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Context and motion in your photos

The subject’s relation to its surroundings changes depending on the use of motion, stillness, and props, and becomes the foundation upon which the artist makes a statement with her or his final work. Different choices can make the subject jar against its environment, or blend into it.

props Intervals (2011)
Here, a hint of surrealism is added to the scene by duplicating the original clock hands.
When you list the aspects that need to be considered when taking a photographic portrait and break them down into an order that makes sense, you will notice that the process will never be as linear as it might appear. There might well be logistical and aesthetic preparations to be made beforehand for the location, equipment, lighting, and styling of the shoot, but stressing about planning the actual content of the portrait, down to the very last detail, can be counter-productive. You should always be open to new possibilities and experiences when on location.


Although many photographers use studios to highly creative effect, others can find their minds boggled and their drive and inspiration reduced to inertia by the blank canvas of a studio. For these photographers, the preference is often to choose a location in which there are limits to work with, and that will provide a higher chance of producing a portrait that will relate to the viewer in a stronger way than a setup that is obviously completely contrived. You might, then, notice a merging of the contrived with the candid, and hence the real with the surreal. Look out for ‘ready-made’ locations, too whether they be within your own home or garden, an abandoned building with peeling wallpaper and rotting floors, or a forest with natural depth and a backdrop upon which you can set a few props.
Props are hugely beneficial in building or extending the narrative of a portrait beyond the surface, but at the same time you need to find the appropriate place for props in a composition so they do not burden the frame or break the shape constructed within it. Attractive props can sometimes be misleading. There is an art to knowing exactly how best to incorporate objects into a portrait; it is generally best to use them to add something to the narrative and embellish the scene, but without cluttering it or detracting from the subject unless the prop is particularly interesting.
The most effective props are often those with which a model can easily interact, for example an object they can hold naturally. Outfits and accessories can become stimulating shapes within themselves in a portrait. Do not be shy of using larger props, either. However, larger objects can also prove the most difficult to work with effectively. They often require the photographer to back away to shoot them in their entirety, which means it then proves difficult to get close enough to the model to create an intimate portrait incorporating the prop.


Some images can involve motion caught or frozen. Others have implied motion where the subject is simply holding an action pose, or action intentionally or partially blurred in-camera.
motion Crosswinds (2009)
This semi-sepia-toned self-portrait is an example of using motion as well as multiplicity in an image. The movement was created by the wind making the dress billow out and create this striking shape.
Motion or implied motion is not always appropriate, but often it’s a good option to try, even just as an idea while warming up at the beginning of a shoot.
Creative Portrait Photography by Natalie Dybisz offers an extensive behind-the-scenes look at the creative process of one of today’s most exciting and popular professional portrait photographers and gives you everything you need to step up your portrait photography to take photos that express the style and personalities of both you and your subjects. With over 150 portraits and a showcase chapter featuring work from five top portrait photographers explaining how each shot was achieved, you’ll be inspired to take your portrait photography to a whole new level of creativity.

Creative Portrait Photography, Natalie DybiszCreative Portrait Photography
Natalie Dybisz

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RRP for print edition: £17.99