Every week we are assailed with an endless barrage of new photography-related products that promise to make us better photographers. For a beginner shooter, this must be overwhelming. If someone were to ask you for a short list of the essential elements required for the specific genre of photography you are engaged in, what would it be?
In the video above, photographer Simone Ferretti describes the seven things he thinks are most useful for a portrait photographer. His list is well thought out and includes essentials like a prime lens and a portable flashlight. It also includes a special remote control to trigger the camera for those times when you are working alone. Although most modern cameras can be paired to a smartphone via a full-featured app, I’ve found that a simple remote control is easier to use when I’m working remotely and want to release the camera’s shutter.
Even though Simone’s list only contains seven items, I thought hard about what to add to make the list more complete. I decided that my addition to the list would not come in the form of a physical product, but rather a mindset. To be a good portrait photographer, you must be able to connect with someone regardless of gender, age, politics, religion, health or interests. The more interesting you lead your life and the more varied you spend your free time, the easier it is for you. I’m not interested in sports. So if my subject says, “Did you see the game last night?” I wouldn’t be able to engage in a conversation about that game. But I remember a time a few years ago when I was sent to Madison Square Garden to photograph an artist performing at halftime during an NBA game and I wanted to kill time by watching the game photographed. Security approached me and escorted me out of the shooting range. They took me to one of the nicest press rooms I’ve ever been in and told me to stay there until halftime started. Her tone and attitude implied that this was a penalty for shooting the game without proper credentials, but it didn’t feel like it as I had the area to myself and I could eat and drink to my heart’s content. At halftime they escorted me back to the court to film the halftime show. If my topic brings up last night’s game, I’ll steer the conversation in a direction that allows me to tell that story. I’ll tell it in a way that makes her laugh, which will help build a bond between us.
The hobbies I pursue, the books I read, the places I visit, and the people I hang out with are potential connecting points between me and the person I photograph. Once I find our common ground, I can use this to calm the person down. If I can then convey something to the viewer about my subject, then I have created a strong portrait. Watch the video for more insight into portrait photography.