Monday, October 24, 2011

The Art of Peopleography

If you're a portrait shooter, regardless of whether you shoot glamour, fashion, head shots, business or family portraits, whatever, you're both a photographer (someone who writes or paints with light) and a peopleographer (someone who writes or paints with people.)

The photography part of your craft has much to do with things like lighting, exposure, composition, and so much more. The peopleography part of your craft has much to do with things like rapport, trust, direction, and so much more. When both photography and peopleography skills meld or fuse in skillful and excellent ways, the person wielding the camera's best work is realized.

Considering today's technologies, the photography part of the portrait equation has become more and more no-brainer. From a purely photographic standpoint, today's new photographers seem to go from beginner to something so much more with lightning speed. Because of this new ease of technical craft, gaining peopleography skills should become the most important part of your learning curve. The best portraits, regardless of genre, don't just look great, they feel great. Leastwise, they make viewers feel something. The more your photos evoke feeling, the better they are. That's basically true almost regardless of genre.

When I'm editing a set of images searching for the keepers, I have both photographic and peoplegraphic criteria for selecting the... well, the selects. I'm not simply looking for the images which might be "the best" photographically, I'm looking for the images which also speak to me in other ways, that is, in ways that speak of other things other than my photographic skills. Hopefully, they will speak to viewers in much the same way as they speak to me. Often enough, I'll turn a blind eye to technical flaws if I think the image speaks louder in more human ways.

While the Art of Photography uses exposure and lighting and more to shade it's subjects in aesthetically memorable ways, the Art of Peopleography use human emotion and other things to create feeling or to tell stories. The feeling or story might be obvious or it might be subtle. But for a people portrait to truly excel, those elements, emotional or story elements, need to be there. They need to be perceptible. They need to communicate to viewers.

I see a lot of photographers who seem so consumed with the technical aspects of photography at the expense or neglect of the peoplegraphic elements. It's why I so strongly agree with Andreas Feininger's observation that, "A technically perfect photograph can be the world's most boring picture."

I'll be real honest: Technically perfect photos don't impress me at all, especially these days.

Technical perfection, or something close (enough) to it, has become, quite simply, too easy to achieve. There was a time when technical perfection was harder to come by. That was then, this is now. Never in the history of photography has technical perfection been so easy to achieve... and it's getting easier every day! The more familiar photographers become with whatever modern image-capturing device they're using, coupled with post-production technologies, the more fool-proof and easily attainable technically perfect photos have become.

I'm not saying that's a bad thing. I'm not being an old school elitist. I'm simply noting that, since technical perfection in photography (or something close to it) is now so easy to come by, one would think people photographers would spend more time on the peopleography elements of their images rather than the technical elements.

But that doesn't seem to be the case. When I go on forums and view the comments made by other photographers, so many of those comments -- the vast majority of them it seems -- appear mostly concerned with the purely photographic elements of the images. I'm certainly not saying achieving near-technical-perfection doesn't require skill or isn't important. It does require skill and still is important. But today, it requires less skill to achieve than ever before and it's importance might be somewhat diminished. Shooting for the web, as an example, definitely reduces the importance of technical perfection.

My latest e-book, "Zen and the Art of Portrait Photography," could have just as easily been titled, "The Art of Peopleography." Frankly, that's what it's mostly about: Helping portrait photographers become better peopleographers.

Because of today's technologies, the photography learning curve hasn't simply been flattened, in some ways it's nearly been squashed. I know that might not seem the case for those just starting out on their photographic journeys. Many of those people don't really have much to compare it to. (In terms of what it once took to produce technical perfection in photographs.) But if you stay at it for some time, a shorter time than ever before, and you do so with some appropriate level of dedication, you'll find, thanks to today's many new technologies, it becomes easier and easier to achieve.

The peopleography learning curve, on the other hand, remains a bit more challenging. My advice is this: As your technical skills increase and become ever less daunting -- and they will -- your focus on learning about and working to attain exceptional peoplegraphy skills should increase exponentially.

Generally, I'm an 80/20 kinda guy. It's a ratio I often mention. When first starting out, I advise spending 80% of your time learning the technical side of photography. As you become more and more familiar and skilled with the technical side of photography, flip the ratio around and spend 80% of your time learning and gaining the appropriate people skills. Then, bring to bear those newly learned peopleography skills to your work. Consequently, your portrait work will improve dramatically. That a guarantee!

The gratuitous pretty girl at the top is Kayla. She's a model I truly love working with and, I'm happy to say, I've done so a number of times.

1 comment:

Paps said...

"Peopleography"... if there's an uglier word that exactly describes a skill, let me know ;)

Ugliness of words aside, this is a major skill. A skill that I think is harder to master than the tech part. Maybe thats the reason why most questions on the intertubes are about tech, then composition and finally ppl skills.

When selecting images, I usually go for the "expression" combined with technical quality. For people shooting, most of the time it's in the eyes as far as I am concerned.

Anyway, nice article. Next article subject... eyes perhaps? Wink wink, nudge nudge.