A lesson in portrait photography and pursuing creative goals

Ever wanted to do something creative but felt too intimidated to try? That’s how I felt a few months ago. You see, a friend was looking for someone to take her portrait. I wanted to photograph her but there were three problems.

1. I didn’t have a camera. All I use these days is an iPhone and a point & shoot camera. Sure, I’d love a DSLR. It just seems like there would be too much to learn again and it has been in the “when I get time and money” basket.

2. I didn’t have the confidence. Even if I got my hands on a DSLR, what would I know about directing a portrait, let alone using a DSLR?

3. I thought somebody else would do a better job than me….even though, quietly, I had a hunch my background studying and years working in creative media would give me a significant advantage. Without the equipment, training and practice, I simply didn’t trust myself to take a professional portrait for my friend.

So, I did what I could, I contacted a few photographers and passed on a couple of quotes. Secretly, I still wished I had enough confidence to take that photo. I needed someone to give me a head-start,

One of the quotes I passed on was from Portrait Photographer Gina Milicia. Gina took a look at my Instagram and Flickr pics, encouraged and convinced me that she could mentor me to take my friend’s portrait. Me? Was she sure?

With a handful of hope, a glint of excitement and a bucketload of trepidation, we set a time and I headed along to Gina’s Studio. I held her lovely Canon EOS 5D Mark II in my hands  (yes…stressful!) and at first…I felt like an imposter. This was the first time I had held a DSLR camera…ever! The last time I used a SLR camera was back in the ’90s and the amount of dials and numbers on this DSLR camera looked like the dashboard of a cockpit. Gina was fabulous at explaining how the camera worked, asked me about my personal portrait style (I showed her an inspiration board in Evernote) and then she left the rest up to me to direct, gently guiding me and showing me how to improve. She was my “personal trainer” for a few quick hours.

And the results? I was stunned. I could only tell Gina later on that her mentoring session “freaked me out, in a good way!”.

That’s because – as corny as it sounds – a lifetime of creative work and inspiration was finding its way back into my fingertips as I was shooting. Memories of time spent as a teenager doing work experience on the sets of popular children’s TV shows. Memories of making my first short films and trying (failing) to direct talent. The more recent memories of life drawing group and observing the way our tutor gently directs the model into a the perfect pose….so many memories flooding back and going “click” in my head as I directed my friend (who was very patient with me!) to get that “perfect portrait”. I wanted to take a photo which captured her personality, beauty and strength but also honed in on a particular style I’d like to develop.

First of all…we used natural light diffused through frosted windows in a warehouse studio. The background…well take a look for yourself….

We shot in RAW instead of JPEG. We used a tripod because of the low-aperture look I wanted to achieve. Here are a few results. This was taken using an 85mm 1.2 lens.
Jasmin12__1335    Jasmin12__1252

We changed lenses and moved to create a different mood, something a bit more creative and dramatic. These were taken using the 70 – 200mm 2..8 L IS lens, which I preferred because I could also zoom in and out.


The next step for me is to learn some post production to fine-tune the photographs. Gina was kind enough to process a couple using Adobe Lightroom. This is how they turned out…
  headshot smile



Don’t you think she looks fab? And…WOW! Thank you so much Gina for helping me to begin my DSLR journey this way! I was so happy with the results. I might even take my photography a little seriously. Now all I need is a good second-hand camera, a tripod, a few willing models and a whole lot of experience so that I can feel confident and proud of my photographs (yes, bit of a perfectionist talking here!) I can’t recommend her mentoring enough for someone who wants to feel confident about their photography again. I learned so much in 4 hours.

The whole experience made me realise that sometimes,  you just need someone to equip you to take the next big step to achieve your creative goal. You never know what the results might be. You might even be pleasantly amazed.

What’s one creative goal you would like to achieve next year? Who could mentor you so that you have a head-start?