Costumes add an element of fun to portrait sessions, and can put inexperienced subjects at ease in front of the camera. That plus knowing the right question to ask can result in a successful session.
This time of the year, one of my favorite tips is to ask subjects to bring their Halloween costumes to a portrait session. As adults, they don’t get a chance to wear them more than once and a costume adds a fun element to a portrait shoot that lets the photographer create images that are fun to make and helps the subject relax and get more get involved in the session. In addition to getting a chance to create some great images to add to a photographer’s portfolio, you also get to add another potential sale from the session. It’s a perfect win-win situation.
This subject’s costume was Little Red Riding Hood and was shot outdoors on Kodak color negative film using a Contax SLR with Carl Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 lens with some fill flash from a Contax. The pose is what I call “the Wonder Woman” that was made famous by TV’s Linda Carter. Have the subject stand with her hands on her hips and throw her weight to one of her hips—doesn’t matter which one with slender subjects. This subject has lustrous and long hair, which is an important part of any successful (salable) portrait. Why is that?
One of the best pieces of advice I ever got from another photographer was one given to me by the late Leon Kennamer. The first thing he would do when beginning a portrait session was make a Polaroid test shot of the subject and hand the print to them asking “how do you like your hair?” And the truth, boys and girls, is that if a subject doesn’t like their hair they’re not going to like the portrait no matter how skillfully posed it may be.
This advice was given to me back in the film days, and we have it much easier now: Make a test shot and show the image on the SLR’s screen to the subject asking “how do you like your hair?” One of my friends uses an iPad as a digital Polaroid because he can show the image larger than even than even the biggest SLR preview screen.
Tip: If they don’t like their hair, think about a hat. Hats can change the look of a subject’s portrait too! Look for fun and interesting hats in thrift and discount stores and keep a few in your studio as inexpensive props.
A combination of a two good props adds something extra to this portrait. The subject is relaxed because she’s leaning on a split-rail fence and I just asked her to bring her hand under her chin. Notice that I had her make a fist so there’s no dangling fingers near her face. Exposure with a Canon EOS 5D was 1/200 sec at f/5.7 and ISO 500 with a Canon EX 550 Speedlite used to add light under the hat brim; Otherwise, part of her face would have been in shadow. Tip: Flash is always a god idea when photographing anyone wearing a hat.
Joe Farace is the author of “Studio Lighting Anywhere” which is available from Adorama.