Tips on Assembly Line Portraits

“I want to be a Portrait Photographer when I grow up.” The smiling young woman told me as I posed her.

“It’s not too late to change your mind.” I said with a smile.

Portrait Photography is all about Rules-following them and knowing when to break them.  Like any other skill position, there are basics to learn, and then spend the rest of your life tweaking what you have learned.  Some Assembly Line Portrait Photographers never move past the basic three light setup that produces a flat even lighting.  Other never seem to grasp the concept of flat lighting and want every image to look like a 1940s Hollywood Glamour Shot.  I try to follow the middle path and do my best to give my subjects a little bit of everything I think they will like.

For The Photographer at an Assembly Line Portrait Studio:

1. The Photographers job is to take portraits that the Customer will want to buy.  Portrait Photographer is a Power Position-and the best Portrait Photographers share that power with the Subject.  Yes, I know what I am doing, and after I have taken my Regular Set-I always ask if the Subject would like anything else.

2. Necessary Equipment-A Camera and A Subject.  Everything else is optional, but still nice to have on hand.  Studio portraits use backgrounds, strobe lights, and props because it’s easier and more reliable than waiting for a sunny day by a large window.  But even here, one light and one background can produce some amazing effects.  My own Studio is usual four lights, four backgrounds, two posing stools, and a camera.  I often shoot with one light and one background and those are often the images that sell.

3. Put the Subject at ease-Smile, a lot.  Smiling is good for you.  It lowers your blood pressure and makes you feel better.   Act happy to see the Subjects and smile at them and they will  smile back at you.  Often times people will smile and them tell me that they can’t smile on demand.  Go on and try.

4. Do The Best With What You Have To Work With.  This means equipment, subjects, co-worker, boss, time contstraints and  all the other odds and ends of an often stressful job.   Take a deep breath and smile some more.

5. Get the best expression that you can.  The Assembly Line Portrait Photographer has control over the lighting, backgrounds, and usually the posing in a portrait.  The subject can still ruin a perfectly lit and arranged portrait by putting on their I’m-Not-Buying-This face.  Tell the subject a joke or otherwise get them to relax a bit and take the portrait when they aren’t expecting it.

For The Subject Going to An Assembly Line Portrait Studio:

1. Don’t tell the Photographer that your only there for the Book, The Freebie, or because someone forced you to come.  Believe me when I tell you that if you don’t want to buy portraits, we don’t want to see you either.  Don’t say I’m Gonna Break Your Camera, or I’d rather be at the Dentist, or this is not my favorite thing to do.  1) everyone says that, and 2) no one cares.

2. Dress all the way to the floor.  Don’t walk in wearing shorts and a sports jacket and say All the pictures are from the waist up, right? Now they are all from the waist up.  Don’t wear jeans and say I don’t want my jeans in the picture.   Don’t wear revealing clothes and complain that too much skin is showing in the photo.  Assume that all of you will be in the picture-this is especially true of children, there will almost certainly be a full length or three quarters shot of the kids.  Don’t dress them in clothes you don’t want to see in the finished portrait.

3. If your an adult, don’t ask The Photographer to make you smile.  If you have a small child don’t tell The Photographer to try something else when what he/she is doing doesn’t get instant results.  Don’t tell the Photographer to just take the picture, even if the baby is crying.  You are responsible for your expressions, you know how to smile, and if your talking, we’ll take a photo of you with your mouth open.

4. Do what your told to do.  Don’t argue with The Photographer about the extra poses.  Don’t say you don’t need any singles, you don’t know what you need yet.  Don’t say That’s stupid, I’m not going to do that-it just makes you look like an idiot.

5. Don’t say I don’t want my hands, feet, clothes, right profile, left profile, sleepy eye, lazy eye, recent surgery, bald head, or bad teeth in the photo.  You are going to be in the portrait-get over it or stay home.

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  • I’d be happy to have to take my portrait any time. Good article and very interesting.

  • I’m sure you would, and to be fair, not everyone hates having their portrait taken-just most of the people who use Assembly Line Portrait studios.

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