Digital photographer magazine interview

DP: How do you need to vary your approach when photographing children and teenagers? What do you need to consider and be aware of in order to get great shots of this age group?

RPM: I vary my approach for every single person that I photograph, regardless of their age. We all have different levels of confidence, anxieties and life experiences. I am always very genuine with my sitters, but I also have to be very adaptable. As a professional photographer I have to be acutely aware of how sitters are feeling, show interest in them and react appropriately. I believe that being able to interact with a wide range of sitters is very dependent on your experiences. Throughout my life I have been very lucky to meet lots of adults, teenagers and children from different backgrounds and this has certainly assisted me in my career. Similarly, I’ve travelled extensively, experiencing different culture and interacting with all kinds of people. Professionally I could not tell you my total number of portrait sessions, but in my last year alone of shooting social portraiture on a full time basis, I shot over 1500 families.
All these experiences are what makes it possible for me to adapt my approach and always generate amazing expressions in my work.

DP :
How do you need to vary your approach when photographing older subjects? What do you need to consider and be aware of in order to capture older people creatively?
RPM : Photographing somebody with more life experience than me is always fascinating. I tend to find that they have more stories to tell and strong opinions on what they believe in. This always makes it easier to build rapport quickly and create lots of banter to help capture great expressions as well real character. I always try to find something that they are passionate about, because as they talk about themselves and their passions, they relax and that’s when we can capture the best shots. With older subjects I consider my lighting techniques very carefully, especially when shooting female sitters, and use lighting set to flatter the subject. When shooting men, I often take the opposite approach and choose a harder, more specular light source to exaggerate marks and blemishes and bring out the character in their features.

DP :
What general tips do you have for working successfully with people of all ages? What makes a portrait session more likely to result in great images? Where do some photographers often go wrong when working with people, especially when working with very young or old people?
RPM : Every portrait session should result in a great photograph, that is what we are paid to do as professionals. The only reason that a portrait session will not result in amazing photographs is if the photographer has not prepared themselves correctly. Photography is a craft that takes years to master and to keep on top of our game we need to continually learn and practise new techniques. As professionals we need to be technical and lighting masters, while having the interpersonal skills to direct sitters and generate the right level of energy in the shots. In my opinion this takes lots of practice and experimentation, which should never be done on client’s time. We should turn up and perform, already knowing what the quality of our end results will be. If we do not practice enough, we have to think about technical aspects during a shoot, resulting in a loss of connection with our sitters which will impact on the finished result.

DP :
What tips do you have for solving problems with difficult or uncooperative or reluctant or camera shy subjects?
RPM : I have certainly worked with many subjects who were reluctant to be photographed when they first walked through the studio door. I see it as my responsibility to help them relax, reduce their inhibitions and enable them to build confidence in me. I give the sitter confidence by talking about how amazing I will make them look by the end of the session. Building a genuine rapport and showing them examples of my work always helps. With the wide range of subjects that I have photographed, I can always find a shot that they can relate too.

DP :
What are the main criteria for a successful portrait shoot, in your opinion?
RPM : When shooting portraits it is not just about taking a shot, it is our job as professionals to create the photograph. We have to have such a wide breath of knowledge that we can problem solve any situation and produce stunning portraits. In my opinion a successful portrait sitting is about having a clear concept for the shoot, making it personal to the sitter, selecting the correct location or set, creating the most appropriate lighting set up, giving clear direction and then creating the right energy in the shoot to achieve great expressions – reflecting the emotion or feeling that you are looking to convey to the viewer in your work.

: Could you provide a list of three things to definitely do when working with people, and a list of three things to avoid when working with people?
What to do
1) Be yourself
2) Be genuinely interested in the sitter (listen to them and get to know them)
3) Practice, practice, practice. In my opinion the shoot is when you perform and all the experimentation, trial and error should have been done before. This allows us to spend as much time as possible connecting with the subject and creating the energy to produce great shots to be proud of at the end of the process

What to avoid
1) Thinking that the session is about you, your lighting or the technical side of what we do.
2) Chimping – don’t spend time looking at the back of the camera when you can be connecting with your sitter
3) Blaming the client if something goes wrong. Whether it is a tired child, a hormonal teenager or a grumpy dad, it is our JOB to get the best possible portrait of them.

DP : How useful are props in portrait photography? What advantages do they offer? Do they offer any disadvantages – is there ever a time when they should be avoided? What sort of props work particularly well? Why?
RPM : I avoid using any props in my work as I feel that they do not usually work. I have seen the same props brought out of the ‘props cupboard ‘ in lots of people’s work and for me that takes away all of the personalisation and creates a cookie cutter approach to photography. On the other hand, personal items that are brought to the photography session by the sitters are fantastic. They are a great way to start a conversation flowing about their passions, it helps them relax having their own things around them and it ensures that the shots are personal to them.
Richard Mayfield
Portrait, Fashion and Beauty photographer (


Share Button

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply