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Guardian photographers share tips for getting a portrait in ten minutes

By dpreview staff on Mar 8, 2013 at 21:53 GMT

British newspaper The Guardian is known for its editorial photography, but like all working pros, the staff photographers sometimes only get a few minutes to capture their subjects. In an article posted on the Guardian's Photo Blog, several of the paper's photographers share their tips for getting portraits in a hurry.

One of the tips, from photographer Sarah Lee, is to use reflections. According to Lee, reflection 'works with any reflective surface [not just mirrors] and, if done sensitively, can produce interesting counter-images, obliquely, directly or partially.'

Ballerina Tamara Rojo, photographed at the Royal Opera House, London.
Photograph: Sarah Lee for the Guardian

One of the hardest things to get right when photographing people is the background. Murdo MacLeod, one of The Guardian's best-known portrait photographers, used author Maggie O'Farrell's carpet as a 'backdrop' when he photographed her at home for an article in the newspaper. The result (below) is certainly unconventional.

Author Maggie O'Farrell at home in Edinburgh.
Photograph: Murdo MacLeod for the Guardian
 

Sometimes, you just want to take the background out of the equation altogether - not easy in a crowded urban environment when you only have a few minutes with your subject. Photographer David Levene took then UN secretary general Kofi Annan up onto the roof of the building they were in, to literally raise his subject above the camera, and the clutter of the city. What you can't see in this portrait (below) is the pedestal step that Annan was standing on... 

Then UN secretary general Kofi Annan, pictured in London.
Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

Comments

Total comments: 57
jounpla01
By jounpla01 (Apr 12, 2013)

helpful!

0 upvotes
wlachan
By wlachan (Mar 13, 2013)

This article reconfirms that it is not how good you are, but who you know.

2 upvotes
Matei H
By Matei H (Mar 12, 2013)

This is The Guradian's tell-all "How to take bad pictures in 10 minutes or less"
And DPReviw falls for it. Umbelievable!

4 upvotes
Nigel CheffersHeard
By Nigel CheffersHeard (Mar 14, 2013)

Are you the picture editor of the Daily Star (well known UK tabloid rag)?
A spectacularly ill informed comment, if I may say so. The constraints you work under in these circumstances are incredible, and not conducive to any creative thinking, let alone technical excellence.
I challenge you to find the most famous person where you live that you have never met before, arrange a photo shoot, and produce a great shot off the cuff in less than ten minutes.
It's what separates men from boys. You have to understand that professionals like Jane Bown do this day in, day out, and deliver to tight deadlines.
Thank you for giving me the idea for a lecture topic.

4 upvotes
Michele Kappa
By Michele Kappa (Mar 22, 2013)

This was a troll. And you fell for it. "Umbelievable!"
XD

1 upvote
palinode
By palinode (Mar 11, 2013)

The Maggie O'Farrell and cat portrait is great. They look like punctuation marks arranged on the page, which is just brilliant.

1 upvote
ThePhilips
By ThePhilips (Mar 11, 2013)

Insightful. Simplicity and ingenuity.

DPR, post more about portrait shooting!

3 upvotes
Jim Kaye
By Jim Kaye (Mar 11, 2013)

Many dancers look remarkably tall, even when they aren't, because of the way they carry themselves.

If the assignment had been to create a photo doing everything possible to counteract this tendency, I would give this an A+.

1. Use a wide angle lens and shoot from above waist height to foreshorten the legs.

2. Point one leg toward the camera to make it disappear entirely.

3. Use the dancer's hand to hide her neck.

4. Have her lean forward (again, pointing toward the camera).

5. Put her head against the upper edge of the frame so it looks like she has nowhere to go and is getting crushed.

4 upvotes
Matei H
By Matei H (Mar 12, 2013)

Yeah. I cannot believe that Sarah Lee's picture is actually given as a good example. Reflexion or not the picture is terrible. She should have "reflected" more about the composition

2 upvotes
Corimenga
By Corimenga (Mar 11, 2013)

rhodestane is flooding DP comment sites with publicity for a scam.

Comment edited 16 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
The A-Team
By The A-Team (Mar 11, 2013)

Not terribly impressed with either of these photos.

1 upvote
jedinstvo
By jedinstvo (Mar 10, 2013)

My favorite portrait for a well-known business magazine was when the CEO was really enraged at the questions the reporter was asking him and stomped out of the office. I was waiting outside for my 2 minutes with Mr. Big and grabbed a quick frame with my Leica and a 50. I was ready because I'd heard shouting coming from the office....One picture! Turned out to be a good one but the reporter didn't have a story so it never ran. For Americans familiar with computer retailing in the 80s it was at Computerland and the questions concerned the influence of EST in the company's management culture.

1 upvote
ThePhilips
By ThePhilips (Mar 11, 2013)

Candid shots are always the best. They capture emotion of the moment.

0 upvotes
IrishhAndy
By IrishhAndy (Mar 9, 2013)

F8 and be there !!!!

1 upvote
knize10
By knize10 (Mar 9, 2013)

Poor Kofi, time to retire for good.

0 upvotes
jedinstvo
By jedinstvo (Mar 10, 2013)

Time for Kofi to retire to Sweden with his Swedish wife and live high on the hog on his ample UN pension.

0 upvotes
totunu
By totunu (Mar 9, 2013)

I am much appreciating dpreview, but this time I am disappointing about them choice to show us this kind of "secrets", with no value at all comparing with other photographers tips&tricks.

3 upvotes
pocketuniverse
By pocketuniverse (Mar 9, 2013)

Nice article.

1 upvote
jkokich
By jkokich (Mar 9, 2013)

Secrets? SECRETS?! Is there enough light to see the person? Take the picture!!!

0 upvotes
itsastickup
By itsastickup (Mar 10, 2013)

That's for snaps not portraits.

0 upvotes
TheShihan
By TheShihan (Mar 12, 2013)

Well, the pictures here seem to be more snaps then portraits.

0 upvotes
WilliamJ
By WilliamJ (Mar 9, 2013)

Another good advice: take away suddenly the expensive cigar your celeb is smoking from his or her mouth, you will get an unforgettable picture. Follow the example of Yousef Karsh who dared this stratagem and got one of the most iconic ever photograph ! Cf: http://iconicphotos.wordpress.com/2009/07/31/winston-churchill-by-yousef-karsh/

It could work on Madonna or Arnold Schwarzenegger...

1 upvote
William Koehler
By William Koehler (11 months ago)

Sort of like this one of J. P. Morgan

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a6/JP_Morgan.jpg

0 upvotes
jorepuusa
By jorepuusa (Mar 9, 2013)

1. To have any common sense in an article like this, a photojournalist should always show an 100% faximile of the page with the picture and headline, those work together, these kind of pics need text as all press pictures do.
2. Most of the others who comment cannot understand that photojournalism is 95% of something else than actual photography.
3. Somebody was p.....d of because he did not get exact advice, well why should a pro give exact advice for an amateur and then loose his job cause the amateur gives his pictures for free and steals pro´s job.
Dreview shows pictures of war but cannot show swear words like p.....d, what hypocrisy, thank god I live in Europe.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
6 upvotes
marike6
By marike6 (Mar 9, 2013)

"thank god I live in Europe"

Not sure what you are going on about, but the DPR website originated in London, England and it was only very recently in 2010 when most of it's staff relocated to Seattle, Washington.

No offense, but the US has more liberal free speech laws than most countries in the world. A European website's policy on expletives has nothing whatsoever to do with American society and the personal freedom that people in the US enjoy.

1 upvote
jorepuusa
By jorepuusa (Mar 9, 2013)

Hm..this is out of topic but I may say "kusi" in every site in Finland and there are no barriers, that does not ofcourse mean I do write it all the time.. in US TV shows one may hear a beep when a dangerous word is said, is that freedom of whatever and the count of those words is raising.?
About American freedom of speech.
One may speak freely once but after that he is shot to death. My main point about photography is forgotten as usual but I am too much of a journalist that I love to tease US people of their hypocrite manners, just cannot help myself. I´m a baad human being but in Depreview it is impossible to have a proper conversation about photography anyway.

Comment edited 40 seconds after posting
3 upvotes
Klaus Weber
By Klaus Weber (Mar 9, 2013)

Interesting dialog...

I am really sorry, but reading "US has more liberal free speech laws than most countries in the world" makes me laugh, having read this blog just recently:

http://upgrd.com/matthew/thrown-off-a-united-airlines-flight-for-taking-pictures.html

On the other hand, this story of a UK court decision is of course very famous already:

http://www.dpreview.com/news/2012/01/25/Imitated_Image_Copyright_Case

Both related to photography, btw...

So, one could say: Good and bad decisions are everywhere. However, in case of the UK court decision 99% of the people are sharing the same opinion - that this judge did a very bad job, and they speak it out very openly.

Looking at the responses of Matthew's blog entry, however, I was shocked to read that quite many people tell him: "Own fault, stupid boy - why did you say "terrorist" in a plane!?"

marike6, is this the "freedom of speech" that you mean?

1 upvote
jedinstvo
By jedinstvo (Mar 10, 2013)

Hey jorepuusa, I can say kusi anyplace I want in America and nobody tells me to stop. So get lost.

1 upvote
starwolfy
By starwolfy (Mar 10, 2013)

Not so sure about american freedom of speech.
I remember once on this forum a guy took a picture of little girl playing in the street.

I can remember all the comments saying he could go to Police or hit by parents for such a shot (it was taken in the US).

At first, as I am not an American, I didnt understand what everybody was talking about and why every body was so hot on that picture until I understood people were meaning the photographer could have been taken for a perv.

I was astounded.

When I looked at this girl picture I've never ever thought of such a thing. This was just a candid street shot of a little girl... :/

I was a little chocked because I did the same many times here in South Korea and I am not a perv nor never got hit nor never went to police nor never was taken for a perv...

I am just a amateur photographer who has the right to take pictures in public places.

Comment edited 2 minutes after posting
7 upvotes
jorepuusa
By jorepuusa (Mar 10, 2013)

Some of us are clever and some of us are patriots. So it goes even in photography. I´ve been working as IOPP photog twice in USA - Los Angeles Olympics and Lake Placid olympics. As a Finn I was surprised about the donts everywhere according to photography. One morning I went out in Placid to shoot extremely cold weather for UPI, on the yard a police took out his gun at pointed it at me and told me to freeze cause he thought I had stolen the cameras I was carrying. I had my accreditation badge clearly visible, he took a look and said that a country called Finland does not exist. It became a mess. I decided that never again in the country of "so called freedom"
Altough as a pro I sometimes write words of wisdom here in DPR I am at "gunpoint" mentally immediately when a US amateur reads my words. Seldom have i seen a forum as cruel to different kind of thinking as dprw is. Freedom of speech?
US people seem to be totally intolerant when it comes to differences in photography.

2 upvotes
jedinstvo
By jedinstvo (Mar 10, 2013)

That's the craziest story I ever heard. I think you made it up!

1 upvote
jorepuusa
By jorepuusa (Mar 10, 2013)

I`m a professional photojournalist. I have been shooting in several wars from 1977 to 1990. I have been IOPP International Olympic Picture Pool photographer in three olympics, Moscow, LosAngeles and Sarajevo, in Lake Placit I did not shoot for IOPP but EPU and UPI. The story is true and if papers still exist there should be my complain in Lake Placid police dep archives.Go see.
You may contact Lehtikuva in Helsinki to check this.
Your nick means a small fraction of Russian social democrat party in 1916. Why that nick? Are You russian? Then I understand Your hate against Finns. Russians killed 88000 finnish men in WW2, also my granddad.
Here is a link to a small video of me taking pictures of Carl Lewis in LA olympics. http://puusa.blogspot.fi/2012/05/60.html
Still no-one writes about the facts I tell about photojournalism in the start of this thread.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 1 minute after posting
1 upvote
jedinstvo
By jedinstvo (Mar 10, 2013)

You need to take your medication on schedule. You can't just take it some of the time.

0 upvotes
Ulfric M Douglas
By Ulfric M Douglas (Mar 9, 2013)

Only the Kofi Annan one is decent, the first two are pretty bad to my eye.
Ballerina is in an ugly pose with her head touching the top of the frame.
Ugly woman with cat is just horrible and studentish.

3 upvotes
Bob 1
By Bob 1 (Mar 9, 2013)

Could not agree more. The cat looks better in the photo. Would disagree that the woman is ugly... just the way she is posed. The hair is horrible. Bob

0 upvotes
jkokich
By jkokich (Mar 9, 2013)

There are more reasons why the dancer's picture is awful, but you are absolutely right, Ulfric.

0 upvotes
marike6
By marike6 (Mar 9, 2013)

Classless comments about people's looks aside, why do people always talk like they are the world's best photographers in comment sections? Clearly if they had the abilities of these photographers, they'd be working for Guardian.uk.

15 upvotes
alpha90290
By alpha90290 (Mar 9, 2013)

So the advice seem to be for plain background for portraits ...

1) Use the wall

2) Use the floor

3) Use the blue sky

0 upvotes
WilliamJ
By WilliamJ (Mar 9, 2013)

BUT ! There is a certain amount of limitations to these advices:
1) Don't use the wall: if there is an OHIO Players poster pinned on it.

2) Don't use the floor: if there are some used-to-be-dog-food-souvenirs crushed on it.

3) Don't use the blue sky: if there is an aerial advertising in the background for an hemorrhoid cream.

That's a lot of things to remind for sure, the "what to" and the "what not to". Photography is not an easy job...

4 upvotes
mojorising
By mojorising (Mar 9, 2013)

1. OK but subject looks disengaged

2. Contrived

3. Stilted and disconnected

1 upvote
Rbrt
By Rbrt (Mar 9, 2013)

You might not be able to see the pedestal Annan is standing on but you can certainly see that he's not too happy with having to stand on it LOL!

5 upvotes
HubertChen
By HubertChen (Mar 9, 2013)

Thanks for sharing. I am looking forward to more of the same!

2 upvotes
Clyde Thomas
By Clyde Thomas (Mar 9, 2013)

Good pointers in this article.

Interesting not one mention of OOFA bokeh background separation with wide aperture. Not much strong strobist work either, other than little fill. Both techniques useable within the 10 minute limit, and both techniques could provide for less background hunting for something clever.

Also surprised no Tilt/Shift lens was suggested for unique focus opportunities for a quicky shot.

See samples of all these techniques at my web site.
www.ctphotographx.com
The quicky portraits in the "faces in places" category.

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting
4 upvotes
Higuel
By Higuel (Mar 9, 2013)

Hello Clyde

Good pointers in your text.

Really Interesting would be that instead of free publicity we would get an article talking about all those techniques you say they could also cover.

Also surprised that absolutely nothing is teached for real in a critic to an article that at least gives some insights about what they say.
Don't get me wrong, i did go to your photos and think they are indeed good(!)
However when i read an article to see if i can learn something it is that what i am looking for: Learning&knowledge
If i just wanted to see someones portfolio in the net... i would be doing that!

See samples of all these possible articles at this very same web site.

Have a good weekend!

And i would truly like to see an article from you! :)

1 upvote
Clyde Thomas
By Clyde Thomas (Mar 10, 2013)

Hi Higuel,

Thanks for the input, and putting this into perspective for me. Much appreciated.

0 upvotes
ThePhilips
By ThePhilips (Mar 11, 2013)

"See samples of all these techniques at my web site."

Level is tilted on many photographs. But that's OK - I abuse the trick too. :)

0 upvotes
Jake Loves Good Glass
By Jake Loves Good Glass (Mar 9, 2013)

I think they are trying to point out that you don't have to spend a lot of time or go through a lot of hassle to get a good portrait. Sometimes the quick shot will do just fine. I would say that all of these are great examples of what can be done with little resources and time. Wonderful.

10 upvotes
marike6
By marike6 (Mar 9, 2013)

I like the advice for portraits of rock bands: "Normally the photographer selects a suitably interesting section of brick wall (graffitied is good – it goes with the youth vibe)".

Graffiti, maybe an anarchy symbol or two, pose them asymmetrically and call it a day.

The David Bailey monochrome photograph, is that a vignette on the top half or done with a background light?

0 upvotes
Jake Loves Good Glass
By Jake Loves Good Glass (Mar 9, 2013)

Hmmmm...I thought railroad tracks in an industrial area were the current thing for gritty bands...guess I am behind the times.

0 upvotes
Pythagoras
By Pythagoras (Mar 9, 2013)

so apparently without much effort at all i could be a portrait photographer for the guardian.

0 upvotes
Jake Loves Good Glass
By Jake Loves Good Glass (Mar 9, 2013)

I think you have to know enough to make the process effortless first.

2 upvotes
Dsnoir
By Dsnoir (Mar 9, 2013)

I think talent comes into it some where. Cannot understand the negativity that always accompanies articals that are intended to give guidence - but then perhaps some DP reviewers know it all.

4 upvotes
jmmgarza
By jmmgarza (Mar 8, 2013)

How 'bout 9 minutes?

1 upvote
Jake Loves Good Glass
By Jake Loves Good Glass (Mar 9, 2013)

Don't be silly! 9 minutes isn't enough time! Step into my office...

0 upvotes
wolfie
By wolfie (Mar 9, 2013)

I think the cat steals the scene in the photo with her owner - that er-um author lady ...

1 upvote
MarkInSF
By MarkInSF (Mar 9, 2013)

You mean the cat didn't write the book? I really like that picture, but the cat does steal it. It probably accompanied a lightweight feature so there wasn't any journalistic significance in the photo, so no big deal that the cat is so prominent.

1 upvote
PunkRock
By PunkRock (Mar 10, 2013)

Nice little read and I found the woman/Cat pic very interesting.

0 upvotes
Total comments: 57