above, Band Yakchel, Iran
It often surprises people to find out that I started life as a portrait photographer. I'm well known for my adventure and underground work, but I learned about light and photography by assisting Doug Merriam on portrait jobs.
above, Katherine Kiko Mongula Uganda
Portraits fascinate me. The challenge is to tell a person's story in one frame often with nothing else in it but them. A good portrait is a moment of clarity between the photographer and the subject. Not honesty, but clarity, a moment when the subject and what the photographer is trying to say line up. A moment when the photographer lets the person come through. Portraits are tough, nerve wracking to shoot, but when they come together very rewarding.
Everyone has different techniques for shooting portraits. In Uganda, I'd make sure to run a long interview with a person first. It helps me understand what I want to say and establishes a connection. It also gets them into the right fame of mind, a place they can be opened.
Corporate work requires a completely different technique. People are very busy and need help concentrating on what we need to do, so when I am doing corporate work I take a different tack. I'll use lights and set a stage.
above a corporate portrait in Nashville, Tennessee
When the subject sees the lights set it helps them leave what they were doing in the office behind and concentrate on the photograph.The photo above has 7 lights. The subject has to walk through the lit background to get to where we are shooting. The message is "we are doing something important, it requires your concentration." Every portrait is different, every situation is different. They key is to get your subjects attention and hold it long enough for a moment of clarity.