Social media is awash with portraits—most are uninspiring and of mediocre quality. An increasing number of portraits are quick snapshots with a cell phone. Most of these portraits will eventually be tossed into the trash heap of history. High-impact fashion portraits that stand out from other images require careful planning and preparation—and it’s not for the faint of heart. A combination of persistence, skill, inspiration, and teamwork can transform an ordinary face into a breathtaking portrait.
To create an image that compels the viewer towards engaging with the portrait takes careful thought, a solid understanding of photographic lighting, and attention to detail. The creative process is interwoven with vision, curiosity, aesthetics, inspiration, and the willingness to risk a task that may ultimately fail.
My vision was for an enigmatic portrait with flamboyance, drama, and panache. The idea was eclectic, with hints of a Japanese geisha, a New Orleans Marti Gras showgirl, and a burlesque dancer. One might also think of the Spanish court painter Diego Velazquez’s The Lady with a Fan. I hoped for a bold and unique image that would appeal to or draw the viewer’s attention. The red monochrome portrayal would also set the photo apart from pedestrian portraits.
Life can be dreary or monotonous at times. In contrast, I want this portrait to portray the wonderful world of color rather than shades of gray. The finished portrait should capture the sparkle of life itself.
Several months ago, I set out to make this portrait by creating an extravagant headdress made of red lace fans and flowers. To start the process, I searched for suitable materials. The silk fans that I found were accented with gold trim. My first attempt at creating the headdress had some success but was not to my standards. Fortunately, I had ordered extra materials. The second attempt was more successful. I painted the green flower stems with red paint. And to continue the gold accent of the lace fans, I painted gold foil onto some of the leaves.
Donna, my wife, has an aesthetic eye. She carefully and meticulously arranged the flowers to create balance with asymmetry. The adhesive had to cure before attaching more red flowers and gold leaves to the headdress. This made for a slow, painstaking process of constructing the headdress. The use of shape, color, texture, line, and reputation were elements in the design. Desired lines included a backward “s” curve, an over “c”, or an upside-down “u” curve.
With the headdress completed, lining up a model and a makeup artist were the next steps. I wanted a model with a slender triangular face, large eyes, high cheekbones, and a smooth jawline. Sydney Gurry fit this description. For the makeup artist, I wanted someone with a flair for the dramatic. I decided on Kim Conolly, who was also a licensed hairstylist. One disadvantage of using one person for both hair and makeup is these tasks can’t be done simultaneously. Finding the team is a good start, but one also needs to schedule the portrait session at a time that works for everyone.
After determining who the model would be, ordering gowns and jewelry was the next step. The colors had to match. Jewelry needed to be dazzling. The gown needed to be elegant, stylish, majestic, and, of course, it had to fit right. Once again, I turned to Donna for her artistic and design skills in making these selections.
Attention needed to be paid to every element with exquisite detail. The gowns needed to be ironed to achieve the right look. The lighting had to be arranged. Completing the hair and makeup took a long time but was essential to a successful project.
When it’s time to start capturing images, the model needs to have a graceful but interesting pose. How are the hands positioned? How is the model posed? Is the image seductive? Does the light add drama to the image? A less skilled model may need lots of direction, but Sydney, the model for this portrait, was poised and expressive. She said: “The amount of time & effort that was put into preparing for this shoot was evident before we even began shooting.”
Are the model’s eyes looking at the viewer or looking out? It can be engaging when the model is looking directly at the viewer. However, having the model focus their attention on something outside the field of view of your camera can create a feeling of candidness and also create a little intrigue and interest as the viewer of the shot wonders at what the subject is looking. This intrigue is particularly strong when the subject is showing emotion (what is making them laugh? What is making them look surprised?
One of the most important things when it comes to fashion photography is excellent post-processing skills. The raw image from the camera can almost always be improved in post-production. The retouching of the final image may include removing blemishes, smoothing skin, adjusting tones, whiting teeth, cropping, dodging, burning, sharping, and or adding a vignette.
The end result is a striking portrait creating a beautiful tapestry of color. Unless you are an actor, you would probably never need or want an over-the-top portrait like this. However, all of the skills, artistic flair, and attention to detail can also be applied to corporate, family, glamor, dance, or fashion portrait. One doesn’t need to accept mediocrity. If the portrait is intended to be hung over your fireplace, you shouldn’t settle for an utterly unimaginative
bland image. I invite you to collaborate with IN Dancing Light Photography to create a unique and interesting portrait that meets or exceeds your expectations. We will provide a professional, thoughtful, creative, and uniquely personal portrait of you or your family member. In the process of choosing how and where to create the portrait, I work to understand how you see yourselves and how you want to be portrayed.