People are probably the most photographed subjects in the world simply because the images of loved ones or strangers trigger so many emotions within us. Who among us hasn't been moved to pick up a camera and attempt to tap into that power after seeing pictures of crying babies, young people about to begin their adult lives, workers showcasing their skills, or senior citizens whose lives have imbued their faces with a certain character? Photographers who decide to pursue portrait photography realize early on that the best results of their work say something about them, their place in the world, and their hopes and dreams. Using the time-honored tools of lighting, posing, and connection with the subject, photographers create lasting images that have the potential to convey these inner feelings.
The field of portraiture crosses over into many other realms of photography, such as weddings, fashion, stock, travel, editorial, photojournalism, sports, and commercial portrait sessions. Within each of these areas, as times and technology change, trends become apparent by how quickly they change if we just take the time to notice them. Wedding imagery today looks nothing like our parents' wedding albums — and for good reason. Digital capture has changed the way we take images and approach these shooting styles when we shoot weddings, high school senior portraits, business portraits, or any number of photographic situations, whether in studio or on location. These days, there's always something new for photographers, from personal and family portraits to head shots for the music and fashion industries.
Today, a consistent trend in studio and location portraiture can be described as more of a lifestyle approach. Lifestyle shooting seeks to portray the subject in a natural setting that's typical for that particular subject, and photographers hip to current cultural or musical trends have these styles at their disposal so that they can create a unique and memorable portrait.
More than ever, today's portraits occur in settings that allow subjects to interact naturally with their surroundings and with each other. In certain other areas, like high school senior portraiture, weddings, or performance photography, trends have always held a strong influence. Today's senior portrait is likely to feature subjects posed in sports gear, gritty graffiti-covered locations, or in motion with their hair blowing and playing a musical instrument. Studio portraits can also convey an awareness of these
styles by the photographer's choice of lighting and the different types of backgrounds they may use. Pop culture has a very strong influence on what we see in magazines and what we expect to see in images of ourselves, and photographers who offer this vision to their clients are being well-rewarded for their efforts.
As a result, clients have come to expect more from their portrait session and photographer simply because of the wide array of photographic products available to portrait buyers. Wedding couples, for example, can put as much emphasis on a certain photographer's style as well as the end products that he or she may offer. What worked for years may simply not work today to keep your images and brand looking fresh and exciting. Photographers today seek to separate themselves from the pack by offering classy new products that reinforce clients' images of themselves. Press-printed proof books and beautiful flush-mount albums are just two examples of this new trend toward unique and exclusive products.
Commercial photography has also seen these cultural stylistic advances in the way images and campaigns are shot. Flip through any annual report or capability brochure or visit a Fortune 500 company's Web site, and these changes are apparent. The move is toward an edgier look and feel, accomplished by any number of posing, lighting, or compositional setups as well as an honest approach to the subject at hand. These advances go a long way toward establishing emotional responses that clients want consumers to feel and act upon.
In my estimation, portrait photography can be the most challenging and personally rewarding of all the photographic areas that can be explored. The wide array of subject matters that may find themselves on the other side of your lens are as infinite and varied as the stars above. Photographers who endeavor to pursue this field find an enormous amount of possibilities and hopefully develop a deeper understanding and compassion for their subjects and the world around them.
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