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

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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.

You gotta know thyself. I'm not a people person at least for portraits. Just talking to take a picture doesn't interest me. If I tried to strike up a conversation, I'm not interested unless they;re doing something that interests me. Portraits are pretty much for family and friends.

I'm more of a street picture taker who's interested in the oddball, interactions among the subjects, juxtaposition, or that the picture and subject are saying something to me. Then I snap.
 

BrianShaw

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It seems a rather precarious balancing act. Striking up conversations with strangers might come off as creepy, or not. So, too, if one just took pictures of strangers uninvited. If one strikes up a conversation with a stranger and has a camera around their neck, the ultimate intent is more clear. Feigning an interest in a long-term relationship probably isn't going to work no matter what... either from a relationship or a photographic perspective.

I once worked with a creepy older guy, fellow photographer, who lived in a California beach city. He claimed he could just ask randonm girls he saw on the beach to pose topless, and 1 out of 5 would do it. I didn't believe him until he passed away suddenly and I had to clean out his desk. There was plenty of photographic proof. LOL
 

Sirius Glass

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You gotta know thyself. I'm not a people person at least for portraits. Just talking to take a picture doesn't interest me. If I tried to strike up a conversation, I'm not interested unless they;re doing something that interests me. Portraits are pretty much for family and friends.

I'm more of a street picture taker who's interested in the oddball, interactions among the subjects, juxtaposition, or that the picture and subject are saying something to me. Then I snap.

I like looking at portraits by like you I do not enjoy taking portraits.
 

Pieter12

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I like taking portraits, but I do want my subjects to like the shots I make of them, leading me to hesitate sometimes to push the envelope a bit. I am also concerned with the amount of their time I may be taking, preferring to at least have an initial idea and setting in mind to get things going. Just like putting the subject at ease, I find I need to be at ease myself to get a good rapport going. Fiddling with camera settings and having to change film (obviously not an issue with digital) can get in the way, breaking the mood. An assistant comes in handy then, also to hold a reflector if necessary. Candid portraits, on the other hand are much simpler if the lighting conditions are good, such as a nearby window for interior portraits or open shade outside.
 

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That's great. Is there a way to see some of the book, let's say on BLurb if you published it there?


I should add that a number of the portraits are NSFW so proceed at your own risk.
 
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I should add that a number of the portraits are NSFW so proceed at your own risk.

Excellent essay and photos. Obviously a labor of love.
 

wiltw

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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.
Having done some professional portraiture, I have engaged the subject not necessarily because I have specific interest in them as an individual, but because getting them to talk about themselves
  • RELAXES them!
  • takes away self consciousness/discomfort of being in front of a camera
  • they assume a natural appearance, one which is not 'posed'
Decades ago, I shot this at a charitable event.
The little girl was absolutely not in the mood, and quite poutily unhappy that 'mommy made her'. I said a few things meant to be soothing, and then I asked her different things...not far into the monolog, I suggested, "Tell me about your favorite dollie!"
Instantly her mood changed 180 degrees, the most beautiful smile appeared across her face...and I started firing off some shots! Done. Not an ordeal for me, or for the subject! Just before the little girl got up from the seat to join her mother, I heard her mother exclaim to the next people in line, "he's gooood!

Hope_zpsoc2lpiet.jpg


This shot has always been part of my portfolio, and one of my favorites, in part because it captures the true spirit of the subject.

During high school and college, I took photos of friends and they were not necessarily formal portraits. During the 40 year h.s. reunion gathering, one guy walked up to me with his wife, and reminded me of a photo I took of them, and pointed out that it was their favorite photo. Some time later, a long time friend and his wife reminded me of a photo taken by me of them while in college, and it was their absolute favorite photo. Two special reasons why taking portraits can be personally fulfilling...because it can be so impactful in the lives of others.
 
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Rolleiflexible

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Excellent essay and photos. Obviously a labor of love.

Alan, thanks -- I appreciate the kind words. Labor of love, or compulsion -- maybe the same thing. I need some kind of organizing principle to animate a project, and then I'm all in. Then it was portraits. Now it is Madison County NC.
 
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hoffy

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I should add that a number of the portraits are NSFW so proceed at your own risk.

I have so many questions....

But I'll start with statements. I love these bodies of work, the pairing down to the most basic primitive level - in a lot of ways, it does take away preconceptions of who they are, what they do. Personally, I would have liked to seen some more older sitters/models, but hey, its your project and its your vision. (I'd also have males, but that again is my own personal opinion).

Regardless, I love this and I am grateful that you have posted

I have had a similar idea, but looking at peoples passions away from their work life. The portraits would be of the subjects dressed as per their passion, but in a formal portrait setting as per above.

My questions: How did you source/get contact with your sitters? Did you have to work hard to convince them to sit as nudes? Did you compensate them for their time?

A few years ago, I watched a doco on a photographer who did nudes of normal people in both NY and Las Vegas - I recall he had to work extremely hard to get some subjects. It looked like an arduous task, but like yours, the results were well worth it.

(OK, I didn't have many questions after all)
 
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Rolleiflexible

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I have so many questions....

But I'll start with statements. I love these bodies of work, the pairing down to the most basic primitive level - in a lot of ways, it does take away preconceptions of who they are, what they do. Personally, I would have liked to seen some more older sitters/models, but hey, its your project and its your vision. (I'd also have males, but that again is my own personal opinion).

Regardless, I love this and I am grateful that you have posted

I have had a similar idea, but looking at peoples passions away from their work life. The portraits would be of the subjects dressed as per their passion, but in a formal portrait setting as per above.

My questions: How did you source/get contact with your sitters? Did you have to work hard to convince them to sit as nudes? Did you compensate them for their time?

A few years ago, I watched a doco on a photographer who did nudes of normal people in both NY and Las Vegas - I recall he had to work extremely hard to get some subjects. It looked like an arduous task, but like yours, the results were well worth it.

(OK, I didn't have many questions after all)

I worked on the book for four years -- shot over 400 people for it -- and published it ten years ago. It was just something I pursued evenings and weekends as time permitted. I shot it with a Sinar Norma view camera and various flavors of Rolleiflex.

I was living in Manhattan at the time. It was easy to find people for the project. I am naturally talkative, and I was able to persuade a few people to sit for me. Then I had a portfolio, and it was easier to persuade others -- I could show them prints from the first shoots, so that they could see that the project had merit. And I also tapped the local amateur model community. After awhile, the project became known, and people started to contact me and ask to participate. I paid everyone $60 as a sitting fee, enough to cover cab fare to my home studio and back. Most didn't care about the money -- I just felt that it was right to cover their expenses.

I tried to include a diverse range of women in the project, both age and ethnicity. If you're shooting nudes, even nude portraits, you quickly realize that the likelihood of persuading a subject to get naked relates inversely to age. I too would have preferred more older subjects, but I took who I could get in front of my cameras when I was free to shoot. And of course this is a series from 10-15 years ago. The world has changed since then, and so have I. It's interesting to look back on the book as I turn 65, but I could not produce it today.
 

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Why do you feel that you wouldn't be able to produce it today?

It was a great project, and I am proud of it. But there are all sorts of reasons why I couldn't do it today. I don't live in NYC now -- being in a large urban area makes finding sitters much easier. I'm not working much these days; film is a lot more expensive now. Social mores have shifted. It would be interesting to reconsider how I might shoot the series in 2023.

But I have other subjects calling for me. I left photography shortly after finishing work on the book, in part because I felt I had exhausted my subject, and I needed time to replenish my artistic sensibilities. Then I moved to Appalachia for family, and discovered that I had landed, quite by accident, amid the glories of the Pisgah Forest, not ten miles from the Appalachian Trail. So now I've picked up my cameras again, years later, to photograph my new home in Madison County, NC. Which, sometimes, includes portraits of the locals. :smile:
 

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Moose22

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During high school and college, I took photos of friends and they were not necessarily formal portraits. During the 40 year h.s. reunion gathering, one guy walked up to me with his wife, and reminded me of a photo I took of them, and pointed out that it was their favorite photo. Some time later, a long time friend and his wife reminded me of a photo taken by me of them while in college, and it was their absolute favorite photo. Two special reasons why taking portraits can be personally fulfilling...because it can be so impactful in the lives of others.

This isn't too far off of my own reasons.

I'm not a portrait guy, but I like the challenge. And I have the same ideas, I prefer to engage and get genuine expressions. The best "real" laugh from Santa at a photo shoot last year came from telling him a dirty joke. The best shots of my friends and their baby were after the shoot, when having lunch and they were not so damned worried about their baby looking perfect. The best shot of a young friend came after a half hour of uncomfortable shooting trying to make him look "rock and roll" for his album cover, when his friends and I got him chatting and laughing so he relaxed.

The young friend died this summer, suddenly, which was difficult to watch. That photo, the finally relaxed portrait, was on his obituary and a copy still hangs on the corkboard where he worked. In fact, there was a memorial with a score of photographs, and more than half were mine. Small solace, but his friends and, especially, his family were exceptionally grateful to have them.

Portraiture done well is appreciated. People connect with it, and on an emotional level more easily than landscapes. I take pictures of pets and children, too, for the same reason. The challenge of making something good, with emotional appeal. Maybe something true, or even harder something that lies a little in the way you want.

Example of lying: The nicest, goofiest kid on earth. So much so a mutual friend, when told I was going to take "rock and roll" photos, said "Oh, he's way too sweet for rock and roll."

1200px_Mitch_Soundcheck_DSC_4581.jpg



Or of seeing through the lie to the actual thing: After a lot of fake poses, here is Santa, laughing for real.
800px_TESTONLY_Malia_Santa_21_DSC_4986v1.jpg


Or the duality of the portrait Mom wants, which is the lie, and the portrait I want, which is the truth.

10102022_Malia_800px18380008.jpg
10102022_Malia_800px18380023.jpg


Or when a friend's wife wants a picture of him right after promotion to Sergeant so you make him look so much as much like a jarhead as possible without the uniform in the shot. The truth without browbeating anyone about it:

sgtcook.jpg





The portrait of my mother and her dog from 15 years ago, before she passed away, is still on my sister's desk at work. My landlord's dog in his old truck is still hanging on the wall of his room. The baby with Santa? I got a great shot of her, all eyes and drool, that is currently underappreciated. But I guarantee you, 15 years from now, her dad is going to appreciate the hell out of that one.

Long lasting, usually positive effects aren't easy to achieve in life. If I can get a portrait someone loves in a decade or two, I've done well.
 
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hoffy

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It was a great project, and I am proud of it. But there are all sorts of reasons why I couldn't do it today. I don't live in NYC now -- being in a large urban area makes finding sitters much easier. I'm not working much these days; film is a lot more expensive now. Social mores have shifted. It would be interesting to reconsider how I might shoot the series in 2023.

But I have other subjects calling for me. I left photography shortly after finishing work on the book, in part because I felt I had exhausted my subject, and I needed time to replenish my artistic sensibilities. Then I moved to Appalachia for family, and discovered that I had landed, quite by accident, amid the glories of the Pisgah Forest, not ten miles from the Appalachian Trail. So now I've picked up my cameras again, years later, to photograph my new home in Madison County, NC. Which, sometimes, includes portraits of the locals. :smile:

Ah! OK.

Yes, at times we get a bit burnt out with the subject matter we choose. I have to admit, that what I have predominantly shot over the last 5 to 10 years is now a bit meh for me.

Good to see you are getting your passion back
 
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It was a great project, and I am proud of it. But there are all sorts of reasons why I couldn't do it today. I don't live in NYC now -- being in a large urban area makes finding sitters much easier. I'm not working much these days; film is a lot more expensive now. Social mores have shifted. It would be interesting to reconsider how I might shoot the series in 2023.

But I have other subjects calling for me. I left photography shortly after finishing work on the book, in part because I felt I had exhausted my subject, and I needed time to replenish my artistic sensibilities. Then I moved to Appalachia for family, and discovered that I had landed, quite by accident, amid the glories of the Pisgah Forest, not ten miles from the Appalachian Trail. So now I've picked up my cameras again, years later, to photograph my new home in Madison County, NC. Which, sometimes, includes portraits of the locals. :smile:

Nice shot; cute kid.
 
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