It is 2017 and in these times it benefits a photographer, no matter what their particular niche is, to have a least a basic understanding of the skills and mindset necessary to undertake various types of photography. Being familiar with the skill-sets necessary for the various types of photography from portraiture, to street photography, to product photography does mean trying to be a jack-of-all-trades. The truth is that photography as a discipline often involves needing access to techniques that cross the various photographic disciplines.
I consider myself a fine art photographer, but understand that this incorporates many of the skills of the portrait photographer and the product photographer. There is a lot I can learn from being familiar and studying the lighting techniques of both. Doing so doesn’t dilute my aim, it only makes me a more capable photographer. Photographers are fortunate in that they can learn from a wide variety of artistic disciplines.
The product photographer must be a master of light. In order to present the product in the most effective and engaging way she must know what it takes to light in a way that seems natural, while also evoking a specific mood or atmosphere. What I as a photographer can take away from the tool bag of the portrait photographer is how I can manipulate light to draw attention to or away from elements of my image, and how different types of lighting can change the message of the photograph.
Often the success of product photography lies in the ability to effectively use lighting equipment. Photography is dependent on the efficient use of equipment even at it’s most basic level; using your camera. Using lighting equipment, from the speedlights that most people have seen (wedding photographers, sports photographers, and paparazzi often come to mind), to larger and more powerful studio strobes, can seem daunting. Lighting ratios, power outputs, and all the rest can seem esoteric and mysterious causing many people to shy away from learning these skills. Such an unfortunate thing when artificial lighting can be such a powerful tool in your arsenal!
It might seem that portrait photographers have it easier, but they really don’t. In dealing with photographing people there are a lot of different factors to consider;
- Photographing the subject in a way that is technically efficient
- Creating a photographic portrait that is emotionally engaging
- Posing the subject in a manner that is natural (for them) and visually not awkward or tense
- Crafting a portrait that is true to the subject
- Attention to details that can ruin a portrait; hair/clothing out of place, poor background, etc.
This of course is in addition to the considerations of lighting even when shooting in natural light as a poorly or incorrectly lit portrait can mean failure, even if every other aspect of the shot is perfect.
What I as a photographer can learn from the portrait photographer is an attention to detail, knowing how to make sure everything in the photography from the lighting to the posing to the photographer deciding where to stand work toward a harmonious whole. The success of the portrait photographer lies in balancing technical skill with the psychological skill of knowing both what the subject wants and what the viewer will find pleasing.
These are of course not the only two types of photographers that you can learn something from. There are landscape photographers, street photographers, architectural photographers, lifestyle photographers, the list goes on a while. And that’s a very good thing!
Some of these other disciplines deserve their own articles, but I want to leave you with the recommendation that you look at lots of styles of photography and even better try lots of different styles of photography. You might surprise yourself with how the skills you learn can be applied elsewhere.