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The Unscripted Portrait

People as photographic subjects are often far too aware of the lens. Point a camera at them, and they will automatically switch to smiling mode, a problem with which event and portrait photographers are all too familiar. Based out of New York, photographer David Kerry Hannan is exceptionally skilled at the “unscripted portrait,” in which portraits or candids seemingly appear as if they were taken off the cuff. The approach is a far more artistic, interpretive and playfully irreverent way to take portraits—less about staid, tried-and-true poses and more about experimentation and improvisation.

The resulting images can be far more intimate captures of people than audiences are used to. “When you capture someone in their natural state,” Hannan says, “it gives a much more authentic and genuine look to a shot. There’s something in the eyes that are relaxed, at peace. When you leave out the obvious look of a posed portrait and take an organic approach to staging and composition, the results are astonishing—you can ‘feel’ the subject, there’s a story. It’s thought-provoking.”

Hannan reveals that his number-one secret to capturing the unscripted portrait and, indeed, one of the toughest parts of his job, is to make his clients feel completely at ease. “There’s such a stark difference in the end results from a nervous subject as opposed to a calm and comfortable one,” he says. “If the subject feels ‘safe’ in your hands, you’re bound to get better results.”

So it helps for photographers who are looking for the unscripted portrait to be really, really good at getting their subjects to feel confident, even when they’re not. During the shoot, Hannan says that showing subjects some of the best preview shots on the camera’s LCD screen will strengthen their confidence at the same time that it will help to show them the unique direction that he’s taking with his images. It also allows them a chance to gauge their own progress as the model so they can make changes to their performance.

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