the divide between standards of beauty/body image and what is terrestrially possible.
Impact on social media and concept of beauty
The commoditization/democratization of once VERY expensive retouching adds to the divide between unattainable (corporately driven) standards of beauty/body image and who we are as human beings. As the father of a teenage daughter, I think about this a lot.
Back in the day (I am old now so I can say things like that – get off my lawn…) highly retouched/stylized images of women were, for the most part, restricted to the pages of glossy magazines such as Glamor, Vogue, ELLE, etc. They were purely aspirational platonic forms of corporately driven beauty. Today, with a couple of clicks, anyone can post highly processed reasonable facsimiles of glamor photos of themselves. Today, instead of seeing some model portraying unattainable standards of “beauty,” we can see ourselves portraying unattainable standards of “beauty.” The delta between our online personas and who we are is getting so wide that it cant be good for us. The poetry of self-expression is intermediated by algorithms that herd us into prescribed aesthetic buckets.
As I build out my business, I am trying to be mindful of this. I know that to be successful retouching and “stylization” are important. But these need to be supporting characters and not upstage authenticity. On the fulcrum between style and substance, I am betting that the muse will tip the scale in favor of; Leibovitz, Avedon, Bresson, Mann,…
Sure, technology changes the camera that captured the shot – but according to two large stock photo and video companies, technology is also changing what we see in those photographs and how those subjects are portrayed.
Many photographers look down on real estate photography. This is unfortunate because good real estate photography teaches many of the skills necessary to become a professional photographer. A good example is what is required to properly light interiors.
When shooting interiors, I will often use more than five speed-lights to ensure a proper exposure. This requires me to bounce light, use modifiers, filter to correct for different light temperatures, as well understand lighting ratios. All of these skills are extremely valuable when shooting lifestyle and or environmental portraiture.