Thursday, August 20, 2009
A Way With People
Tips for posing and composing environmental portraits from a master of the art
David Stoecklein has a knack for putting people at ease and posing them naturally. When he walks onto a ranch or some other Western setting, he knows exactly what he has to do first. He doesn’t start, as you might expect, by searching for the best available light—that comes second. First, he builds a rapport with the subject of the shoot. Whether it’s an anonymous cowboy on the range or a Hollywood movie star, his key to composing a great environmental portrait begins with establishing a connection to the subject.
An environmental portrait really is just like any other photograph. The first thing is, it has to convey an emotion and tell a story.
Using his incredible sense of composition, attention to detail and masterful lighting skills, Stoecklein has become known for his portraits of the American West. He compares the job of a photographer to that of an entertainer whose success hinges on keeping the audience captive. Likewise, in photography, successful portraiture depends on keeping the subject in the mood the photographer wants for the pictures, he says.
Stoecklein is all about creating pictures that don’t look posed, so he tries not to give too much instruction on how to act in front of the camera. He wants everything about the images to look and feel natural. For him, this kind of photography is more about capturing a moment than composing a portrait.
This philosophy extends to lighting, which is Stoecklein’s next challenge after he has bonded with his subject. He doesn’t show up to an assignment with a bunch of strobes because he rarely uses anything but natural lighting. In fact, he doesn’t show up with a lot of anything, including equipment or assistants. And that, he says, only better serves his purpose when trying to create a relaxed atmosphere.
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