The Art of a Portrait With Character

  • Categories:

    Creative, Photography

  • Date:

    June 23, 2022

The Art of a Portrait With Character

Creative Photography

Once, when I was on location, a Wray Ward colleague asked me about my hobbies.

“I take photos,” I said.

“No,” he said. “That’s your job. What is your hobby?”

My answer didn't change.

I’m one of the gracious few lucky enough to channel my life’s passion into a career. In fact, I’ve had a camera around my neck ever since I was a child. Photography is my devotion and — yes — my hobby. Luckily, I get to make a living doing it for some of the best clients and brands in the world.

I especially love portrait photography, because I’m drawn to humanity. People inspire me, and when I’m taking their picture, I want to know their backstory. Their background. Where they came from. I want to capture it all in a single image that sparks endless intrigue.

Bottom line: A portrait can tell a story in a way nothing else can.

The Power of Portrait Photography

When I shoot a portrait, I try to capture the subject in a way that will leave viewers wondering what the subject was thinking about at the moment. And if I’m taking a serious photo, I want the viewer to imagine the backstory. Pause. Want more.

The latest smartphones have incredible built-in cameras, allowing anyone to take beautiful pictures. But the technology muddied the waters when it comes to portrait photography. After all, if anyone can do it, what’s the big deal? Just swipe over to portrait mode, take a picture of your friend eating a taco, and there you have it. Simple, right?

Yet, it isn’t a true portrait. That’s because a real portrait is an art form. A real portrait draws you in. Captivates you. Provokes questions.

As a professional photographer, I aim to show what I want people to see. Every time I look through the lens, I try to render a certain vision using depth of field, lighting and focus in such a way that accentuates a specific storyline.

Instead of making my subjects pose, I have a conversation with them. While we’re talking, I capture them at their most vulnerable moments.

The results are my interpretation of the story. They’re my stab at the most honest, truest representation of the subject.

Storytelling Through the Business End of the Lens

So how does my passion translate to what we do at Wray Ward? Let’s start at the beginning, before the subject and I ever step foot in the agency’s on-site Studio or on location.

Typically, our art directors and designers will share look/feel boards, visual references and a creative brief with our photographers. Luckily, in addition to talented creatives, we work with larger brand teams that, while providing guidance, also give us the opportunity to take the essence of the creative brief and make it our own.

That flexibility may not seem like a big deal, but it’s built on the kind of trust that allows us all to do our best work.

Then, we review elements such as the target audience and planned media channels. As photographers, we have to understand who we’re talking to and where they’ll see our work. Our style has to exceed our audience’s expectations for whatever medium we’re using to tell the story, whether that’s a brand website, Instagram, traditional print advertising or any other number of channels.

For example, if the portrait will be posted on Instagram, I may shoot for bold and colorful or the stark contrast of black and white. The portrait should make users scanning their feed stop mid-scroll. On the other hand, with a more traditional medium such as a magazine, the image should be subtle yet impactful — something that keeps them from flipping through to the next page.

Regardless of audience or media, the best portraits make people stop to take in the beauty, giving them just enough visual information to leave them yearning for more.

Moen: From Product Photos to Lifestyle Portraits

When Wray Ward first began working with Moen, we took photos of faucets for the company’s product pages. It was a great place to start, but as our working relationship developed, we gained a greater understanding of our shared goals and style preferences. Today, we take lifestyle portraits featuring Moen products. This allows us to tell the Moen story on a deeper level. To take more risks. To blend our team’s unique style with the brand’s personality, creating amazing portraits that catch the eye and mesmerize the mind.

IDEX: Real-Life Heroism

With IDEX, a supplier of fire and safety equipment, we were able to capture posed yet impactful portraits of firefighters after their job is done, depicting the true essence of real-life heroism.

Palmetto Bluff: Intrinsic Humanity

Working with Palmetto Bluff, we knew we had to elevate the photography beyond even the beautiful Lowcountry landscape. We used photography and video to capture the transformative power of a physical place that never leaves you. In doing so, we made the product — the setting — a supporting character in its own story. The result was, in a word, compelling.

If you want images that not only tell a story but also invoke questions about your brand or whatever you’re selling, I hope you feel moved to consider portrait photography. Because capturing your audiences’ imagination and leaving them with a desire for more is exactly where you want to be.

Want to know more about what fuels creativity at Wray Ward? Read our Executive Creative Director John Roberts’s reflection on where ideas come from.

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