HOW TO PRACTICE PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY WITHOUT A MODEL

I’m a procrastinator.  One of those people who find a bunch of reasons to not do something. Even when I truly love doing that thing.

“Surfing? It’s a bit choppy/rainy/flat/cold. Maybe tomorrow.”

“Photography? I would love to.. but I have no model to work with.”

That’s what I want to talk about briefly today. How no practice portrait photography and not let a little thing like a lack of a model get in your way!

For a start, you always have a person to photograph. You! I’m not trying to be a smart-ass here. I actually take photos of myself all the time – and not just because I’m an egomaniac! Let’s say I have no models to photography, but I want to practice an idea, I will just rig the studio with a few more tripods and nightstands and play both model, assistant and photographer.

One thing I do quite often is to try and recreate scenes from movies so I can better understand what makes them stand out. This means I have to find ‘what’ it is i like in those scenes (the light, the composition, the posing, the colour grading, the facial expressions etc).

It can be tricky with no one to help, but that makes me really think through every aspect.

Here is an example of a scene I recreated from a crater movie. The wind kept changing direction so I ended up going through about 4 smoke bombs before I got the shot I wanted!

How to practice portrait with a movie inspired photoshoot session

While there are some benefits to this (namely you don’t need anyone else), creating portraits of other is where the long-term progress really lies. A lot of my photography is portraits of traditional and indigenous cultures. The hardest part of pulling a shoot together, by a long shot, is the preparation. AKA asking people.

Here are some tricks I use to help me crack this problem.

  • Just asking people in the street and taking their photos will not improve you that much as a photographer. This is because you will often be rushed and resort to tried and tested shortcuts to a good portrait. To improve: you need to experiment. It’s for the best anyway because just going up to random people in the street is hard to do!
  • You live in a social age! There is nothing scary about emailing friends, followers and other contacts and seeing if they need personal for business portraits. I was in Oaxaca recently and arrived not knowing anyone. I spent a few hours on Instagram looking for (and eventually contacting) locals that were actively involved in traditional festivals and culture.
Location Scouting Oaxaca Photoshoot
  • Not into that? If you live in a large town, check out meetup.com and sign up to some organized portrait sessions. Here someone does all the hard work of getting a model and will hold hand throughout the session.

Good luck and I hope this helps motivate to practice portrait photography!

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