Face It …….. Isn’t There More To A Portrait Than “Just A Simple P.R. Shot?”

Today, when I was out shopping, I did something I rarely do…. pick up an in-house magazine . Why? Because those sultry eyes of Colin Firth’s worked their magic on me.  I wondered just how many visitors to the bank had done the very same thing. There’s something about those eyes that linger, that draw you in…..

Jessica St. Clair of Green Families UK.

The portrait glowers back at me. I ask myself, what’s in a portrait? Recently, I’ve been doing quite a few for local business people. I’m really enjoying the experience because I don’t normally get a chance to look into what’s between the ears.  Under normal conditions, it’s always a rush. I follow a traditional approach on a shoot; make my subject comfortable, try to allocate some extra time to the session to warm the subject up, show them some attention, try to get to know them, shoot lots. Invariably the shots at the end are always better than the first.

Of course, the worse thing you can do on a portrait shoot is to be in a hurry, it’s not conducive to good results. It’s important to romance the sitter somehow so there is a connection. There’s no way you can really know them in half an hour, but you can get a whiff of what they’re about. Equally, if they’ve got other stuff on their mind it’s no good. They have to want to be there not bullied because they think they ought.

What is it about that Colin Firth portrait that is so engaging? This portrait isn’t just about an actor, a man. It’s about a BRAND. One glance and he’s instantly recognisable. He’s enigmatic, bearing almost the same qualities as the Mona Lisa.  (In fact he’s almost in exactly the same position.) With one look, you are reminded of almost every film he’s been in. Can he really just turn on that sultry look on demand or does he just have a natural propensity to do it? I wonder…did the snapper do something to bait his reaction?

So when a customer comes to me and says: “ I just want some nice shots for P.R.” what does that really mean? Just? Infuriatingly glib, I’d say…

The power of the portrait knows no bounds. Get the image wrong and you can damage your brand, get it right and well, maybe people might comment on what a good likeness it is of you and it might just stick in their minds.

It’s a strange thing, what the digital age has done to the creative process. Because results are almost instant, there is the perception that there is no value or skill involved at all, that almost anyone can do it. Not true. When a professional person actually produces the goods, the reaction is well, almost one of surprise…how weird.

It’s only human nature: experiencing a failure  is the only way we can recognise a success, but who honestly has the time or budget to shop around and experience this for ourselves? That’s why people increasingly go for personal recommendation over traditional advertising. That’s why this year, I’m not going to spend dosh on paid ads at all, I’m going to concentrate on my on-line efforts and networking. Face to Face is best.

What you want, what you really, really want, is some essence of that person communicated to you through the image. It’s no accident that taking a photo is called a ‘capture”.  And it’s no accident that the software I choose to process my Raw files is called “Capture One”. Because that’s exactly what I’m doing.


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