7 Expert Tips For Creating Great Conceptual Portraits

Alexia Sinclair is an award winning Australian artist and photographer whose work has appeared in everything from glossy fashion magazines to fine art museums. She has also worked on commercial campaigns for a range of high-profile clients including Canon and Harpers Bazaar and is currently one of Seagate’s Creative Professionals. We recently asked Alexia to share her expertise in the area of portrait photography. Here are here top seven tips.

Alexia Sinclair’s unique design aesthetic was developed through the study of art at university, along with her background as a ballet dancer. This also helped her develop the costuming skills required to produce her portraits. Her work is mainly inspired by historical and mythological figures which are conceived as artworks in her imagination followed by extensive sketching and prop creation. By the time of the shoot, her creations have usually been months in the making.

Here are Alexia’s seven tips for artistic portraiture that budding career photographers would do well to live by.

1. Know what you want!

“I put a lot of time into pre-prep by sketching sets, props and costumes. I make mood-boards, storyboards, treatments and lighting diagrams to help me pre-visualise an artwork and help my team understand the project before shoot day. You don’t want people turning up asking what we’re working on. I think too many people walk into a portrait session not knowing what they want, hoping that the subject will come up with the goods and do their job for them.

“You don’t need to know exactly what you want, but the more you have pre-visualised a shot-list and provided inspiration to your team and model, the easier it will be to communicate to your subject about what you’re looking for. This will make direction & communication that much easier.”

2. Be prepared to throw step one out the window at a moment’s notice.

“Having those ideas upfront gives you the confidence to know if it is or isn’t going to work. Don’t hold steadfast to your ideas because they’re written down. Be flexible and roll with the punches.”

3. Know your subject, do your research.

“Nothing is ever new, just the way you see things. Understanding how others have approached themes can help shape the concept you’re working on. Just be sure that you don’t imitate the things that inspire you.”

4. Have everything ready to go.

“This way your team feels confident and you can concentrate 100 per cent on your subject. You need to build rapport with your subject as soon as they walk in the door.”

5. Once you can afford it, get people to help!

“You need to delegate jobs to great people, so you can focus purely on guiding your subject and creating the right atmosphere. If someone in your team isn’t up to par, you need to find someone who is, they’ll end up costing you more than saving you time.”

6. Get the best equipment you can afford.

“The bigger the stakes the less time you’ll have and your equipment needs to function perfectly ALL the time. You don’t need to BUY it; rent it for the day. That said, you need to know your gear inside and out, so perhaps rent it for a couple days the first time. I use a PhaseOne system tethered to my MacBook Pro, a set of Profoto strobes and I haven’t missed a beat yet.”

7. Back it up!

“If you’re shooting a high-profile subject there’s slim to no chance that they’ll come back for a reshoot, and it doesn’t matter who you’re shooting you don’t want to waste time doing it again. Sometimes your model gives you a gift, a moment in time that you can never recreate so you just have to secure every single frame.

“I backup on location, and then again when I get back in the Studio. I have a thunderbolt raid array with Seagate enterprise drives. Again, buy the best you can afford, the price difference here will be far less than lost files.”


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