Portraits reveal, flatter or displease us, as they reflect a certain image of ourselves that we have to identify and live with. A true photographic genre of its own, portraiture is used in almost all areas of photography (corporate, beauty, the family realm).
From a simple commission by an individual or company to artistic or press portraits, the majority of professional photographers are now required to take portraits. However, the genre remains broad and varied due to the multitude of conceptions, approaches as well as expectations of what constitutes a strong portrait.
In their day to day activity, the portrait photographer might shoot in the studio or on location – indoors or outdoors – so as to create complex compositions. They might prefer to focus on details, colors and facial features, and to work with artificial or natural light, or even combine both.
There are numerous ways to immortalize a face. Yet, fact is: a portrait is always the product of an encounter and an ensuing relationship between the photographer and the person photographed, established at the very moment of the shoot. The decisive task of the photographer is to understand the needs and expectations of their subject, in order to conceive an image in adequacy with their vision.
Qualities required to become a Portrait Photographer
The qualities required to become a portrait photographer are various.
First and foremost, the portrait photographer has to be curious about others: they show interest in people and encounters of all kinds. To shoot a portrait is to go beyond appearances and reveal the true personality of a person. So as to achieve this, the photographer needs to be able to establish a relationship of trust with their subject. It is thus necessary to be pedagogical to guide and accompany them during the shoot, to give directions and to take control of the situation to achieve the desired result.
Next to good interpersonal skills, the portrait photographer must be prepared for any eventuality. They organize and anticipate their shoots with care as they will only have one chance to produce a quality portrait. They also need to be able to quickly adapt to unknown environments and light conditions. Excellent technical skills and a sharp sense of observation are therefore necessary to face the potential uncertainties of a portraiture shoot.
Curiosity, technical skills, interpersonal skills, adaptability, reliability, versatility, decision-making, pedagogical sense, anticipation as well as organization: these are the main qualities expected of a successful portrait photographer.
Become a Portrait Photographer with Spéos
The training at Spéos allows students to hone all the necessary skills to become professional portrait photographers. To do so, they can attend either a 1-year or 2-year program with a specialization in Studio or Photojournalism.
Those who already have a first experience in portraiture and wish to improve their skills as a portrait photographer can also choose to follow an online program for 14 weeks:
> Commercial + Fine Art Portrait Photography – Distance Learning
Teaching at Spéos includes all the steps – from conception to production – of a portrait:
- Conceptualization: getting to know the client’s request, identifying the technical constraints and specific expectations, formulating an idea by developing a concept specific to the identity of the person photographed.
- Preparation of the shoot: choosing a suitable location or setting to highlight the main subject of the photo. Location scouting before the shoot is essential for the portrait photographer, so as to convert a given space into a suitable and controlled environment that will enhance the personality of the subject photographed. Preparing one’s lighting equipment.
- The portrait session: knowing how to direct professional and non-professional subjects. Deciding on the best type and combination of light. Next to portrait lighting photography techniques, they equally need to fully master depth-of-field. Choosing costumes, outfits, styles and accessories to enhance the portrait. Capturing the images themselves.
- Image Selection: managing a digital image workflow, being capable to organize and edit images to select those to be retouched for the final rendering.
- Image processing: mastering image editing software (Photoshop, Lightroom, etc.), so as to ensure quality post-production and obtain great photos.
Combining theory and practice, the photography programs at Spéos provide students with a range of skills that enable them to become professional – establish their photography business – and to further specialize as portrait photographers. Skills include essential techniques inherent to outdoor and indoor photography, in-depth knowledge of post-processing software, as well as the ability to manage and distribute digital images in order to promote their activity. Last but not least, students also develop their own visual identity through the creation of a portfolio reflecting their style.
An essential point of the pedagogical method taught at Spéos: students learn and practice photography using the Stop-System – a method developed by Spéos – allowing them to understand and master photographic lighting techniques and lighting equipments, so that they are able to work quickly and independently towards a photographic style of their own.
Opportunities, Careers and Prospects
Nowadays, portrait photographers mostly work on a freelance basis. As portraiture is a rather large field, they have to be very versatile indeed. They usually have several clients and can respond to requests from individuals (family photos, tourism, weddings etc.), as well as to image requests by companies from the public and private domains (administrations, advertising agencies, press organizations). Some portrait photography careers also develop into a fine art direction, involving exhibitions in portrait galleries and photography museums, next to private clients.
A great number of outlets are thus available but – as for any start-up venture – it takes up to two years before portrait photographers have fully developed their activity and managed to make a name. Hence, reliability and excellent interpersonal skills are key for shaping a place within a rather competitive market.
How to get to Spéos Paris
Come by visit Spéos (preferably on appointment)!