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Tips on preparing for a portrait shoot

Lesson 6 from: Masters of Photography

Albert Watson

Tips on preparing for a portrait shoot

Lesson 6 from: Masters of Photography

Albert Watson

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Lesson Info

6. Tips on preparing for a portrait shoot

Albert teaches you how to work with your subjects to get a great portrait shot. Learn his tips for putting people at ease when they are in front of your camera.


Class Trailer

Meet your Master


Learn from the journey


Using inspirations


Photography is stopping time


Albert's library of ideas


Tips on preparing for a portrait shoot


Setting up the studio


Understanding studio collaboration


The importance of casting and hair & make-up


Foreground studio set up


Studio session with a model - set up 1


Studio session with a model - set up 2


Studio session with a model - set up 3


Picking the best shot


Working with photoshop


Creating a portrait of Alfred Hitchcock


The gigantic question... Colour or black and white?


One day with Kate Moss


Learn to have your ideas ready


Using Polariods


Creating beautiful photographs of hands


Controlling natural light


Shooting a monkey with a gun


Choosing your format


Composition and lens


Shooting landscapes. The Isle of Skye


Planning and ideas for a landscape shoot


Creating still life images


Photographing the Lost Diary


Shooting album covers


The Strip Search Project


Shooting Las Vegas landscapes


Photographing Breaunna


Balancing daylight, God bless America


Creating the Maroc Project


Creating the Maroc shoot


Photographing sand dunes


Photographing Moroccan children


Advice on making portraits


How to be alert to finding photographs


Making a portrait of Mike Tyson


Creating intense colour in a photograph


Portraits of rap stars and a Golden Boy


Photographing Jack Nicholson


Creating a portrait of David Cronenberg


How to light only using two $10 bulbs


Studio fashion set up 4


Studio session with a model. The geography of a face


Look inside the picture


Creating memorability in an image


Combining nudes and landscapes


A perfect print


The business side of things


Conclusion and farewell


Lesson Info

Tips on preparing for a portrait shoot

(rock music) There's many ways that you can photograph people. You can be more of a Cartier-Bresson, and nobody ever knew that their picture was being taken by him. So he was an invisible photographer. There's another way if you're a portrait photographer or want to be a portrait photographer. You have to be a people person if you want to do portrait photography. You need to be loving the person in some way or other that you're photographing, interested in the person. You have to research the person if possible. If you stop somebody in the street, you don't know anything about them. But in a lot of terms with other people, you can do research, especially if there's somewhat of a celebrity involved. You should certainly know all about the celebrity and do reading, make notes, so that you have a form of communication with the person, so you can talk to that person. And that, and a lot of time, everybody can be a little bit nervous about having their picture taken. So one of your best w...

eapons of choice is your own personality. I mean, how you make somebody feel relaxed, you've gotta be a little bit more than just look at them and say, "beautiful, beautiful, wonderful, wonderful." You've got to really go a little bit, you need a little bit, sometimes people need a little bit more direction than that. And sometimes you can make somebody laugh. It can be that. You can, and it's not that you want a laughing shot, but sometimes the whole geography of the face changes after they laugh, which you would be watching for. We've gone as far as, you know, making sure that the person has their favorite flowers in the dressing room. We once were photographing Al Pacino, and we called his PR people and asked if he, did he need anything special for food or anything? They said, "no, no, he'll never eat anything, "but he does like a good coffee." And so we found out from the PR people what his favorite coffee was. It turned out to be an espresso with a twist of lemon. And I actually rented an espresso machine, which I didn't have. I had a coffee machine, but not espresso. And I rented an espresso, rented this espresso machine, and I actually bought a pound of his favorite coffee. So when he came in in the morning, and I said, "is there anything you'd like?" He said, "oh, just a cup of coffee." So I was able to present him not only with his cup of coffee, but his favorite coffee and also a twist of lemon. So that's maybe a little bit extreme, but, boy, do these things help you when you come to take the picture, you know, these little details. So they don't have to be, perhaps, as complicated as renting an espresso machine, but it's just consideration of the person. How do you make that person more relaxed? How do you work with a person to get a powerful image, to get an intimate image, to get an image of them that they've never seen before? So of course it's hard work, but photography can be hard work. (rock music) Now let's simply keep everything the same, but take your right hand and slot it underneath. You're gonna take it away and slot it underneath your, underneath here, that's it. I've done in the past several projects with people where I've taken someone and told them who they're playing. So I'm saying to them, okay, you're an artist living on your own. You're, you're an artist trying to be successful. You're, at this point you just got a phone call that you've broken up with your boyfriend. Or perhaps the opposite to that, that your, someone that you maybe fancied, a boy that you maybe fancied just called you up and said, "do you want to go out for dinner?" So very often you're, you're controlling people, trying to control their emotions to put it towards what you want. A lot of things, one thing I've said, I have to have said it thousands of times, I often say to somebody, you know, look at the camera and think about smiling. So you're good there, the chin up just a little bit. And then, Luis, you can make this better. There you go. That's perfect. Your attitude right now is excellent. Think about a smile. You don't need to be smiling, just think a little bit about it. Think a little bit about Ireland. (laughs) Hmm. Where it's snowing probably now. Yeah, it's pretty. There we go. Just there is perfect. And just dream away. I think that's perfect. The control of the people is something that you're after, and other times you don't control them at all. You don't give them any roles to play. You bring the people on, and they sometimes just sit there. And you just think they look great. You know, the expression is great. The mood is great. The body language is great. And you just say fantastic, and you take the picture. So there's many different scenarios where all of these things come into play. (rock music) As for approaching people, you know, as I did in the Vegas project, how do you walk up to somebody and say, you know, can I take your picture? Well, there's no real easy way of doing that. So often I'm not really that shy a person, but I'm just super polite when I ask somebody. I say, excuse me. I'm not in any way abrupt. So you know, smile and "excuse me" works very, very well. In Vegas, a lot of the time I was looking, and the producer that I worked with was a fairly young girl, very good, and she often, I would point somebody out, and she would go as ask them and say, "I'm here doing a project with this photographer. "Could you possibly step in and be photographed? "It'll only take you five, 10 minutes," which was true. And that's the way. So in a way, I cheated a little bit by having this producer. And she came in very handy when I was, you know, approaching, especially women. The men usually I went straight up to, but sometimes she did that for me as well. But I was looking at the people and saying, over there, there's somebody, they're interesting, and see if you can get them. So sometimes she ended up, somebody would pass me, and she would run after them and tap them on the shoulder and get them. But you have to be wary. And sometimes people don't want to be photographed, so that's fine. But I find pretty much close to nine out of 10 people that were asked ended up being photographed. And usually we gave them a Polaroid, and they loved it. So for them it was a good experience. I'm sure they went back home to Utah and said, "oh, we were photographed by somebody in Vegas." So they were actually quite happy to be chosen. (rock music) For the 150th copy of the Face magazine, they approached me about doing a Malcolm X story. And it was to be a typical fashion story, but they wanted it to look like Malcolm X and the Malcolm X story. And they had some very good editors working on it. And I went down the road of researching Malcolm X, and I actually found the original FBI files that were available on Malcolm X. And I researched the look of it. I cast it with Elizabeth, and we really set the job up beautifully so that I had a lot of shots to do in one day. That was all that I had. But it was very well planned, this job. It was very well thought out. (rock music) I was planning a shot between the character who was playing Malcolm X and the character who was playing Farrakhan, who was kind of an opposite number to Malcolm X and was eventually, it was, people were suspicious that he had Malcolm X killed. But I wanted a shot of them kind of standing together, possibly looking at the camera, but basically doing it as a portrait. And I was in the location vehicle just before I was about to do the shot, leaving the shot, and on the television the location driver was playing an old film noir movie. And just, I looked up on the screen, and there were three people on the screen, and one person was shouting at another person. And the person in the middle was trying to prevent any violence happening, you know. And when I saw that on the screen, in a split second, I was very luck to see that, in a split second I immediately got my assistant, my black assistant, to put him in a suit and use him as the third person. And I created the shot that you see here. And my assistant on the right hand side shouting across at Malcolm X. Therefore my assistant takes on really the new Farrakhan, as it were. So he became Farrakhan, who was, had a shaved head at that time. And he became Farrakhan, and the person opposite is Malcolm X. And the guy in the middle is a bodyguard of Malcolm X, as it were. So therefore that shot was created by something that I had seen minutes before on an old film noir movie. So therefore I was able to, to nick compositionally from an old movie, something that I'd seen by chance on the location vehicle, and do an interpretation of that basically five minutes later. And of course, I was able to get a shot like that in one or two rolls of film. It was done. So therefore I'm using these actors, excuse me, models really, to reenact something that I had envisioned. And they're role-playing, and I'm using people that really can't act to do some acting. So sometimes that's not so easy. But that's, that's the way that that shot happened. (rock music)

Ratings and Reviews

Richard A. Heckler

"Unless you're Mozart"...this course is an invaluable asset. I'm a pro, humanitarian/documentary photographer, & wilderness...and I've learned much from the 40+ sessions here. This is truly a Master best thing to being with Albert. And although I could watch studio sessions forever, this course offered a very balanced curriculum of technical information, artistic encouragement and guidance, and a open, generous window into the thinking of a gifted artist and photographer, sifted from decades of first class experience. Kudos to all involved. Excellent!

a Creativelive Student

I purchased my first CreativeLive class in 2011 and have continued to purchase many classes over the years. I have learned so much from the many great instructors. This one is not a technical class that will tell you to set your camera at f4, 1/60, ISO 400 and you can get this shot. If you are looking for that, there are many other options. If you have a solid working knowledge of photography, this class is so much more. The way it was filmed is like you are there with him in conversation or in the room with him watching him shoot. To see and understand the how and why he does what he does. Not to take anything away from other classes that have helped to give me a strong understanding of photography, this is my favorite CreativeLive class so far.

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