Shoot what sells (and a little of what you love, too)
There’s not always an overlap between what you want to shoot and what your client will buy. As always in life and business, there’s a compromise to make.

Imagine a Venn diagram, with ‘what you love to shoot’ in one circle, and ‘what sells’ in the other. I know of many full-time portrait photographers who prefer nothing more than shooting landscapes and wildlife. Unfortunately, they struggled to make a living from them, so they capture portraits as their main source of income and shoot everything else as a hobby.

I’m lucky. It’s always been people that I’ve wanted to photograph. I feel like I’ve got the best job in the world, because I get to spend all day doing what I love. Nevertheless, there’s a little more nuance to it than that.
Miserable award-winners
On the MasteringPortraitPhotography.com forum, one of our members asked why so many award-winning portraits featured subjects that looked… well, miserable. Indeed, the image that won me Studio Portrait of the Year features a very intent and serious-looking man, explorer Alex Bellini.

When we’re in the salesroom with clients, we know they’ll often skip over or respond negatively to a portrait with an unhappy subject. So why are you more likely to win an award with a portrait that the family probably wouldn’t even buy?

Like many photographers, I almost always prefer enigmatic pictures like this one of Grace. People’s eyes are at their biggest and their cheekbones most defined when their facial expression is sad or neutral. And the narrative of the shot is more intriguing. An image like this draws me in, both to Grace’s beauty and her state-of-mind. I’m wondering, ‘What’s going on in her head? What is she thinking about?

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Happy families
However, there’s an exception. There’s one time I really don’t want to see sad or neutral portraits, and that’s when my own family are in them.

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