Portrait photographers who do it as a hobby - what is your motivation

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hoffy

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This is a bit of a follow on from the Why do you make photographs thread.

I have had an interest in portraits for a while. Of late, when ever I look at photos online, that is where I gravitate to.

I have done a few, but I find that doing family tends to lead in disinterested subjects, who tend to get annoyed "because I take so long". I'd like to take photos of other people, whether they be models, younger people (not interested in children generally), old people, men, women, gay, straight, transgender - It really doesn't matter.

But, as someone who strictly does this as a hobby, I struggle to get over the hump of "What would I be doing this for?". I struggle to understand why anyone would want to go out of their way to sit in front of my camera for 10 or so minutes, for me to take a few frames.

So, I'm curious - for those of you who take people pictures where making some coin is not the main focus, what is your motivation? What do you do with the pictures? How easy do you find people who are willing to have their photo taken?

Thanks
 

MattKing

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I find it interesting and fun to engage with people while I make their portrait.
But it is the most fun when people would like you to make their portrait.
 
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hoffy

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I find it interesting and fun to engage with people while I make their portrait.
But it is the most fun when people would like you to make their portrait.

That is the crunch. Most older people I know hate having their picture taken.

My kids (17 and up) prefer to take a snap with their phones.
 

wiltw

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Seek young women who wish to have shots taken because they are aspiring models or aspiring actresses seeking photos for their portolio.
They have an interest in getting photos at much lower cost than hiring someone to do that for them...aspiring models or actresses don't have much money.
You get experience in lighting and posing, they get photos in return.
 

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Seek young women who wish to have shots taken because they are aspiring models or aspiring actresses seeking photos for their portolio.
They have an interest in getting photos at much lower cost than hiring someone to do that for them...aspiring models or actresses don't have much money.
You get experience in lighting and posing, they get photos in return.
Just last week I saw a pretty young lady all decked out in fashionable wear taking her own shots in a hip location with a smart phone on a spindly tripod. Today, everyone's a model.
 

momus

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It's not a hobby, but like the op I do like to take portraits. And yes, I sometimes wonder why?

Maybe because I just like people. And a good portrait is not easy to make. Mine are never posed, it's better if we chat while I'm shooting, although when I had a 135mm lens I would occasionally take grab shots.

Portraits in natural light (which is about all I use) are challenging because so much depends on the quality of the light. One reflection or one shadow can ruin it. But after a while it becomes more than fascinating.

If it's not a posed model and we're having fun w/ it, they will look very different from shot to shot, even w/ a motor drive. No two pics will even be nearly exactly alike. That's how it is in real life, but we don't notice it. We're listening as well as watching, just picking up visual cues and body language. The camera just stops that instant of time, and it's reduced to only visual.
 

Alex Benjamin

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I have done a few, but I find that doing family tends to lead in disinterested subjects, who tend to get annoyed "because I take so long". I'd like to take photos of other people, whether they be models, younger people (not interested in children generally), old people, men, women, gay, straight, transgender - It really doesn't matter.

But, as someone who strictly does this as a hobby, I struggle to get over the hump of "What would I be doing this for?". I struggle to understand why anyone would want to go out of their way to sit in front of my camera for 10 or so minutes, for me to take a few frames.

Well, it does matter, because the first thing you are going to do is talk to them about why. As Matt said, it's all about engaging with the other, and the first thing they'll want to know, or understand, is why you are interested in them. If there is a constant between all great portrait photographers, from Bill Brandt to Diane Arbus to Dawoud Bey to Judith Joy Ross, it's that there is much more talking than there is actual picture taking. And it's that they all know what they were curious about, what they were trying to capture in the particular group they were photographing.

Portrait photography as a hobby is extremely hard because it does compel you to ask yourself the questions as to why you want to do it, what are you looking for, what questions are you asking yourself (or the other), for I don't think engagement is possible if you don't, and engagement is the only way you'll end up with something natural, it's the only way you'll be able to have people be themselves for you and not the representation of themselves they often offer when photographed.

And when there is engagement, there is patience. You talk to them, you explain to them what you are doing (and sometimes why), they won't grow impatient.

I recently saw the Diane Arbus exhibition at the Montreal Musée des Beaux-Arts. You really do feel that the actual picture taking was only the final element in a long process of questioning and discovery. But what people were willing to reveal about themselves, often without realizing it, is truly astonishing.

So, all this said, I'll throw back the question at you. What interests you in portrait photography? What are you trying to find out? What do you think photographing people will reveal—about them and about you?
 

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I rarely do portraits but when I do it's outdoors during a festive event. Examples are ice racer in the winter and steam threshing crews in the fall, Civil War reenactors in the summer. I shoot an 8x10 camera with either film or tin type depending on the temperature. These folks love the novelty of a big camera and I have a lot of fun using it. I always give a print. The irony here is even though portraits are not my main goal in photography I have a nice collection of very desirable portrait lenses, most dating 1850s to 1920s.



Kent in SD
 

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Well, it does matter, because the first thing you are going to do is talk to them about why. As Matt said, it's all about engaging with the other, and the first thing they'll want to know, or understand, is why you are interested in them. If there is a constant between all great portrait photographers, from Bill Brandt to Diane Arbus to Dawoud Bey to Judith Joy Ross, it's that there is much more talking than there is actual picture taking. And it's that they all know what they were curious about, what they were trying to capture in the particular group they were photographing.

100%. I don't disagree with you there. I have always found that the best portrait photographers are those that know how to communicate with their sitters. Technique is secondary.

So, all this said, I'll throw back the question at you. What interests you in portrait photography? What are you trying to find out? What do you think photographing people will reveal—about them and about you?

OK, this could be a multi part answer.

I'm going to throw some examples of some of the stuff I follow on Flickr. Apologies in advance if anyone here sees their work and they would prefer that it wasn't shared. Its not my intent to steal, its my intent to showcase:


This fine photographer does a lot of self portraits. To me, it is about showing age, showing texture, but also there is a level of release, of vulnerability


Is Ray on here? For me, this is about showing an aesthetic - its art. Its using those old processes.


Same here - its about the artistic merit



Here, its about beauty. Its about capturing someone in their prime and showing them in the best light.

I'm not going to lie. There is a gaze element in what we do. When I am bored and on the train, I will glance at people (male and female, young and old) and think "How would I photograph them?".

The hardest hurdle for me to get over is that what could I give back in return.
 

MattKing

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If you are doing a lot of looking at people thinking about how you might photograph them, it can be a really good idea to have some examples with you of how you have photographed others.
 
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hoffy

hoffy

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If you are doing a lot of looking at people thinking about how you might photograph them, it can be a really good idea to have some examples with you of how you have photographed others.

The stuff that I have done is still at the advanced beginner level! I suppose this is where working with either people you know or models is always going to be the best starting point.
 

MattKing

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My Dad was half decent at it.
His photo of my mother, somewhere between 1947 and 1951, on old, very faded Kodachrome:
E-01-mom-1951.jpg
This was before they were married, and a few years before I was born.
 

MattKing

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The stuff that I have done is still at the advanced beginner level! I suppose this is where working with either people you know or models is always going to be the best starting point.

Yes, but the fact that you have examples at hand helps establish your bona fides.
 

Alex Benjamin

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The hardest hurdle for me to get over is that what could I give back in return.

To me, again, this comes down to what your intent is. If it's shooting models, what they'll get out of it is money (yes, you pay them). If, on the other hand, it's photographing senior citizens in your community, what they'll get out of it is an interesting conversation with someone who took the time to wonder about who they are. Same goes with anybody, actually.

Again, to come back to Diane Arbus, it is something that you feel about her sitters: that they are grateful for the attention, for the time taken to try to understand who they are.
 
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I enjoy taking pictures of family and friends at parties and other get-togethers. But nothing formal with strangers. That doesn't interest me at all.

I like shooting extemporaneously to catch people just acting normally to include posed portraits from the party. I find the extemporaneous ones the most interesting because people are just interacting normally and unposed. Some people complain when they see the pictures that they weren't smiling and I say yeah isn't that great. Maybe they were laughing or grimacing or whatever or showing affection to someone else in the picture. All good stuff.
 
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To me, again, this comes down to what your intent is. If it's shooting models, what they'll get out of it is money (yes, you pay them). If, on the other hand, it's photographing senior citizens in your community, what they'll get out of it is an interesting conversation with someone who took the time to wonder about who they are. Same goes with anybody, actually.

Again, to come back to Diane Arbus, it is something that you feel about her sitters: that they are grateful for the attention, for the time taken to try to understand who they are.

I'm retired and live in a 55+ community. The thought of spending my time taking pictures of other old people here is depressing. :wink:
 

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She photographed strippers, carnival barkers, and other unusual people. That sounds interesting.
She sought out people on the edge of society, got close to them, gained their confidence. If you don't find people your age interesting enough, maybe you should find out more about them. Oh, and she also shot nudist camps (she worked naked) and institutionalized mentally ill patients, many children.
 

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momus

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A lot may depend on your model and your own personal aesthetics. Looking at other's work can help, or it can backfire. Picasso used to say that nothing grows under the shade of a great oak, and that's a real pitfall. You don't want to become just another, lesser vision of someone else. We have to find our own voice. He also said that inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.

We have to be willing to put the time and effort into it.

When we look at others work it should be for the technical side of it, and look at it in person, not on a computer monitor. That glowing, back-lit photo is going to look very different in person. The size will often throw you. Weston's work was quite small because he did a lot of contact printing, and when you see it in books or on a screen the size doesn't come across. I always feel charged up after visiting a good gallery or museum (although museums are often places where great art goes to die)

Above all, take LOTS of photos. It's exactly like the old question; How do I get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. Be your own biggest critic, what someone else thinks about your work is totally irrelevant, but technical advice can help. And have fun w/ it!
 
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