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First ever portrait shoot - Mark Rowley Photography

Portraiture is a staple for many photographers but its something I had never tried although it has been at the back of my mind for quite some time.

In recent months I have found myself looking at portrait shots on Instagram and this encouraged me to think more seriously about dipping my toe in the world of portraiture and in the process, gaining more photographic experience and adding something new to my portfolio.

My full-time profession is in the print industry and recently we were asked to print the 2020 programme for the local camera club. Their programme included a few model nights throughout the year as well as several other interesting areas of photography so I decided to pop along one night. I was a little apprehensive at first, not knowing what to expect but they are a great bunch of people from novice photographers to professionals, all sharing a love of photography. A couple of weeks later I had paid my subscription and became a full member.

The evening of the model shoot

Even though I arrived early the temporary studio was already set up (single strobe and large backdrop) and there were several members milling about chatting.

My lens collection didn’t really include an ideal portrait lens so I’d packed my Nikon D500 plus an 18-55mm kit lens. I’d also packed a 70-300mm just in case I needed a longer reach.

Now for some reason, I had this idea in my head that we would be split into small groups of 2-3 photographers so as not so crowd our model too much. However as it turned out we were to work with the model one to one,  just the photographer and the model. And we would have just five minutes each!  Then we would have a break before we each had a second turn.

Just the thought trying my first ever portrait shoot in the middle of a room full of other photographers, most of whom were likely much more experienced than me, filled me with terror! That may sound a little overdramatic but I was genuinely quite uneasy about things at this point.

Time to shoot my first ever portraits!

All too quickly it was my turn. I popped the flash trigger on to the camera and stood up, heart pounding with nerves!

The tutor George, who had years of experience asked if I needed any help which I gratefully accepted. Our model for the evening, the stunning Tara, was sitting on a chair so I got down low to eye level or just below. I really wasn’t at all sure how to pose Tara so George directed her for me as I began taking my shots. In all honesty, I felt so out of my comfort zone and didn’t have a clear idea in my head of what sort of shot I wanted. George was great though, giving me advice as I clicked the shutter but I was so flustered and finding it hard to concentrate. Each photographer only had 5 minutes with Tara and I admit to feeling quite relieved when the timekeeper said: “times up”.

Checking my images from the first 5-minute shoot. After a cuppa obviously!

Sitting down with a cuppa I scrolled through my images to see how I’d done. At first, I felt pretty as even I could see they were not great portraits. I sat an pondered for a minute, debating to sit out the second part of the evening or not. I decided to stick with. This was after all the first time I’d tried this type of photography.

As I sat drinking my tea I realised (rather late) that I needed a clear idea of the type of shot I wanted and I just didn’t have that clear in my head before. So I decided for the second shoot I would concentrate on getting some close-up head and upper body shots of Tara. The chair I had taken along as a prop had a lovely shape to it so I wanted to get this into some shots as well. Ok, now I’ve got a plan.

Second 5-minute shoot with Tara, this time with a plan

One of the other new members on the night (the lovely Kezz who is a fantastic portrait photographer) is one of my Facebook photography friends and had brought along a box of props for us to use. After a quick rummage, I pulled out a nice Faux Fur Stole which Tara duly placed around her shoulders. as I got into my low down position ready to start.

This time around, even though I was on my own with no guidance from George, I felt much more relaxed. I was thinking about each shot, placing Tara in the frame as carefully as I could. There were a few other photographers behind me this time, taking their own photos but I carried on with my own shots, trying to get a range of images from full-frame headshots to others where I pulled back slightly so show more of the chair and the Fur Stole.

Photoshoot with Tara - Mark Rowley Essex Photograper

Tara was absolutely fantastic, so professional and was more than happy to take a few directions from me or pose at will. I was really enjoying this second shoot. The only minor thing in the back of my mind was not using too wide a focal length as I knew this would cause facial distortions. Hopefully, I have avoided that in the images I’ve shared here.

Photoshoot with Tara - Mark Rowley Essex Photograper

In total contrast to the first half of the evening,  I was a little sad to hear the “times up” call. I thanked Tara for being so patient and returned to my seat feeling hopeful that I had at least a couple of reasonable images.

A few more images from the evening

Looking through the second set on images on the back of the camera I was actually pretty happy. Several images looked quite nice and I was looking forward to getting them onto the PC.

Yes, I could see I had made some basic errors on several shots such as cutting off fingers etc but overall I think my first portrait shoot went ok after the shaky start.

So what did I learn from my first portrait shoot?

For me, the most important thing I took from the evening was not to feel tempted to give up too easily. I think it’s all too easy to feel a little disappointed if your first images aren’t quite as nice as you had hoped. If you do feel that way (as I did) just remember that this is your very first time and if you WILL get better. As with any type of photography, the more experiences you have, the more you will improve.

Other things I’ve taken from my first foray into portraiture:

  • Have a clear idea of the type of shot or shots you want to get
  • Know your camera. You don’t want to be struggling to adjust a setting as I did at first
  • If you want your model to pose in a particular way, don’t be afraid to give him or her some direction
  •  Don’t shoot with to close with a wide-angle lens
  • Most of all, relax as much as you and enjoy the experience

What was your first portrait shoot like?

I’d love to hear about your first portrait shoot so please feel free to leave your comments and thoughts below.

Links to fellow members websites and Facebook pages: