In fashion and portraiture, the focus placed on women is paramount. The boundless amount of subtle details that go into capturing that one beautiful still frame creates a false perception that photographers are left perplexed when it comes to how to photograph men.
Although we still want to emphasize proper grooming, lighting, and styling with our male subjects, the lack of the amount of prep work required of them makes them ideal to work with. Not to mention, men tend to like high-quality images of themselves just as much as women do.
Every hair does not have to be perfectly coiffed and the clothing doesn’t have to lay or flow in an exact manner with men’s fashion and portraiture. Imperfection is welcomed with open arms and because of this, men are a personal favorite of mine to work with.
When we strip back the layers of perfection, we can focus less on the nuances and put that energy into connecting with our clients and creating an authentic mood. Less is more. This is the mantra blasted on repeat when it comes to every aspect of photographing our male models and clients.
Men do not require any extra equipment or studio space. In fact, a single light source with about four feet of blank space is more than sufficient. Below is my go-to studio equipment.
- Full-frame Camera Body
- 35mm Lens, 50mm Lens, 85mm Lens
- Broncolor Siros 800 L Wi-Fi/RFS 2.1 Battery Powered 800 W/S Monolight
- Broncolor Beautybox 65 Softbox
- Glow 40” White Shoot-through Umbrella
- Avenger 40” Lightstand, 10’ Double Riser C-Stand, Chrome
- Savage Seamless Background Paper in Fashion Gray, 53” wide by 36’
- Savage Seamless Background Paper in Super White, 53” wide by 36’
- Savage Port-a-Stand Background Support System
Although imperfection is encouraged as previously stated, they should be well dressed. Men are a lot easier to style than women. You can never go wrong with a tailored suit or a good fitting pair of denim complimented by an attractive sports jacket. A sharp looking watch or hat also go a long way.
Simply put, if men feel like a million bucks they are going to photograph as such. It needs to look good but it doesn’t have to be pristine.
I have found that men easily tense up and their stiffness is only amplified when caught on camera. The best way to combat this is to always keep them moving and feeling comfortable. If they can emulate their GQ-esque hands together like the letter ‘A’ this is fabulous, although not a prerequisite. Have them play with their watch, adjust their tie or flare their sport jacket.
I will begin by directing my male models into a starting pose such as simply crossing their arms while getting comfortable and encourage them to move from there. It usually doesn’t take long for them to hit a striking frame and I will ask them to hold it.
If it becomes too static, I will ask them to take a few steps back and walk into frame with that same idea and help create a mood to make it all the more impactful. Once a sense of familiarity sets in it is easy to have them start shifting their weight from side to side and even go back and forth between poses for added fluidity.
Never underestimate the power of a simple conversation. Interact with them and keep the mood light on set as this will highlight their personality and make it easier to capture their essence. It also builds a strong rapport.
The lines in a man’s face as well as their bone structure are very appealing. We can accentuate these by directing them to bite down, furrow their brow, or simply give us a “what the hell” look. This is almost always followed suit by an immediate genuine smile and laughter, so be ready.
It’s all about the jawline. While not every client has features reminiscent of being carved out of ivory or chiseled from stone like a Greek God, this is perhaps the most important single detail to focus on.
I love controlled lighting and have found that a single monolight placed several feet away from them and angled down at approximately a 45-degree angle with or without a modifier is more than adequate. LED panels or a window are excellent for creating even, soft lighting.
My personal favorite is to work in an uncontrolled environment that yields a lot of contrast with punchy shadows as it translates impeccably well on camera. Not only is it a fun challenge, it elevates the overall frame by creating a mood and accentuating the subtleties such as the details of the clothing as well as the textures on the face.
Put It All together
The lack of laser-focus precision necessary to create impactful imagery unleashes the potential for a lot of creativity in our photography when it comes to capturing men. We can spend our time creating new challenges and rising up to meet them as well as honing in on the subtleties that matter.
Explore various moods and play around with movement paired with expression. This is a time to push past our boundaries, start learning to communicate empathically and organically build the overall image quality by playing off of the energy in the room.
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