“A portrait is not a likeness. The moment an emotion or fact is transformed into a photograph it is no longer a fact but an opinion. There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth. ” Richard Avedon
We're at the beginning or middle of Flower Show season depending on how you look at things.
Last weekend I was at RHS Malvern, this weekend I'll be up at RHS Chelsea. It's always an exciting time. Designers, nursery owners, suppliers, builders, sculptors etc etc all decsend on a smallish patch of land just north of the River Thames in London to build gardens and exhibit their wears.
RHS Chelsea is gardening's London Fashion Week.
This year I have been commissioned to photograph one of the gardens on Main Avenue, The Beauty of Islam. I'm really looking forward to it. It involves photographing the garden for the clients but also photographing the glamour and glitz associated with RHS Chelsea and to photograph the designer Kamelia bin Zaal with the various famous visitors to the show.
Photographing people is great fun, but can be challenging especially if they are not used to the camera. Most visitors on Monday's press day at RHS Chelsea are veterans at looking good for the camera but most of us aren't.
So here are my top tips on photographing people to make them look natural and relaxed.
1 Always talk to them, about them; what they do, things that interest them, this will put them at ease.
2 Smile. A smile will always break the tension.
3 Explain what you want them to do. Try to work this out before hand.
4 Ask them to stand side on to the camera and look into the lens this often works better than facing the camera.
5 Give them direction; suggest what they should do with their hands, hold something relevant, slip them into their pockets, rest them on the seat they are sitting on etc.
6 If their hair or clothing isn't looking right let them know so that they can fix it.
7 Don't tell them to relax. If they are very tense ask them to shake out, shake their heads and arms to relax their body. Or get them to blow a raspberry-anything crazy like this will usually end up in a giggle and be ready to take that shot.
8 If they don't look comfortable looking into the lens ask them to look away and back, the second they look at the lens snap the shot. You may have to do this several times.
9 Politely ask them not to talk too much. Nervous people always talk, you will not get a good shot if their mouth is always moving.
10 If they are struggling, stop and take a break.
11 Photograph them in a situation that they are familiar with.
12 Shoot them with the sun directly behind them to throw them into silhouette.
13 Photograph them in shade, not direct sunlight it is very unflattering.
14 Use props. Chairs can be sat on or leaned on, walls are good to lean against, steps, tools, flowers the list goes on.
15 Ask them to walk away from you and on your command get them to look back at you.
16 Don't just photograph faces, how about hands, feet, close-ups of eyes.
17 Stand on a chair and shoot them from a higher angle.
19 Ask them to lie on the ground and get down to their level or stand over them.
20 Look for interesting backdrops such as long straight roads.
21 Photograph them going about their daily business.
I hope that gives you the confidence to go out and shoot more portraits. Oh, one more thing, always ask permission to take someone's photo-it's polite and it keeps things friendly!
I asked Michael Caine if I could photograph him one Chelsea, he wasn't courting attention but I smiled and he just smiled back - he was charming. It doesn't work every time. There was a moment with Mary Berry, but that would be telling!
And here are a few from over the years...
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