As an editorial portrait photographer for magazines, you have to be able to cook. By this I mean that within the same magazine, with the same subject, different types of portraits are required, so you have to know how to take them all.
Different Image, Different Purpose
When you are shooting a cover, you have to make the subject engage with the person looking at the image; so they have to be looking right into the camera. It is much more of a traditional portrait.
For the feature inside the magazine, you need to offer four or five different portrait images in different situations. Whatever I shoot, I use the Sony Alpha 7R III. The 42.4-million-pixels is all the resolution I need, both in the studio and on location. It works for so many different types of shots. I like to mix the styles of classical portraiture and something more typical of a celebrity portrait. But you need to photograph the subject in such a way that allows the magazine to tell its story.
For example, my images of Argentinian footballer Paulo Dybala, which I took for the Italian edition of Vanity Fair magazine. While the cover has the familiarity of a classical portrait, inside we had the opportunity to reveal more personality and character to tell the story.
We had a great location – the top of the Fiat car factory in Turin, which is where Dybala plays for Juventus F.C. The location is connected to the story as the owner of Fiat also owns the football club. So, we had Paulo Dybala on the iconic rooftop kicking a football, whilst in the background you can see the houses of the neighbourhood where many of the factory workers live. It’s an interesting image that tells the story of the whole city.
Working with the subject
Shooting the subject for a magazine is not a natural interaction. Both the photographer and the subject have to be good actors. Of course, you try your best to act natural, but when the subject is being directed and the photographer has a vision, there is nothing natural about a portrait session.
There are many features on my Sony Alpha 7R III that I use to help me work with the subject during the shoot, but perhaps the most important one is Eye-AF. It helps me make sure that eyes are perfectly sharp every time. I don’t need to worry about focusing anymore as I don’t have to, and that in turn allows me to concentrate on my relationship with the subject.
Sometimes the subject wants a natural looking image, but that can be boring. If I feel the photoshoot is going that way and needs some energy, I may shout something to create a reaction – that could be a smile, curiosity or a look of surprise on the subject’s face, but it can help add energy and break up a boring situation.
Use your lenses to be different
Although the classic lens for shooting portraits is an 85mm, I actually use my Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM lens more than any other. It allows me to quickly modify the frame, which is so important to me; especially when working with a moving subject.
The other lens I have been falling in love with is the FE 200-600mm f/5.6-6.3 G OSS lens. With an 85mm lens you have to be fairly close to the subject, but with longer focal lengths mean you can keep a distance and create images that are really different.
For example, I shot the cover of a magazine with Roberto Saviano. He is a famous writer who has best-selling books about the Mafia and the crime business in Italy. I photographed him on location at the seaside where I asked him to just relax and walk amongst the sand dunes. This worked wonderfully as it allowed him to feel free because he wasn’t standing directly in front of a photographer. By standing back and using a longer lens I could capture him behaving very differently to how he would if he was just metres away.
What I have learnt over the years is that the aesthetic is obviously very important – after all my role is to create a beautiful picture – but the real beauty of a person comes from, above all else, their personality. When I’m capturing images, my main goal is ultimately to enhance the personality of the subject – and thanks to the tools given to me by my Alpha 7R III, it means I can truly focus on this relationship between me and my subjects, resulting in the best possible shots.
"Photography is the best excuse to get to know people"