Feeling Naked.

As a true portrait photographer, I must successfully bring out something real in my subjects. There is far more to this than an understanding of lighting, camera angles and settings. A big part of it is simply this: never forget what it is like to have the camera pointed at you. Lindsay Winchester, a photography student at Humber, is completing a placement with me as part of her course work, and one of her assignments is to make a portrait of the photographer supervising her placement. What a brilliant project – such an interesting play on power and vulnerability.

We did two set ups, and this first shot is from the beginning of our session. What I see in this photo, (and to me what makes this such a great assignment) is vulnerability. Lindsay and I both felt it in very different ways. As a 20 year old college student, she was self-concious shooting an experienced photographer. I was used to directing her, and with the roles reversed, I was restless and nervous, so my expressions and body language were somewhat stagnant and guarded. Lindsay asked me what poses I normally use to bring out people’s personalities. I had to think about this for a moment as I pictured myself in a session.

Here is what I told her.

I do not use poses. I use the natural body language of my subjects, and I use conversation. In order to engage and relax a person enough to be herself, you must help her forget the camera is there between the two of you. This is the greatest challenge.

As Lindsay continued to shoot and to give me smiles and positive feedback, I was able to relax and trust her. This next image is our favourite shot from the session. I like the light and her use of negative space. And most of all, I like the nuance she captured in my expression. It is always interesting for me to look at a photograph of myself taken by another photographer, because I can always see in it my reaction to that moment.  Here I see the sensitivity and vulnerability I must never forget in my own subjects, and the connection they eventually feel with me as they start to relax. Thank you Lindsay for a great experience and for this sensitive portrait.

Portrait #2 of Melanie Gillis by Lindsay Winchester

Introverts are great subjects too!



This week I did a literary portrait for Gail Gallant. Gail arrived at my studio on Wednesday feeling a little flustered and nervous about the session.  I could tell she was shy, guarded, and stressed about having her photo taken. We ended up having a great time though. She is a beautiful, expressive subject. She just needed casual upbeat conversation to feel more relaxed so she could forget about the camera on her and focus on our interactions.To me, the most important thing about making a good portrait is reading my subjects’ moods and personalities, and working with what they bring me.  Here is what Gail had to say about her experience:

“I’ve never liked having my picture taken. I prefer to be behind the camera, and being a fiction writer who spends a lot of time inside her own head, I tend to shy away from that sort of attention. When my literary agent told me I had to do this, it brought out my worst fears. I was worried the photo would capture something negative, that I would look tired or stressed or aging or self-conscious or timid or fake. I booked the session with Melanie, because something about her work caught my eye. During the session, she made me forget all about what I didn’t want to look like, or thought I should try to look like. Instead, she got me to trust in myself, with no second-guessing, and that is a quite a gift!”

~~ Gail Gallant

This portrait by Melanie Gillis was created to accompany Gail Gallant’s latest book, “Apparition”, scheduled for publication this coming September.

Portraits on the Beach in January – how sweet!

We are just back from Tamarindo, Costa Rica where we spent a luxurious week with fantastic people and did an amazing wedding. I don’t normally shoot weddings, but this was exceptional. Twenty fun people barefoot on the beach at sunset, and a week in tropical paradise. Val and Sam, You are awesome and your friends helped make our week. Thank you to everyone!

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