Most photographs you will see in your lifetime are of strangers. Individuals whom you have never met or will never see again can feel familiar when a photographer can translate something personal to and even intimate about the subject. The master stroke is when you can learn something about yourself while caught in the trance of a great portrait but thats another topic.
A trademark of a good portrait makes you forget that your are looking at photograph. You know when you are looking at a great portrait when that stranger looking back at you feels familiar. If the photograph sparks an emotional connection, recalls memories or seems to suspend time because it caught you and turned what otherwise would be a quick glance, into a long lasting vacant stare.
It is for this reason I find the pursuit of the perfect portrait one of the most rewarding challenges in photography. It is analogous to the surfer’s lifelong hung for the perfect wave. That is my personal philosophy behind it. My methods of this pursuit are under constant evolution but there are some techniques that I have come to understand very well.
An authentic connection between you and your subject will inherently translate to an authentic connection between your subject and your audience. This is not a photographic technique, its a human trait. Empathy is rarely mimicked successfully from a non-sociopath. To help inspire a connection, as a photographer how you control the set is key. Think of what it must be like to have your photo taken for hours a day. Despite you being a professional photographer, you are still a stranger. Having your photo taken by a stranger, in a room full of strangers inspires a bit of anxiety so you need to do everything you can to curb the anxiety. A calm, clean fun atmosphere is a good first step. Music, friendly atmosphere and a lack of chaos on your set are key elements. To achieve a real rapport and connection once you begin shooting I rely on a proper lens choice. My 85mm, compared to other portrait lens’ is my lens of choice as it allows a closer proximity between me and whomever is in front of me. Other portrait lens’ though may have unique light and bokhen qualities, they can require upto 20’ of distance and a detachment to person in-front of your camera. It is a simple element but one of the most important. Do not take it for granted.
Along with this post are a few shots an impromptu shoot at my studio with Nalani Ravelo and Candice Hynson.
- Alejandro Martinez - Photography
- Nalani Ravelo - Modeling / Wilhelmina International
- Candice Hynson - Wardrobe Styling
Since I was in my early twenties I have always been envious of musicians ability to just pick up their instruments and jam together. As a student of standup comedy, I also harbor jealously of the value that open-mic nights have to a comedian in effort to prepare for their Netflix special. In that regard it is not unlike athletes who come together up to 7 days a week to practice for the upcoming game. Their are few other crafts that have a build-in paths & routines to help it’s community network and pursue perfection. For us in what I like to call a “set-life”, we have only one avenue to workout ideas, learn techniques and strengthen professional bonds but all to often the test-shoot slips further down the list of priorities as our business grows.
Testing is something models, hair & makeup artists, wardrobe stylists & photographers all do early on in their careers but seldom keep up the practice as their business grows. Let’s be clear, time becomes more & more precious as your career advances and I often struggle to make time to test on a regular basis. Every-time I begin a test-shoot though, I am immediately thrilled that I made time as soon as I begin composing the first photograph. What test-shoots really are, are an arena where creative professionals can practice, experiment, network and hone their craft. These shoots are instrumental to grow as an artist and thus further the medium itself. However as the artist begins to gain success, these shoots fall off our calendar.
To help illustrate my point of the immense value that test-shoots can have, I would like give you some backstory to my recent test-shoot. The original concept was to create conceptual portraiture on-location at a newly redesigned mansion in Northern California. Big flowy gowns, color, unique lighting all with grand staircases & great halls as a backdrop. Between myself and the team, it took about a month of coordinated schedules and flushing out ideas until we all committed to one plan and date that made sense with our sensibilities as artists and equally important, our schedules. And wouldn’t you know it, the night before the shoot the location falls through. Everything is thrown up in the air and I for one almost had defeatist reaction. But after a few moments I pinged the group with something along the lines of “Lets shoot anyways. Everyone just meet at my place with whatever you would like to bring to the table to lets just do it.” Within a few minuets we had rough outline of a new concept with wardrobe and a new beauty approach to compliment it. We could have backed out. We could have tried to rescheduled with the property owner most likely a month later. We could have come up with any number of excuses of why not to try something but the point was to get together and shoot. The concept was secondary.
We abandoned the original concept for simple, clean, portraiture that balances natural & artificial light. A more personal and less conceptual target. A complete 180º from our initial idea. Look 1 & 2 is all natural light as I like the challenge of restraining my self to a few tools. I worked hard to bend and cut available light indoors to obtain proper exposure.
My only talent is surrounding myself with individuals more talented than I. Thank you to Hannah Tokuno, Camille Moniquie and Shannon Yen.
Have a happy & productive week. Thank you.
- Alejandro Martinez - Photography
- Hannah Tokuno - Modeling / Stars Management
- Camille Moniquie - Beauty
- Shannon Yen - Wardrobe Styling