Capturing Authentic Portraits

 

Capturing Authentic Portraits

 

Lesson Info

Shoot with Friend

So I do wanna create some portraits about Kenna. What do we know about Kenna? Do you guys know anything about her? Not a lot. So, we need to know something about you. She asks a lotta questions. (Kenna laughs) Yeah, do you ask a lot of questions. Okay, so what makes you tic, why do you do this stuff? And so I just wanna let everyone know that this was the planned part. (laughs) Yes, this is planned. Do you wanna set it up, just-- No, I just wanna do it. Okay, alright, the friend thing, no, okay. Well, it's set up, we're friends. I'm photographing a friend now, so it's more playful. I can high-five her. (high-fives) If I were to greet Kenna, it would probably be one of these kinda greets, y'know. "Kenna, thank you." So that's our meet and greet, our talk. I'm not gonna small talk it, I'm not gonna ask about her drive in. You don't ask your friends that question, weather, mechanics of life, you talk about the good stuff. I also maybe am gonna channel a little bit of-- I'm...

blanking on her name, Joyce Tenneson who did Wise Women, if you know that book. Mm-hm. She did that book in one year on top of her commercial work. I think photographed over 300 people and they're really, really deep, profound portraits and I asked her, "How did you get deep so quick?" And she said, "My first question every time is "'What's the most important thing to you in this world?'" And that just got to that wisdom and got there. So, Kenna, I think has that wisdom. She has a professional role but she has a wisdom role. So, I might go there quicker with her. So, what is the most important thing to you in the world? Or why do you do this stuff? That might be easier. Well, the answer to the first question is family. Okay, what is family? People that I have unconditional love for. Okay, and them-- And they have unconditional love for me. Okay, and who's someone in the family that you appreciate, y'know, in particular? My brother. Okay, and why? Turn towards the audience a little bit, okay. And then think about that for a second and look back towards me. (camera clicks) Okay, what about your bro is cool? He is a mad yo-yo artist. Okay, yes. (laughs) He's my half brother, so he's 19. Okay. And so there's a big age difference, and so I don't have any children, but I get to kind of play favorite aunt/sister in a way. That's the only kind of relationship with a person that I have like that, different than my nieces and nephews, different than my siblings that are my age. Yeah. And it's a very special relationship. And what are the ages? His age is 19. Okay, so younger bro. Yes. Younger bro, so that's really neat. So, I'm gonna say stuff just because we're friends. So, one of the things I noticed first when I was asking Kenna the questions, I dunno if you see this, but her eyelids flutter, and part of that was the questioning. She's kinda like, "Okay, how deep do I go with it?" You know what I mean, or like, "Do I really share this?" And it was transitioning out of the role of professional to the role of person and when you're in your professional workplace, that's always a really good question to ask, right? 'Cause you don't just always "Hey work, "Here's everything about me!" Y'know? And that's also true in every portrait shooter and y'know, just quick little story, and I think I've told this other places-- I know I've told this other places, but is I once photographed Kelly Slater, you saw the world champion surfer. Before I worked with him, imagine you love surfing, and I said, "Kelly Slater," and you're like (gasps). So, we're all like, "Yes!" But, picture in your mind someone you respect. Maybe it's a golfer, maybe it's an author, maybe it's a musician, so blank, famous person. The story doesn't matter who it is. And he said, "I'm embarrassed to admit "for most of my life I confused the idea "of Kelly Slater and the person of Kelly Slater, "and because of that I made a lot of mistakes." So there's always this concept of who we are, and then there's who we really are. So, that transition between those two is what I'm trying to do. So, with Kenna, there's the eye flutter, a little bit of questioning, but then she's like, "I'm doing it. "I'm gonna talk about what's meaningful." And so that's where I'm looking to go. And maybe it's like going down a slide, almost. Just like (makes sliding noise) now that we're down the slide. So, anyway, so here we are, and I'm not gonna put you on the spot or embarrass you or do any of those kinds of things. But tell us-- I'm all in. Okay, tell us a little bit more about what makes you tic, and let me try to a couple portraits, alright. Take a breath, let's do the-- And this look just for-- Okay, wait. You don't look at the thing, but you guys confirm it for me. Is this look insane for her as far as like one solid color, this kinda diffused background kinda thing, totally working well as far as the light and the color. Okay, so what makes you tic? I think the connection is really what makes me tic, so I guess that's the bit about the unconditional love with family, as well. Yeah. Is connecting with people. Okay. (camera clicks) Now, let's do something heroized. What if you bring enough of your curls can come forward a little bit in front of one of your eye? Yeah, yeah, yeah, we're gonna mess up the curls. Yeah, like that, yeah, like that, that's cool. (camera clicks) Awesome, and then you can bring 'em back and I'm gonna get someone to help out with this, someone new. Do you mind helping out, holding the thing? Just to mix it up. And Kenna, I'm gonna have you stand for a moment, because what I wanna talk about, we'll have the drips going top to bottom, like that. This is gonna be just a little bit of mechanics of backdrops so not worried totally about amazing photography. But I'm gonna have her almost touching the background and we'll see what we can see in it and then also move forward in it. So, okay, so Kenna's tall, so I'm gonna-- How tall are you, Kenna? I'm a little over 5'9. Okay. (camera clicks) (man in background murmurs) Without these. Oh, okay, okay, okay. (laughs) So, this is good right here, so then-- And then come forward to maybe right here. Yeah, like that, let's try that. And then what I'm hoping, I dunno if you guys can go back and forth between those two on the screen, but we can see that when she's really close to it, you guys can see back there that-- I dunno if you can see it, kinda like you're really-- Right. And then we exaggerate it now, it's just this interesting texture. And this is my kinda DIY backdrop trick, to create expensive backdrops without-- 'Cause I could add blue chalk in there, that looks really, really good with certain people. With you, with your hazel, green kinda thing, a little bit of green might even be interesting in there and it can evolve and change over time. The other great thing about this concept is if it gets messed up, it even gets better, so you can put it on the ground, step on it, you can do a lot of things. The trick is just not to have patterns that become too identifiable because then it becomes more backdrop and less subject. And scoot back a touch. Thank you for holding this, by the way. And we'll do a couple more pictures here. (camera clicks) And then turn that shoulder towards me, so we're-- Yeah, like that, yeah, that's really nice. (camera clicks) And then look back towards our audience, the friends that are rooting for you. Are you guys rooting for her? You can smile, at them, yes. And then look back to me, yep. And so that-- Oops, my composition was off. Let's do that again, it's my mistake. You don't ever make mistakes, do you, Kenna? Oh, I do. Okay, so look back at these guys. Okay, smile at her for me, give her a little rooting, you know, like-- Okay, now look back towards me. (camera clicks) This is something-- You know, if you have someone in the room that's like a friend or if your brother was here, for that matter, I'd be like-- What's his name? Luke. I'd be like, "Luke, c'mere." I'd have Luke right next to me and we'd be chatting it up 'cause he could draw stuff out of big sis. There's no way in the world I could. And he and I could be co-conspirators and we could probably make her laugh in ways she wouldn't have laughed before and may even cry, you know, he might say something really tender and just like "Bro, that's so--" So, anyway, you guys are my co-conspirators on that one. Alright, let's have you sit down for a second. And are your arms doing okay holding this? (laughter) You're fine, okay. And then just lower it down just a touch. I wanna get a little higher, like that's really nice. One leg up, the other one down. And-- (camera clicks) And then take a deep breath, we're almost done, Kenna. (camera clicks) Oh, man, that was good. Okay. (camera clicks) And then we gotta do a little bit more. Cuba, tell me about it. (laughs) I love Cuba. Lemme grab a new camera, you keep talking. Anyone who doesn't know. I started to travel there a couple years ago, a few years ago, and now I lean towards there because I just-- You're going. I'm going again. November. Yep, November, December, and the people, the culture, everything is phenomenal. Why Cuba, what's the deal with Cuba? Like I said, I think that I just-- Give me not like, generic people, culture. What about the people? Yeah, yeah. It's somewhere that is so alive-- Hold that right there. And so present, I think, that people have had to innovate and through struggles and through just making anything out of nothing and that has made the most vibrant culture and people and who are so warm and welcoming and make me feel so comfortable that I connect. Okay, hold that. (camera clicks) Okay, did you guys see the palpable change in her? Like, her posture or nonverbals went up more? And her lean was a little bit more, her eyes had more of a spark. Did you see all of that warmth that happened there? So, that picture is gonna be really special, I think. And you never know, sometimes you get back, and it's something you didn't anticipate. And it always feels kinda horrible to like talk about a special moment that just happened, you know what I mean? But, because we're friends, I think I can do that. And the other thing is, I really care about it. And here's the funny thing about creating portraits, at least for me, and my students would always give me crap for this. I would say my goal in a portrait shoot isn't the portrait. And they were like, "Dude, what are you talking about?" You have to imagine, they're college kids. They're like, "But this is a portrait class." I'm like, "Yeah, the goal isn't that." My goal is that I see Kenna on the street or something, and she's like, "Chris, awesome to see you." I don't necessarily need to be friends with the person, but hopefully the connection was good enough that they might say, "Hey, let's grab coffee sometime," or, "Oh my gosh, I gotta show you this picture of my kid." And if I can get that, then I think I've succeeded. Does that make sense? And some people say, "Well, then you don't "really care about portraits." There's times after I've shot someone and I've missed the shot and I've wept, 'cause I missed it, 'cause it was that important to me. So, it's really, really important to me, but I feel like if you put it too high up, then you sacrifice something getting there, and if you sacrifice something getting there, you don't get the shot. So, it's a weird twist, you with me on that? Kinda that turn or twist. Last photograph of Kenna. Little more pulled back. And maybe we'll do it without this, we'll just do the wall, and we'll just do you. Thank you so much, let's give it up for that help. (applause) Okay. All we need is Kenna by herself, the real deal. Kenna, I see you as someone who has-- Wait, lemme get the picture and I'll tell you. (camera clicks) Has so much warmth and radiance, it's wonderful to photograph you, so thank you. Thank you. Yes. Woohoo! (applause) Alright, questions, or should we keep going? Yeah. The same comment that I asked this morning. You were up on your tip-toes again, shooting down at her. Do you change that for a female versus male approach? Yeah, that's a great question. I mean, guys versus girls, there's a lot of things to think about. And just getting into that a touch, I'll answer your question by a roundabout way. But one is, let's say, with guys with posture, guys are always gonna be a little bit more square to me. You know, they're a little bit more firm on their feet. Women, it's always nice if there's a little variation in weight. Head tilts for the guys, you know, you're kinda like, "Oh!" Doesn't really work as much with women. Women could lean against the wall and-- Let's say you're photographing me, I dunno if the camera reads this at all, but if I'm like this-- What's Chris doing here? It doesn't really make sense, you know. So I want him a little bit more-- And yeah, sure, guys I think I will have a little more comfort going lower. But with women, you don't always want to shoot into the neck, necessarily. And so I do, I think like that, but I dunno if I'm just making up that right now. I think it's more responding to the individual. I did notice she was tall. If you notice Kenna's face it really has a wonderful-- She has a wonderful chin, like look at her chin. Just comes down to that chin, it's amazing. So, I think I wanted to get a little more of that line, which I could do higher, then I could do lower. So, I dunno if that answers it, but that's at least a step. And also, maybe with guys and girls, couple things I'm thinking about too is like guys... One of my friends, Jeff Lipsky, is a really amazing celebrity photographer, but I heard an editor talk about his work and so what I like about Jeff's work is that he photographs men in a way they're not sexy, but they're handsome. And handsome is really hard 'cause it's more of a strength. Sexiness is more of like an appeal. I think the same thing true with women, maybe it's like sexy and beauty. The beauty is like, beauty can be an inner strength. Beauty is not an external thing, necessarily, so I'm also thinking about that as I'm moving my camera. I'm looking for that strength, that inner thing, which I think she has. So, for Kenna, it's eyes. You know, I wanna get some of her curls, I wanna get some of her authenticity, all that wrapped into one.

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.