Perfecting the art of the portrait by Christian Anderl

Canon Explorer Christian Anderl, a keen musician and talented chef, is also an international photographer who specialises in commercial portrait photography. He has a great client list including Red Bull, Ikea and Universal.

Here we share his views on photography and how he works with his subjects to create interesting portraits.

Your biggest challenge as a portrait photographer

"So often, you place someone in front of a camera, but they instantly stiffen up. It is probably because they’re conscious you may be expecting something – perhaps they’re not comfortable enough or they don’t know how to perform for the camera. The challenge really begins before your subject steps in front of the lens. As a photographer, you need to connect with your subject so you can create an intimate moment that reveals someone’s personality."

Capturing personality or a true likeness

"Sometimes the preparation takes more time than the shoot itself. Make sure your subject is relaxed before your start shooting – it helps to find out what their passion is. Perhaps it is their kids and family, sports, camping... Find out what makes them feel good and what they love talking about. This will be helpful when your subject steps in front of the camera – talking helps people to stay comfortable while you concentrate on lighting and the technical bits. Your chat beforehand will probably give you an insight into your subject and help you get a better portrait too.

"Always let your subject have a look at what you’ve taken – make sure there’s a portrait they’re happy with that also makes them feel good about the experience."

Why portraits are so rewarding

"It’s simple – if you love people you’ll love the challenge and experience of taking portraits. You never know who you’re going to meet or what someone will be like and taking portraits can teach you a lot about people as well as photography. No matter how cool someone appears they always carry an insecurity of sorts inside – this is what people often think about when they’re being photographed. Maybe they’re afraid their portrait will reveal what they’re insecure about. It’s your job to give them a good reason to trust you. It’s so rewarding to see someone gain confidence from a portrait you’ve taken."

Günter-Tolar-Christian-Anderl.jpg
Günter Tolar - © Christian Anderl - Canon EOS 5D Mark II with a Canon EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens; the exposure was 1/125s at f/10, ISO 100.

"The warm-up for this portrait was fairly straightforward – Günter Tolar was a TV presenter for years and is really used to being photographed. Yet this can actually be a challenge. If your subject is a celebrity or is used to photographers and cameras, they can easily get bored or pose in the same way they always have. Luckily, Günter is a very nice guy and it was pretty easy for me to connect with him.

"We spent about 30 minutes in the studio, chatting about his job, his life and his experiences in the media industry. I explained to him in detail what I wanted the portrait to look like – I wanted it in black and white and I wanted to emphasise the character of his face and wrinkles with a lot of contrast.

"In short, I wanted a very intimate character portrait that somehow told all the stories and experiences of his life. He was fine with this and we started shooting serious expressions, mainly because most of his portraits have featured him smiling. He wanted some serious portraits and we liked what came out of the camera. But the best one was that moment when I messed up and he was not smiling, but laughing at me. That was a very sincere and honest moment and I’m really glad I pressed the shutter and captured it. We went for unsmiling portraits and ended up with a laugh. Things never turn out the way you expect and sometimes that is the best thing that can happen to you!

"Outside of the studio, a shoot can be quite different, as people are not that aware of all the lights and camera bits. In the studio where there is nothing but lights, the camera and you, your subject may only concentrate on those things, which can make it harder to create a relaxing environment. On the other hand, not enough concentration can make it harder to capture an honest moment and character, especially if there are too many other people around. It really depends on your subject, more so than your environment. Every person is different and reacts differently to cameras, lights and photographers.

"Wherever you shoot your portrait, the most important thing is to connect with your subject. I usually only pick up my camera when I really need to. The camera is a tool we need to use for portraits, but if you always have it in your hands or in front of your face, you will struggle to connect to your subject. This connection is key for every great portrait."

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