Capturing Authentic Portraits

Lesson 10/20 - Mapping Out the Flow


Capturing Authentic Portraits


Lesson Info

Mapping Out the Flow

Mapping out the flow. This is also pulling some stuff from the guide. And, this is really thinking about the flow or rhythm, of the shoot. And I'm realizing, I actually have a guide that isn't filled in, can I steal one of yours? There're two versions of the guide, one that's filled in with suggestions another one where you can add your own. And you get, you get both of them. That's, that's what that's coming from. Here's, here's one of the things to think about. You already know I'm a little bit crazy and I think metaphorically or analogously, or whatever. So for me a good portrait is similar to having friends over for dinner. You vacuum, and clean, and dust, and you prepare the food. And then finally they come and you great them at the door, you say hello, and oh my gosh I can't believe you're here. This is wonderful. It's smile, you're smiling, it's warm. When they're greeting you, they're smelling that bread that's baking in the oven, and you know, the table's already set, candles ...

are lit. In our house, we love to, we live in Santa Barbara so we can go down to the wharf and get crabs. Maybe there's crabs, and french bread, and whatever. But by the time you get down to eat, and you, you maybe toast with the wine and you sit down, a lot's happened. Right, it's not just like, boom, you, down, sit, drink, eat, done. You know, it's like, cause that's what sometimes people think. And it's like, no, the flow is really, really important. Are you with me on that? How you greeted them, you know how distracted were you? Were you still vacuuming? Were you still, like, maybe you haven't showered, like, "Hang on, I got to go shower." You know that happens. And so that's where the flow, I think, becomes really, really important. So, I gave you the overview, but here I have steps, like, and you need to take the initiative to set the tone. Like initiative is so, so important in portraiture. It's you establishing space, setting tone, what's it gonna look like. You got and meet and greet with that smile and that warm handshake. And, there's different ways to shake hands. Can I grab one of you? Do you mind coming up? So if I don't know someone, which we don't know each other. And I'm gonna meet her for the first time and take her portrait. I might come in and shake her hand, so I'm moving in close, eye contact, warm handshake. And then, I'm gonna scoot back just a touch. What I'm not going to do, is like, stay too close. Cause I'm like, "I want to create a really authentic, you know, honest portrait of you." And it's like, creepy. Right, a little bit of distance. Thank you. So I'm gonna think about that. As far as a handshake, my brother in his, in one of his business classes, they taught them how to shake hands. And so, I've always taken this to heart. So, when you shake someone's hand you're fingers are never closed, they're always opened. Otherwise, someone catches you here. And if they catch you here, it's like this weird handshake, so you open fingers. And you don't, you don't keep your hand here, you go towards them. So you go to the crook between the two thumbs. Can I shake your hand? So, we go into that, shake hands, and it's nice and warm and firm, right. You want the handshake that conveys that kind of thing. So, how can you get better at portraits? Every time you shake someone's hand, you're practicing to get better at portraits, right. This is all practice for what we're doing. Every time you have a dinner party, you're thinking about flow and your practicing for creating better portraits. Next, we want to express gratitude and affirm their look. This means different things. So, if we're photographing each other, I'll, I would say something like, "Oh my gosh, that tank top and the jean kind of look is perfect." I'm not gonna go over the top, like, "Wow, you look beautiful. You're gonna work it for the camera," right. That's fashion, maybe? Or, or, or just not my voice. Maybe it's yours. If you have that sense of voice, use it. It's not me. If it's a guy, it might be, and if something doesn't look good, cause it always won't, like they're wearing a white T-shirt, rather than blue, just be like, "Ah, dude, I dig that jacket." You know, or if it's a surfer guy, you know surfer guys you don't, you would never say, "I like the garments you're wearing." You, you would say something like, "Bro, where did you get those flip flops? Those are killer." And so I'm using my intonation, my language. I'm mirroring, I'm entering their world. I'm establishing a rapport, so are you. So, before too much time passes, you take the first photograph, get that out of the way. Cause there's a pressure building up to that point. And you want to get it, you want to do a throw away picture. Same thing that one of my National Geographic colleagues said, he said, "Chris, if you're gonna photograph the Golden Gate Bridge, and you have ten minutes, the first five are postcards, second five is the work of a photographer." If you're doing a portrait shoot, and some of my portrait shoots I take, like the Ben Harper one, you know that one I showed you guys? I took two pictures of the guy. I had like this much time, you know. So it's like, and the first one's bad but the second one, the second one, that's it. You know, so you let yourself off the hook, and you let them off the hook. Like, "Hey, this is how it's gonna be." You know, like, oh cool. And then you, versus, "Okay, now let's begin. You come up here, now you look good." It's sort of like telling someone, "Be funny." It doesn't work that way. Flow, natural, rhythm, you with me on that? Okay, then you walk to location, you think about your gestures, the way you're, you're walking to that. You keep talking, you ignore the camera. You look and listen in a refreshing way. What you want to do is kind, you want to be like a breath of fresh air. You know, who likes going to have their portrait made? Not a lot of people are like, "This is exactly what I want to do." You know, on this morning. So you try to add some of that. And I'm just rifling through from these. You're giving some feedback. You let the, the subject, not the model. The subject, like a subject of the story, you let the person, the human, the mom, the dad, the daughter, you know whatever they are. You let them know, like, "Hey, you know, we're close to finishing up." So you give them a little, little, sense of that. You talk about life. And then maybe like a good, you know, at the end like a good host at the end of a dinner party, you walk people to the door. You don't say, "Hey, let yourself out." So, for us as a photographer, and I didn't do this with Drew, I don't think. So, you know, shame on me. But, but, you know as a photographer you're like, "I'm done." And you think like, yes. You can leave now, scoot along, you know. No. It's like, ah, this is about a connection. Let's get, you know walk to their car. "So hey, what are you doing the rest of the day?" What's gonna happen? And we do that final step, which is as important as the handshake. Which is as important as a directorial feedback. You with me on that flow? So, what we have to do, is get familiar with how we begin to map this out, and think about it. So, I had some space there for you to begin to brainstorm for your stuff, what your flow might look like. If it's short, if it's small. And as you start to shoot people. And the more prepped you are the better off you'll be so that everything's in order. One flow mistake I made, was my tethering wasn't dialed in right. So that's not gonna happen again. Alright, now how do we gain support and rapport? I have some questions for this, a bunch of questions here. But let me read some of these, as far as how do we connect with folks. One easy one is like, "How was your drive over this morning?" You know just talk about their small stuff. If you have a mutual acquaintance, with usually you do, like let's say you're the Motocross photographs. Like, "Hey, my buddy Johnny said I should chat with you. I'm doing this project about photographing muddy Motocross people." Once you say Johnny, you're in. But if you just say, "Hey, I'm a photographer doing a project." It's like, well why? What's it for? Why do you want me? You know, so you, you, mutual friend connection, gigantic in that space of making the connection. You can ask them, like, "Hey, how did you get into Motocross?" Like, how did, like would you do this as a kid? You know, people love, "Well you wouldn't believe it, like my dad gave me a bike when I was in kindergarten" And then after, you know, whatever. Good stories happen. You can flat out say, "What's your story? What do you do?" A good question's, "What's inspiring you days?" I like to have photographs that are warm, so my tone is always warm, hopeful, optimistic. And they can be serious, but they never go dark and dreary and edgy. So you, so I'll, you know, "What's inspiring you?" And they're like, "Well, you know, like live music. I went to this band and their track inspired me." Or, "This one poet." So I'm mining for that stuff. High points, low points, of the day. Travel to interesting places. You know, a lot of times you'll notice, you'll take a photograph of a CEO or something, and they're really, they're not stressed out. You say, "well, how do you, how do you stay so even keeled, in spite of all the responsibility that you have?" So it's a compliment. It's like saying, " I'm aware you have respons--" "How do you stay fit?" You know, like what's so, that saying, I just am saying, you're a fit person. Or what do you do to clear your mind, like, so those kind of questions. What are you reading? Where are you from? When it comes to different things like art, music, food. You know, you can ask style. You know, and you're looking for context. Or if you're photographing someone near the wharf, and there's a restaurant, it's seafood, it's like, "Hey, have you ever been to that seafood-- do you like seafood?" You know, like, ah, "Well, what do you like?" "I like, I'm a total foodie." And that's happened to me before. Like where you get nothing, like the closed off person. You know, nothing. And then they're like, "Oh, I'm a foodie." They light up. They lean forward all of a sudden it happens. So that, that question, the art of questions. You could do a whole course on that. Do a whole course on that connection side. With mapping out the flow, keep in mind Martin Buber's wisdom. "All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware." You map it out, you know, you hope this happens. Maybe a dinner party, you hope this goes this way. But you never know. Someone may show up at your dinner house with this new board game and you end up playing it, and you hadn't anticipated that, right. Or someone all of a sudden says, "Yeah, I love seafood, and my friend has a boat. Can we go shoot on his boat?" Yes. You know, let's do that. You know, or, or whatever it is. So being open. So it is about having a sense, and a vision, and a voice, and something you're bringing to it, an intent, but not steamrolling the subject. Which I think goes back, Bruce, to what you were talking about. We were talking about earlier. And then last but not least, having this, this, this prepared sense or sensibility. And this is in the guide. I also have a smaller version of it I don't have it on me right now, but so that you can trim it down to a small size and have in your pocket, or your camera bag. And this is almost like when you have that dinner party. Stuff vacuumed, food is cooked, table is set. And here's what it is for me with shooting. SD card, or whatever card you're using cleared and formatted. A fresh card, it has to be a fresh card. If it isn't, you have no idea when it's gonna fill up. It's crazy, crazy important. Batteries and backup are fully charged. So, so I have so many batteries, it's ridiculous. And, and they're so cheap comparatively then the expense of having it run out. So having those with you, charged. Camera strap secure. I've had camera straps that have fallen off. So, even though it's silly, I think of this, I'm calling it preflight, or my friends who rock climb, even though they've used a harness 100 times, they do this before they put their whole weight on it, right. And they, they check both. They look at it. You don't assume anything. And so, we're gonna do that if you're flying in an airplane, or if you're rock climbing, or shooting. Camera test. Cha-ka, shoot the ground. And just make sure, yes it's recording to this card. Yes, my exposure settings, or yes, I've turned off that annoying beep. De-de, beep. You know, I don't, I, why would you have a beep when you photograph, create a portrait? You know, who wants to hear beep, beep. And they would hear that if you take 100 pictures it's usually a two beep, that means they've heard a beep 200 times. You just created a very digital audio experience. You don't want that, I don't think. So, so those kind of things. Non-essentials emptied from your camera bag. Anything you don't need, it's gone. Camera bag arranged for quick and easy access to your gear. We talked about that, right. Like the gear, that you actually need. Photo release prefilled. So you're ready for it. If you use an app on your phone, which I do, you've entered in as much as you can at that point, versus scrambling, "Wait, before you leave," you know, "Before you leave my party, I need one more thing from you." Natural flow. It's all there, it's ready. Wardrobe matches the task ahead. So, if I'm photographing one of the surfer guys, yeah, maybe I'm barefoot in shorts. And that's appropriate for the task. If I'm photographing someone who's in a different space, I'm, I'm thinking about what I'm wearing. And what I mean by appropriate is, this, this outfit might work for what I'm doing in here, but if I'm photographing a rancher, I'm, I'm a little bit too clean cut right now. I need some jeans that I can get dirty. If I, I need something I could actually, physically, pick up a hay bale and hock it into the back of a truck. And if I don't, I'm not gonna connect. I'm like, I'm out, out of the environment, right. So with you guys as well. Personal needs accounted for, food, water, et cetera. Whatever those are. So if you know you kind of have a headache when you wake up in the morning, yeah throw in some whatever it is you might need for that. Or water, or Powerbar, or whatnot. I did a shoot last week, where I made a mistake on this. I thought it was gonna be short, but it turned into long. And again, for me, it was like, "Oh man, I should have used the checklist I was giving these guys." Because I was parched and so dry. And I, it would have helped me a lot to stay in the game. Thank you note, or gift. The way that I do that with portraits, is there's lots of way you can make cards. This one was Artifact Uprising. Using a photograph, I mean I have lots of different photographs, but-- And having this done before the shoot. So when the shoots over, every time I shoot someone especially when it's meaningful. When it's done, I say thank you. Not the next day, not the next week, cause what will happen to the next day or next week, it won't happen. I also, with the gift side of things, people may say it's crazy. But, a lot of my, a lot of the photographs I do will be someone's kind of doing me a favor. You know, it's like, "Hey, I admire you. You're one of the best in the world, you're this architect that, your work resonates with me in such a deep way. Could I ever photograph you? I'm building a new portfolio." And we'll talk about finding subjects in a second. And so, if that person is giving me that favor, I have a book for that person that I know that person's gonna like. And I give that to them, either early on, or, you know, but I don't, it's not like you did your part, I do mine. It's like, thank you. I mean already, you've done too much for me. And that, cause you want to make the connection, right. Think of that dinner party on the other, maybe the other side. This analogy's falling apart, I don't why I keep using it. But it's like when people come to your house and they bring, you know, something to contribute. You want to contribute to whatever the occasion is that's happening. Open and positive point of view. And then mind of, mindful attitude. And the mindfulness to me, going back to the surf story, that we talked about earlier. Sometimes before a shoot, is clearing out what's going on in my head. All of my problems in my world. And just saying (sighs), "Okay, I'm present, I'm engaged." And that's going to give me a better chance to have that person, be present with them and them with me as well. And so, literally this is a check list that I think through when I shoot. And sometimes, people will be like, "Oh, it's redundant." Like, "Of course you have your CF cards." Or, "Of course, your mindful." The reality is we forget this stuff. And then we, we think like, "What went wrong?" I had this one thing where I called up this person, and I just assumed that they knew me. And I called them up, and we were talking about something. And the whole time they were like, "Who is this guy, and what does he want from me?" And I was talking to a friend afterwards, I said, "I just had the worst phone call with so-and-so." And it's someone that we all mutually knew. And he just asked me about it. And he was saying, "Yeah, you should have just said at the beginning," which was funny, it's in my notes already. You should have just said, "Hey, I think we have some mutual friends." Or you should have just, you know just said, "Hey this is a little bit." And then he would have been like, "Oh, yeah." and the conversation would have went well, right. So when those things happen, when the misconnect happens, this helps me go like, "Where did I go wrong?" Like, oh, it was my camera strap. That's actually what happened. You know, when I almost dropped my camera, they kind of freaked out, and they were like, "This guy doesn't have his stuff together." And I'm not gonna like be totally into it. 'cause I don't trust him. Or maybe it was that, whatever, you get the idea. Interesting stuff?

Class Description

It takes a true connection between photographer and subject to create powerful portrait photography. A portrait doesn’t have to be dramatic or glamorous to be compelling. In fact, the best portraits often showcase people expressing their vulnerability or discomfort. It’s the photographer’s job to evoke and capture authentic emotion by establishing a genuine rapport with the subject.

Join veteran portrait photographer Chris Orwig to learn how to take meaningful portraits and use them to make your transition from amateur to professional. In this class, you’ll learn:

  • How to confidently approach a stranger and convince them to participate in a shoot.
  • How to connect with and pose your subjects naturally
  • Which lenses, camera settings, and light considerations to keep in mind during a shoot

Chris Orwig has created images for companies like Google, Adobe, and Patagonia, and his work has been published in Rolling Stone, Esquire, and Surfer Magazine. His experience has taught him how to keep a subject comfortable, authentic and engaged throughout a shoot. He has learned to deal with the technical demands of a portrait shoot - lighting, setting, constraints of time and budget - while also staying focused on the story he is trying to tell.