The studio portrait is a difficult thing to master. Everything must be perfect, from the wardrobe to the lighting to the minute details of the face. As an example, the great portraitist Yousuf Karsh, photographed everyone from Ernest Hemingway to Georgia O’Keeffe. As legend has it, he used to travel with 350 pounds of equipment, ranging from his camera to a vast array of lights. And once he arrived at his destination, he had to get his shot quickly; in the case of Winston Churchill, he had exactly two minutes to start and finish his work.
Like Karsh, the best portrait photographers create images that are at once timeless and contemporary. Their pictures speak to the modern age while referencing the long history of photographers who came before us. We asked five Shutterstock contributors to take us behind the scenes and share their best tricks for capturing beautiful and authentic studio portraits.
“It is better to spend two hours preparing and fifteen minutes shooting.”
What’s the story behind this photo?
This is a photo of a charming Russian girl named Elizabeth. I got the idea to make a classic portrait in the style of the 19th century. We picked up some simple clothes and used an abstract background. Next, I used the Rembrandt Triangle lighting scheme and added an orange backlight to give the photos a warm and colorful look.
The most important thing when it comes to shooting portraits is thoughtful preparation. It is better to spend two hours preparing and fifteen minutes shooting. I also suggest learning how to see and understand light. You can only do this with practice and by working in the studio.
I advise you to look at photos by other photographers, watch films, observe paintings in museums, and analyze them. You should always be thinking, “How did they make such a beautiful picture? How many light sources were used? Why did they use those colors for the clothes?” That way, you will learn to develop your taste and maybe a style for your photos. And most importantly, always try new things and experiment!