How I Rediscovered My Creativity for Portraiture

All photos © Sue Bryce

(Editor’s Note: Exploring Light is a monthly Shutterbug column featuring tips, tricks, and photo advice from professional photographers in Canon Explorers of Light education program. This month's column is by Sue Bryce on how she regained her inspiration by putting a few things into motion. Sue Bryce Education is offering free access to dozens of online classes during the week of April 18-24. Register for free here.

Having been a portrait photographer for 30 years, I distinctly recall a moment in my career when I had built a successful business and really started to master my craft, yet I felt uninspired and frankly, bored.

I realized the hunger to learn my craft was beginning to fade and I felt like I was wilting creatively. As I continued to focus on clients and my business, I became more complacent creatively and let my business consume me. One thing I learned is that you can’t ignore the artist that created all this in the first place.

I think this column is more about sharing a creative exercise that helped me find my creative me again. And, as it turns out, the result of this exercise is now something I incorporate into my daily work. I hope it sparks your creative thinking and helps you find your creative self too.

Putting Things into Motion
My relationship with movement has always inspired me. I love creating different ways of capturing it and I try to put a little bit of motion in most of my images. I love the energy and element of interest it adds to a portrait.

My interest in motion began with a simple hair dryer into my client’s hair. Then I began adding other elements including light chiffon to capture dynamic movement and dance styled portraits. I started to purchase chiffon in lots of colors for the studio. It is very affordable, easy to wash, and extremely versatile. The translucence is perfect to back light and can be used for draping gowns, throwing fabrics for boudoir, nude, and maternity images.

Experiment with Shutter Speed
I also like to experiment with slower shutter speeds between 1/40 and 1/100, but if the focus on the face is compromised I will shoot with a faster shutter speed and add motion blur to the fabrics in post-production. I like to track focus and move with the client but it is a hit or miss proposition with someone dancing or twirling fabric so while my client looks like they’re in full motion, I keep the movement isolated so it’s easy to shoot. I do this by posing and directing them into positions that look engaged and active and then I have my assistant throw fabric around them.

As a portrait photographer I try never to shoot under 1/100 unless I am intentionally looking to add motion or blur. However, the magic of motion should only be incorporated into the shot if it accentuates the primary focus point of the image – your subject’s face.

Create Layers and Have Fun
Most recently I have been hanging varying layers of chiffon over a backdrop stand to create a “tunnel” made of fabric. Placing my subject inside the fabric tunnel, I use a floor fan to blow the fabric around my subject to create multiple layers of tones that shift with the light.

in the end, the idea is to have fun and experiment. You don’t need expensive studio props or industrial fans to create something fun and interesting. A simple hair dryer can create really great effects and as you continue to experiment you will begin to add your own creative touches to the shot.

If you are interested in learning more about traditional portraiture techniques, including lighting, posing, and more, visit my website. During the week of April 18-24, all classes at Sue Bryce Education will be available for viewing for free.

With over 30 years of experience, Sue Bryce is one of the most recognizable photographers in the imaging industry. New Zealand born and raised, Bryce now lives and works in Los Angeles. Her contemporary glamour portrait style transcends past stereotypes and has changed the face of portrait photography.

In 2014, Bryce created her own ground-breaking educational platform – Sue Bryce Education – which she uses to mentor and empower thousands of photographers and businesses internationally with her signature techniques shared through videos, live workshops, and her annual The Portrait Masters Conference.

Bryce has been a member of Canon’s Explorers of Light program since 2015. You can see more of her work at the links below.