Reflections on being a Portrait Photographer

My Name is Amanda Eatwell and I am a Portrait Photographer!

Photographing people has been a part of my practice for a long time. In my film-shooting days, I photographed many weddings and children's portraits, but it wasn't until the impact of the recession and general changes in the industry that led me to commit to specialising in Portrait Photography, both via commission and more conceptually within my own practice.

In 1998 whilst working as a freelance assistant there happened to be a large-scale makeover studio in the West End called Covershots International. I heard through the grapevine about other assistants who had taken jobs there, so signed up alongside my peers.

The company was a stone's throw from Oxford Circus and spanned at least four floors of a mansion-styled building. At its height we must have had up to ten photographers shooting images at any given time. There was a make-up artist for every photographer, and almost the same number of stylists on hand. It wasn't unusual to work ten to twelve hours to accommodate all the people wanting to be transformed into a model-version of themselves.

I cannot tell you how much I disliked this job at the time. Despite having some great clients it felt like a production line for shallow dreams; each shoot was followed up by a sales team, ready to offer you a finance solution to purchase your prints. The more cynical/realist side of my character made it hard to consistently exude enthusiasm, so I was in awe of those colleagues who treated each shoot like they were working for Vogue!

As with any situation there were perks: I got to meet one of my favourite people, shoot on a Mamiya RB67 and gain invaluable experience of photographing and posing people. I still hear myself using a few of the terms I picked up then, such as bring your chin down slightly and drop your shoulder!

Off - centre portrait of teenage girl with Lillies

Nowadays I take people's pictures for many reasons. It could be a commission for corporate portraits, or purely conceptual, where I utilise people to represent an idea of my own.

I regularly photograph business owners who need images for websites and social media. With this kind of client I would find out about their enterprise and discuss how they'd like to be perceived by their clients. This could translate photographically into a type of lighting, an appropriate clothing-style or a choice of location, such as setting them against a London Landmark to convey a geographic location.

My clients were setting up a new business, and holding meetings at The Shard. Such a prestigious location sets the tone to attract a certain type of customer.

My clients were setting up a new business, and holding meetings at The Shard. Such a prestigious location sets the tone to attract a certain type of customer.

I also have some clients with a large workforce, so can end up shooting forty plus people in a day. This becomes as much a logistical consideration as a photo-shoot, with employees continuing with their working-day: people are in meetings, on lunch, having a cigarette or working to their own deadlines. In this environment it is essential to be assertive and efficient. 

Quite understandably many of the people that are requested by their boss to have their portrait taken for the company website are not really that engaged with the process- I'd be a rich woman if I had a pound for every person who has told me 'I hate having my picture taken'. 

Black and White studio portrait of a business woman

When working on my own projects I consider my practice as a complete journey. It is as much to do with the process as the final image. I will start with an initial idea, often sketching out an outline of the final shot. Each project is different, so the amount of time I get with a subject varies from project to project. One of the most fun and challenging ventures was the Hanami Series shot in Japan. 

Working in a loud and chaotic environment surrounded by people who speak a different language to one's own was a good test of spirit!

Working in a loud and chaotic environment surrounded by people who speak a different language to one's own was a good test of spirit!

Regardless of the type of shoot (personal or commission), no amount of planning can prepare you fully for what will happen in the moment. People are people at the end of the day, bringing their own character, style, and level of confidence in front of the camera.

Portrait photography, possibly more than any other creative medium incorporates several contrasting elements. You need to think quickly to create a powerful composition, check the technical data (am I using the right settings to evoke a certain mood? Is the light complimentary or enough/too much?), and maintain a conversation that keeps the subject engaged and preferably relaxed. You also need to work fast to build rapport with the sitter. All of this whilst keeping an air of calm!

I photographed Jabo Ibehre at his home, whilst taking time out from his intense professional football practice. Despite the final image looking relaxed, there was a lot of patience required to get his precious feline to behave accordingly! Thankfully Jabo embraced the whole experience and kept me busy answering questions throughout!

I photographed Jabo Ibehre at his home, whilst taking time out from his intense professional football practice. Despite the final image looking relaxed, there was a lot of patience required to get his precious feline to behave accordingly! Thankfully Jabo embraced the whole experience and kept me busy answering questions throughout!

I find humans infinitely interesting, on an individual level and in the wider sense. Photography is a great medium for forming a conversation and learning more about a person than you may do otherwise.

Successful portrait photography is a two-way street. Portraiture for me is about the experience and opportunity to interact with people, learn something about them, and make them feel good, not necessarily about themselves, but by having an interesting, and maybe, even enjoyable time!