Portrait Photography – Rule #1 – Have Fun

     After writing an almost four hundred worder on what I think is the single most important aspect of producing a good photo, focal point, I trashed it and started over. Started another article, almost reaching five hundred words, on focal point again, with some points on the differences between focal point and subject matter infused throughout. Ended up trashing that. Thought about it for a while and the article just didn’t seem right. Sure, focal point is very important, but the fact of the matter is, there are more important factors in producing good photos. Focal point is important, as is subject matter, sharpness, composition, etc, etc, but over and over again, while writing the article, I almost had to “force” the subject. Well, you know what, after I sat back for a while, it finally came to me what is the most important single aspect in producing a good image. For me, it is just plain having fun.

     Think about it, and I’m not talking a paying job photo type shoot. If you’re out all miserable, taking shots here and there, how many photos do you actually like when looking back at them. If photos are about memories, who wants to be reminded of a bad day out. If you’re not enjoying taking the photos, why even bother. The answer to that is, for me, there really is no reason.

          Being an avid “people photography” kind of person, not having fun can really show through in the photos you are taking also. I often find myself in “poorer” (monetarily that is) parts of the world where you don’t see happiness all the time. In my experience though, happiness is always there, in some form or way. You just need to get it to show. This is where having fun can really shine through in your photos.

     When I am having fun, it always seems to come through in the photos. Big, happy smiles on my subjects faces. Bright colors, happy people, laughter. The trick for me is to not only have fun but try to include your subject in the fun. Talk, joke, laugh… Make your subject forget about their situation, and worry maybe just a bit less, for at least a few minutes. Show them the pictures on your LCD. Make them smile. Don’t just run up and take a shot. Sit, communicate and share a little. …and if you haven’t tried, no matter what language you speak, a smile is universal, and goes a long way in communicating with someone who doesn’t speak the same language. If you have a mad tone of voice and a frown on your face, how do think your subject will react to that? Doesn’t work for me, and it usually doesn’t work for people who have not met that particular person, but are just looking at the photograph.

     I have never had a problem with communication with my subject for some reason, whether I’m in India, Nigeria, Mali, Sudan, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Nepal, China or anywhere else on earth. No, maybe I can’t have a conversation with them on world issues or the political state of their country, but I can communicate that I want to take a picture of them, I mean no harm, and I am just trying to have fun.

     So, I’ll talk about focal point, subject matter, communication and whatever else another time. If you’re looking for a more technical type of insight to photography, there are plenty of articles out there written everyday. There are also plenty of people who will argue that sharpness, color, contrast, focal length, and the like are the most important aspects in obtaining a good portrait. It is all opinion, and everyone’s is different, but my opinion is that these people will never truly realize why their portraits aren’t any good, or hold any real connection between the subject and viewer. Sure, they may be sharp, with great color, but there is more to a great photograph than that. Again, not talking about a studio shoot here, but more about “out and about” photography.

     For now, my best advice would be to just have fun, and I would almost bet that your photos will be better and hold dearer memories for you, as well as being a bit more interesting for people looking at those photos. It works for me, so I say go out have some fun. See what happens. Maybe you’ll like the results!!! Sure, there is more to a great photo than just having fun, but it is a great place to start, and you have to start somewhere.

     …and, of course, a few examples of what I’m talking about. A picture is worth a thousand, happy, words. Up above, to the left, a young girl from Chong Kneas in Cambodia, subject of a previous post that can be seen here. That one was easy, as she was looking to have fun and smile. Above, to the right, a girl selling peanuts at one of the temples of Bagan, Myanmar. If you’ve never been, and are saying to yourself “What is she wearing on her face?” …It is thanaka, sometimes called tanaka. Natures sunscreen, made of bark mashed into a paste. Seen on women’s faces throughout Myanmar, spread into any and every design imaginable.

     What do you do with a girl from Debark, Ethiopia, homeless and living on the street, both parents gone…???… Make her forget all that. Make her laugh!!! Have fun.

    Below, a homeless woman on the steps of Jagdish Temple, Udaipur, India. I like to call her Joy. You could tell she wasn’t very well off, and it looked like she could use a laugh. I spent some time sitting on those steps, amid the sadhus, holy men, holy women, the more unfortunate of the town.

      I didn’t just run up, take a shot, and run away. I sat and saw what the people there saw. She made fun of me. I made fun of her. I showed her some pictures I had taken. She showed me her bruises and cuts. I took a shot, she didn’t smile. I smiled as I yelled at her to smile. Showed her what she looked like on my LCD. She fixed her hair, laughed, smiled and forgot about life for a minute or two. Great woman. Both of us had fun. Great memories, not only of Joy herself, and the happiness that some have to just be alive, but of Udaipur and the Indian people themselves. Thinking about it, I could probably write a whole article on Joy herself. Hmmm …maybe I will.


9 comments on “Portrait Photography – Rule #1 – Have Fun

  1. There’s something to be said about the people who live in poorer parts in the world. Although they live in much poorer conditions, you see a lot of them genuinely happy.

    I think the most poignant example of this was when I traveled through Southeast Asia in early 2009. Back then, Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers had recently collapsed, AIG was on life support, and everyone and their mother was waiting and preparing for a financial apocalypse.

    I was traveling through Laos and met these people in Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng. And guess what? They couldn’t give TWO SHITS about that kind of stuff. Dow Jones dropped 1,000 points? Nasdaq going down the shitter? Didn’t care, didn’t know, didn’t affect them. They were content and happy living their lives and you could really see it in their faces and smiles.

    Mo’ money, mo’ problems? Quite possibly.

  2. Wow. This article just made my morning. I never thought of photography that way. Always thought of it as more of an intrusion which made me uncomfortable. But you’re right. It’s all about your attitude as a photographer.
    What are your thoughts on people wanting money to let you take their picture?

    • baidanbi, Glad you like the article, and in my experience it is so true. For some it is an intrusion. You just have to take that and make it more. Make into a good part of the persons day and not a bad part.
      As far as paying for a photo. That all depends on the situation. In some cou tries you can’t get around it (the more touristy ones). I have no problem with it, and in monetarily poorer countries your pocket change can be the difference between someone eating that day or not. So, I take it as a case by case basis. If someone is adamant amount getting money before I even try to take a photo, usually I’ll just walk away. I don’t think I paid anyone in that article for the actual photos, but I did give Joy food, I did buy peanuts from the one girl and the triple photo was a girl who was my porter for the day …so although I didn’t actually give them money for the photo, I did support them in some way. John

  3. The old lady is priceless. She has a disarming smile and you have captured her so well. I have been to Udaipur too. Beautiful forts !!

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