How to Take Great Photos of Women
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Taking great photos of women relies hugely on great understanding. It is vital to understand your subject, whatever you are photographing, in order to get the best out of them, and no more so than with women. Women are probably the most self-critical people to photograph, and I should know, I've photographed over 10,000 of them throughout my career! Even models think they are fat, so there is no hope for us mere mortals!
When I first started photography I specialised in women, because it was a subject close to my heart. I wanted a photo of myself, and just couldn't get what I wanted. In those days there were two photographic options for women, end up looking like your mother, or take your clothes off! It was the brown canvas background and a set of pearls, or simply very tacky. I knew women wanted more than this - they wanted to look like models - so I worked out how to do this with the help of my then business partner with the lighting, and my sister with the make up and hair styling, and the results launched my career. We appeared on 12 TV programmes in the first year, and every national newspaper and magazine, and were totally swamped by the response.
The reason we were successful is because we understood what women wanted, and 20 years later there is a whole new generation of women out there, still wanting to look fabulous and still thinking they can't! There is a major difference today however, in women's concept of photography. Up until a few years ago, most women hated themselves on photos - now that is all changing. I have seen this in my own 17 year old daughter, who together with her friends uses every opportunity to dress up, take photos of themselves and post them on Facebook. So the next generation will, I feel, be much more confident about having their photo taken.
However, most people over the age of 30 still think they are unphotogenic; if they look bad on a photo they assume it's because "they don't take a good photo". This is simply not true - with the right lighting, make up, care and attention, anyone can look fantastic on a photo.
So how do you take great photos of women? Here are 10 top tips:
1. Make sure you spend a lot of time getting to know your subject prior to the shoot; it is crucial to develop a relationship with them, to gain their trust and confidence. This may be through phone calls, or an initial meeting.
2. Photographing women is 90% psychology and 10% technique - it is vital you understand that their issues are real. If they tell you they hate their teeth/hair.skin/eyes/height etc, then even if you can't see a single blemish - you have to realise that is all they will focus on, so you need to be aware of this. I always say "well, I think your teeth look great; and you haven't mentioned your fantastic hair - it's gorgeous and we need to really make the most of it". Most women will not tell you what they like about themselves, so you will build up their confidence if you mention it.
3. You will notice I have not mentioned cameras, or photographic techniques yet - this is because I cannot over-emphasise how important it is that you get to understand your subject - it is this part that will pay off hugely when you start to shoot.
4. Talk through clothes, and try and find outfits which will flatter them. Tight tops will not look good when she sits down, no matter how slim she is. Look for jackets and tops which cover the arms, to place emphasis on the face.
5. V necked tops work much better than polo necks, or round necks, as a v neck elongates the neck, and is therefore more flattering.
6. A white t shirt under a top is great for reflecting light back into the face, black has the opposite effect and can be aging. Pushing up sleeves makes arms look longer and slimmer.
7. Treat the whole experience as a fashion shoot; get them excited by the prospect of their own personal fashion shoot - talk about great locations you can use, and where you can have coffee and lunch breaks - this will really help them to relax because they feel you are giving them time, and working together to create great photos - you're going on an adventure!
8. Positioning is hugely important - practice on a friend - move around them and see where they look best - move their legs, head, arms etc until you see where they look most flattering. Shoot from above - makes a big difference if their eyes are looking up at you. Only stunning models with great jaw lines look good from below.
9. If your subject is very overweight - and is not happy with this, do not photograph her full length - she will hate it. You can get some great shots just using head and shoulders, by lying her on the floor and missing out her body. Just keep changing clothes and locations to vary the shots.
10. Ask your subject to stretch, or lean forward, so they look relaxed but more taut - makes a big difference.
I hope these few tips help, but it is very difficult to explain how to do this without actually showing you! There are more tips in my book "99 Portrait Photo Ideas" available from www.annabelwilliams.com, and we also run a dedicated course, using real women, called "How to make women look fantastic", which will transform your photography for normal women ( not models, who do not need the same techniques!).
Annabel Williams' reputation as both a world class photographer and an outstanding tutor is recognised across the globe. Her warm enthusiasm, coupled with an incredibly intuitive approach, is and always has been the driving force behind her very personal and unique style of innovative yet contemporary award winning portraiture.
She brings to her work an imagination and insight which is rare among even the finest professionals, all of which has contributed to her outstanding performance in her genre and it is these qualities which command Annabel so much respect from her peers.
No stranger to both TV and the press, Annabel is also the author of several books on her subject. Her passionate viewpoint engages everyone in a highly enthusiastic exchange of ideas and creativity.
Alongside her business partner Catherine Connor, Annabel also runs Contemporary Photographic Training (CPT) – a dedicated training centre in the Lake District, which runs a comprehensive range of workshops and seminars from ‘getting started’ right through to the prestigious ‘Bespoke Programme’ for aspiring professionals.
All images in this article © Annabel Williams