I stumbled upon something interesting the other day. Sitting at the back of my cupboard was an old photo album, full of pictures shot by my dad with his film roll camera. It was a portrait of my babysitter. Although I don't have any memories of him, his portrait conveyed a thousand of them. In that moment, I realised how underrated portraits are in today's world. Portraits are a dying art form (in my opinion), especially in a world where taking a selfie has become the norm, thanks in no small part to advances in mobile phone camera technology. While there's nothing wrong in taking selfies and posting them on social media, it's the charm of portraits that we are missing out on. Portraits are more than mere pictures. They're portals that let you dive into the world of the subject. They don't capture eyes, but emotions; not faces, but stories; not postures, but personalities. While it may seem easy to click a picture of someone, a true portrait requires the photographer to connect with the subject rather than the subject with the machine (camera). To quote the iconic 20th century photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, "The most difficult thing for me is a portrait. You have to try and put your camera between the skin of a person and his shirt." To delve into the world of portrait photography, and understand why portraits are such a deep reflection of human emotions, we spoke to Mumbai-based portrait photographers Mihir Thakkar (@themihirthakkar) and Nihal (@tintedtakes) on what it means to take portraits in a selfie world.  

What attracts you to portrait photography?


Nihal: Although I’ve always played around with cameras, I wasn’t involved in photography professionally. One day, my sister, who was pursuing a career in design, asked me to help with a portfolio shoot. That’s when I decided to stand behind the camera and capture faces. I haven’t looked back since then.

Mihir: As weird it might sound, I got into portrait photography because of my love for street and nature photography. I’d always have a friend accompany me when I’d go shooting. Eventually, I started clicking pictures of my friends in these different locations. That’s when it clicked and I realised that portrait photography is what I’d like to draw my efforts to.

How important is it to build a rapport with the subject of your portrait?


N: A true portrait depicts the raw emotions of the subject. Hence, building a rapport with the subject of the shoot will help your portrait to convey the emotions effortlessly. I always take a friend along to help break the ice with the subject and build a more comfortable atmosphere for him/her. If the subject still finds it a bit difficult to express their emotions, giving them an imaginary scenario to react to usually does the trick.

M: Yes, it does help in bringing out the real emotions. In my case, I make it a habit to have a brief conversation with my subjects before the shoot. It makes the subject feel comfortable and more interactive during the shoot.

What is the one underrated aspect of shooting a portrait which photographers seem to miss out on?


M: First of all, it’s essential to know that you don’t need an expensive rig for a great outcome. You just need to believe that the camera you have is the best camera. Also, it’s utterly essential to study light dynamics for portraiture photography. And lastly don’t forget to experiment and add refreshing elements to your pictures. I personally experiment with ‘motion’ in my shoots. The addition of motion in terms of a movement or a gesture by the subject makes the picture more pleasing and immersive to the viewers.

Which side of the portraits vs selfie fence do you sit on?


N: As a portrait photographer, I’m biased towards portraits. They are more effective in bringing out the human character and emotions in a way that selfies probably never can.

M: While portraits have existed since cameras were invented, selfies are a fad of recent times. While I don’t particularly dislike selfies, I just think that adding filters and clicking selfies is a very conscious effort at how you want people to see you. On the other hand, portraits are very natural pieces of art that really depict the subject in an open and a vulnerable manner. It’s definitely more true and expressive.

A lot of people have ditched professional cameras for 'convenient' smartphone cameras, which also take some really enticing portraits. Your thoughts on it?


N: The choice of equipment lies with the photographer. If I don’t want to spend a fortune on buying a camera rig, I’d certainly choose a phone. But there’s no doubt about that a professional camera is superior.  A portrait taken on a smartphone owes its virtues to the phone’s software processing. And software processing is miles away from what actual solid hardware can reproduce. For starters, a professional camera doesn’t lose quality when you zoom in, allows you to shoot with different picture profiles, has much better colour reproduction and detailed shadows and allows you to swap lenses for varying picture environments. These are just some of the aspects where a smartphone can’t keep up with its professional counterpart.

What's in your camera bag?


N:  I currently use a Sony A6500 with a 30mm sigma lens for all my shoots. Also, you’ll always find a couple of hard drives in my camera bag which I use to back-up all my work.

M: You can find a Canon 5D Mark III and a 24-70mm lens in my camera bag and they are the most essential part of my gear.


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