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

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ooze

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aparat

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When I was young, I struggled to approach strangers and engage in small talk, but when I was in college, working on an oral history project, I overcame that problem (not entirely, though), and now, many years later, I enjoy talking to people I just met and taking their portraits. I always ask permission.
This one is from a recent 120 roll, digitized with my phone.

52595495118_efb79744d6_c.jpg
 
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When I was young, I struggled to approach strangers and engage in small talk, but when I was in college, working on an oral history project, I overcame that problem (not entirely, though), and now, many years later, I enjoy talking to people I just met and taking their portraits. I always ask permission.
This one is from a recent 120 roll, digitized with my phone.

52595495118_efb79744d6_c.jpg

How do you break the ice?
 

MattKing

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How do you break the ice?

You walk up to them, say hi, and start talking about them.
Whatever you do, you don't present yourself as a photographer. You present yourself as an interested person, who loves to photograph people you engage with. The camera doesn't come close to your eyes until after you've reached agreement about photographing the subject.
With this very interesting person, we talked first about fish, and fish markets, and light.
38j-2015-11-08-APUG res.jpg
 

wiltw

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I think lots of folks take on a certain area of photography simply because it poses a set of challenges which entail learning certain skills and mastering them.
 
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I think lots of folks take on a certain area of photography simply because it poses a set of challenges which entail learning certain skills and mastering them.

I totally agree.

I think where the difficulty comes in it for me is I wouldn't have a problem hanging a picture of a car or a landscape on my wall, but I would never hang a portrait of someone I don't know.

That being said, I wouldn't and don't have an issue posting a portrait of someone to Instagram or Flickr.
 

MattKing

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I think where the difficulty comes in it for me is I wouldn't have a problem hanging a picture of a car or a landscape on my wall, but I would never hang a portrait of someone I don't know.

Funnily enough, while it may seem strange to hang a single portrait of someone you don't know, it is easy to hang a few.
 

MattKing

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Valid point. If its part of a theme - a project, then yes, it would work.

A fun approach is to have a chair rail based display system, and re-usable mats and frames.
Have a corner where the portraits/people photos/street photos with people are constantly in flux - a visitor one month is likely to see something different if they come back the next.
 
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hoffy

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A fun approach is to have a chair rail based display system, and re-usable mats and frames.
Have a corner where the portraits/people photos/street photos with people are constantly in flux - a visitor one month is likely to see something different if they come back the next.

LOL. I setup a rail system in my study during covid for similar reason. Once I put it up, I hung some pictures of my kids from 10 years ago.

They are still there
 
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You walk up to them, say hi, and start talking about them.
Whatever you do, you don't present yourself as a photographer. You present yourself as an interested person, who loves to photograph people you engage with. The camera doesn't come close to your eyes until after you've reached agreement about photographing the subject.
With this very interesting person, we talked first about fish, and fish markets, and light.
View attachment 325293

So you really want to photograph them not discuss things with them. So you bring up other subjects as a diversion to fool them at first. Seems deceptive. I'd rather just sneak a shot or skip it. This is why I have problems doing it. I guess I'm just not interested in other people. I'd rather photograph squirrels or trees. They've got nothing to say. Don't argue. And I can use a tripod. 😉
 
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A fun approach is to have a chair rail based display system, and re-usable mats and frames.
Have a corner where the portraits/people photos/street photos with people are constantly in flux - a visitor one month is likely to see something different if they come back the next.

You could do a photo book of portraits. Then keep it on your coffee table for visitors to thumb through. You could title the book, "Portraits of Strangers I Wouldn't Hang on My Walls."
 

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You could do a photo book of portraits. Then keep it on your coffee table for visitors to thumb through. You could title the book, "Portraits of Strangers I Wouldn't Hang on My Walls."

Exactly. I published a monograph of 100 portraits and 36 pages of essays on portraiture. A book is a great way to order and present work.
 

Sirius Glass

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I totally agree.

I think where the difficulty comes in it for me is I wouldn't have a problem hanging a picture of a car or a landscape on my wall, but I would never hang a portrait of someone I don't know.

That being said, I wouldn't and don't have an issue posting a portrait of someone to Instagram or Flickr.

I do not see the problem. It only takes wall space, a nail and picture hanger if the print is matted and framed. If the face is interesting, people like portraits.
 

cowanw

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I totally agree.

I think where the difficulty comes in it for me is I wouldn't have a problem hanging a picture of a car or a landscape on my wall, but I would never hang a portrait of someone I don't know.
When I had an office, for 40 years, I combined my work with my hobby, portraiture, by collecting and displaying on the walls of my office, well over 100 portraits dating from 1841 to 1955. Most of my clients liked and discussed their favorites. one ninty year old lady was very partial to a 1939 Hurrell portrait of Brian Ahearn. It still stirred her all these years later.
My first project upon retirement was to write a book, Eleventyone Portraits, to make them at least available to the photographic world. Identifying and learning about an otherwise anonymous portrait is fun.
For me, making a great portrait is very satisfying.
 

Rob Skeoch

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Now that I'm old, I'm only interested in portraiture. I've lost most interest in landscapes or wildlife, (unless it's underwater and then it's likely to be digital). In Sept. and Oct. I had a gallery show of street portraits, all taken with a 4x10 panorama camera. I did the work a few years back but it took two years to get a gallery booking, and then it was covid delayed another 18 months. It was nice to finally get the show on the walls. The show was at a public gallery so there was no pressure to sell any of the work. I'm not sure who would buy street portraits of strangers anyway.
Now I'm working on a new series, strangers once again, with a common theme. Once I have a strong enough collection of these portraits, I'll approach galleries to put together a show.
When this project is done, I'll roll right into another theme. I have three on the backburners which should take three or four years to finish, and take me around the world.
Portrait photographers have been working with strangers since the beginning. All the great's have done it, Avedon out west, Penn in a small room just about everywhere, McCurry in the east. There's no reason not to do it. I don't try and get to know my subjects, and often don't speak the language, I just try and do the best portrait I can, for my own selfish needs.
I do send them a print when possible. Sometimes a scan of the print if that's all they want but usually a darkroom printed 5x7. I don't have a negative scanner so everything is darkroom printed in my case.
 

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aparat

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How do you break the ice?
Good question! My situation is unique since I can only "walk" using a walker or crutches (if I feel adventurous) and, as weird as it sounds, that is often a conversation starter. I got used to it over the past twenty years. Some people ask if they can pray for me, some are curious about my leg, some comment that they themselves have had a leg fracture or that their friend or family member did. Whenever I am outside photographing, my camera is always visible and, when I approach someone, I do briefly tell them that I am out taking pictures for whatever project I might be working on. I am always polite and always ask permission. I also give out my card and offer to send them a print if they want one. Some people do. The man in that picture was walking without a coat on on a pretty chilly day. He said he couldn't wait to move to Hawaii, and so that's where the conversation headed. A few years ago, I used to carry an Instax camera and would give out an instant snap, but now it's just too much weight for me to carry so I just have my film camera with me. My approach, which I had learned from Studs Terkel years ago, is to just listen and try to ask engaging questions.
 

MattKing

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You walk up to them, say hi, and start talking about them.
Whatever you do, you don't present yourself as a photographer. You present yourself as an interested person, who loves to photograph people you engage with. The camera doesn't come close to your eyes until after you've reached agreement about photographing the subject.
With this very interesting person, we talked first about fish, and fish markets, and light.
View attachment 325293

So you really want to photograph them not discuss things with them. So you bring up other subjects as a diversion to fool them at first. Seems deceptive. I'd rather just sneak a shot or skip it. This is why I have problems doing it. I guess I'm just not interested in other people. I'd rather photograph squirrels or trees. They've got nothing to say. Don't argue. And I can use a tripod. 😉
Nothing deceptive at all.
You engage with them because you are interested in them.
You photograph them because you like doing that, and because you know that interesting people result in interesting photographs.
But you don't engage with them just for the purposes of photographing them.
And sometimes you don't end up making a photograph - which is fine.
And if you don't enjoy engaging with people, that is fine too. But portraiture isn't the same as "people" photography - it requires engagement. And It is more fun!
I've done lots of photography where I was tasked with making photos of people - journalism, weddings, portraits, meet and greets, even a few publicity photos - and that definitely helps build some of the technical skills, which is useful. It is great when the photographic technicalities are instinctive.
 

Sirius Glass

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So you really want to photograph them not discuss things with them. So you bring up other subjects as a diversion to fool them at first. Seems deceptive. I'd rather just sneak a shot or skip it. This is why I have problems doing it. I guess I'm just not interested in other people. I'd rather photograph squirrels or trees. They've got nothing to say. Don't argue. And I can use a tripod. 😉

It is part of the art of conversation. Introducing yourself and working up to requesting permission to take their portrait. Nothing deceitful about that.
 
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I do not see the problem. It only takes wall space, a nail and picture hanger if the print is matted and framed. If the face is interesting, people like portraits.

My wife has a couple of pictures hanging with the original photos of the people that came with the purchase of the frame. I told her I'd give her one of mine to substitute, but she says she likes the person. :wink:
 

Sirius Glass

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My wife has a couple of pictures hanging with the original photos of the people that came with the purchase of the frame. I told her I'd give her one of mine to substitute, but she says she likes the person. :wink:

Adjusting ones spouse can be problematical.
 
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When I had an office, for 40 years, I combined my work with my hobby, portraiture, by collecting and displaying on the walls of my office, well over 100 portraits dating from 1841 to 1955. Most of my clients liked and discussed their favorites. one ninty year old lady was very partial to a 1939 Hurrell portrait of Brian Ahearn. It still stirred her all these years later.
My first project upon retirement was to write a book, Eleventyone Portraits, to make them at least available to the photographic world. Identifying and learning about an otherwise anonymous portrait is fun.
For me, making a great portrait is very satisfying.
I had a Richard Avedon poster of Natassha Kinski and the Serpent hanging on the wall behind my desk way back when it was pretty risque. It would distract my guests as their eyes kept darting up to see the snake, or the girl, whatever. It helped me in negotiations. (That's not my poster or picture, but mine was very similarly framed.)
th
 
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