Portraitists.... do you recognize genuine expressions?

DHart

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I was just perusing some cooking websites and found this portrait.

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My first thought was OMG... could this smile be any LESS authentic? No. There is no smile here. This is a genuine BLAH response to the photographer.

Could her eyes show any less enthusiasm, connection, personality, or engagement? No. Dead eyes.

If she did elicit a genuine smile, it had certainly faded by the time this shutter clicked.

As a professional portrait photographer, would this be an image I would present to my client? Again, emphatic NO. I wouldn't end the photo session until I elicited some genuine expression from this client.

Obviously, the photo is technically well done, and certainly reveals that this is a very beautiful, attractive looking woman! But her portrait photographer did her a dis-service by even presenting this particular image to her, for consideration on her website. It appears that the photographer did NOT elicit anything close to a genuine expression from this woman. And if he/she did... then why show her this one to choose from?

Not top shelf portrait work, in my view. Advanced amateur, perhaps. And it's all because of failure to elicit a great expression - something I see all too much of, unfortunately.

Mastering your technical skills as a portrait photographer is certainly important, but even more important is mastering eliciting great expressions from your sitter. And I'm not saying they have to be smiles... they can be serious, pensive, whatever... but they MUST be authentic, genuine, and believable - otherwise, you have failed as a photographer.

How well do you work to elicit GENUINE expressions from someone who you are photographing? How closely do you examine the expressions given to you by someone who you have been asked to photograph?

Perhaps this image might be instructive to some degree?

Anyway... been a long time since I visited here. Nice to visit again and poke around!

Cheers to my old friends here.
 
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I've been listening over to the photography podcast On Taking Photos, which ended in 2018, still a great show with real insights. Bill, one of the hosts, is a portrait photographer and talks about how much of his job is engaging with the subject, drawing them out of their shell in many cases. He makes it a point to learn something about their life, work, etc. I imagine some people need a lot of coaxing to open up in front of a camera, I know I would. That obviously did not happen there! Hahah.
 

demiro

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I think photographers need to be careful to think they know best, regardless of their experience level or accomplishments. Portraits should be more about what the client wants/likes than about the photographer's opinion.

I agree that the job is to elicit genuine expressions. But the client should get to choose, and apparently chose this one. You have to respect that on some level.

I don't say this as a pro, but rather as a client who had a very bad experience with an arrogant photographer, who only agreed to show shots he was binning because they 'didn't meet his standards' after a rather heated exchange. If I'm paying you I don't think you should apply the 'this is my work' attitude. It's like a house painter going with a color of his choosing because he's painted a lot of houses and knows what's best.
 

DHart

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I think photographers need to be careful to think they know best, regardless of their experience level or accomplishments. Portraits should be more about what the client wants/likes than about the photographer's opinion.

I agree that the job is to elicit genuine expressions. But the client should get to choose, and apparently chose this one. You have to respect that on some level.

I don't say this as a pro, but rather as a client who had a very bad experience with an arrogant photographer, who only agreed to show shots he was binning because they 'didn't meet his standards' after a rather heated exchange. If I'm paying you I don't think you should apply the 'this is my work' attitude. It's like a house painter going with a color of his choosing because he's painted a lot of houses and knows what's best.
My view... if the client thought this was the best image created of her, then she wasn't shown enough great images. That's all. The expression doesn't serve this beautiful lady well. Just my personal view.
 
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I agree with the OP,
Mastering your technical skills as a portrait photographer is certainly important, but even more important is mastering eliciting great expressions from your sitter
I have been watching a lot of Peter Coulson working with models and it and there is definitely a mind set that you must be aware even if the subject isn't .
He works with high end professional models but is constantly prompting them, eye's, eye's, chin up, back straight, stand on your tippy toe's etc, in a manor that is engaging not insulting the results are dramatic. Which is probably the reason why he stays so busy.
 

John M Flores

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If this woman was warm and effusive before the photographer picked up the camera, then yes, this may be a disservice to her brand. But I've met plenty of people who always seem to be wearing a mask in public.
 

demiro

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I agree with the OP,

I have been watching a lot of Peter Coulson working with models and it and there is definitely a mind set that you must be aware even if the subject isn't .
He works with high end professional models but is constantly prompting them, eye's, eye's, chin up, back straight, stand on your tippy toe's etc, in a manor that is engaging not insulting the results are dramatic. Which is probably the reason why he stays so busy.
I think there is a big difference between shooting models and shooting portraits where the subject is the client. In the Coulson example both he and the models are working for someone else. In the example in the OP it looks like the client is the one being photographed.
 

Darmok N Jalad

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Maybe I'm missing the mark on the portrait component, but it almost seems like if she's having trouble being authentic for a portrait, she should have gone to a candid moment where she's working in her element instead? Nothing about the photo above suggests she's passionate about cooking. It makes me think about buying a home, not cooking a meal.
 

Michael Houston

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Although I am retired from it now I spent 8 years as a portrait photographer. People will only flash you a genuine smile if there is something to genuinely smile about. To me portrait work is partly about relationship building, spending a little time with the client and making friends. It also helps to be able to do a little bit of a patter and have a sense of humor. If you can make people laugh just in normal conversation you are 90% home as a portrait photographer. Not everybody has the personality for it. I've known some wonderful photographers who are still unqualified for portraiture. You also need to know your gear like the back of your hand. But that's pretty much a prerequisite for any kind of professional photography.
 
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DHart

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The expression she shows the photographer, in that photo, is exactly the kind of expression you get when you simply instruct a non-professional subject to "smile". Obviously fake, no sparkle in the eyes, no enthused charm, no personality.

A portraitist who works with non-professional clients (not models) needs to be able to establish a genuine rapport with the sitter, to engage them in ways that help them forget that they're being photographed and let their personality out in a genuine way. If a smile is desired -so that the subject appears as a warm, likable, approachable person- then the photographer needs to elicit a genuine smiling response, not a directed response.

Working with models, especially good ones who are professionals, you often can simply instruct them and get a good, genuine-looking result. With non-professionals, just instructing them for a particular expression is usually not good enough to elicit genuine expressions - they need to be engaged in ways that elicit natural responses of expression.

You can do everything right in creating a great portrait with your choice of setting, clothing, lighting, lenses, positioning, great posing - but if you fail to elicit a great expression, all the rest is for naught. In a portrait, facial expression is everything - the rest is support.
 
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I think there is a big difference between shooting models and shooting portraits where the subject is the client. In the Coulson example both he and the models are working for someone else. In the example in the OP it looks like the client is the one being photographed.
It seems I didn't make my point which was even with models whom are "professional " its still the photographers job as stated by DHart to elicit genuine expression.
My last shoot was mechanical engineers that where introverted to say the least but after talking about how cool I thought there jobs were and showing some interest they seemed to warm up and open up. Having worked with engineers in my career I knew to save the chit chat and jokes for more out going type's.
Most of the people ( model's) Peter has on his video's are there for personal reasons as he has stated he doesn't put his client work on you tube and he will explain how he has to teach models how to be better models.
 

demiro

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I certainly agree that photographers should work to get their subjects comfortable to facilitate genuine expressions. I can't imagine anyone disagrees with that.
 

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