What Makes a Soulful Portrait?

what-makes-a-soulful-portrait.png

If you’ve been on my website before or follow me on Instagram, I’m sure you’ll have come across me talking about “Soulful Brand Portraits” a fair few times! But I don’t think I’ve ever really gone into detail about what this means, so today I wanted to share that with you and offer some tips for how you can ensure your brand photography’s got soul!

So, what’s a soulful portrait anyway?

When I reflect on the most memorable portraits of our time (by the greats, like Annie Leibovitz and Richard Avedon), those that have had a lasting impact on me, I notice that they have a few things in common.

The eyes are the window to the soul
— Shakespeare (I think!)

This quote sounds like a cliché, but isn’t it true that when you can really look into someone’s eyes in a photo, you feel like you’re getting a peek into who they are? A glimpse of their humanity? I think so.

 Career Coach and Business Strategist, Merlinda Francois

Career Coach and Business Strategist, Merlinda Francois

When I’m doing Personal Branding Photoshoots with my vibrant, creative clients, I always strive to capture a mixture of portraits where they’re looking into the camera (because eye contact builds trust and rapport) and other more candid shots of them looking away, laughing or doing something hands-on like working on their laptop or walking their dog! These more casual shots make for great social media content as they reflect your day-to-day life and will be relatable for your audience.

 Marketing and Blog Coach, Holly of A Branch of Holly

Marketing and Blog Coach, Holly of A Branch of Holly

All about the eyes

On a practical level, portraits that are more soulful and magnetic will invariably feature what are called “catch lights” in the eyes. This is that little sparkle that you see, sometimes in the shape of a studio light (a stretched-out square) or a window, or just a bright light with no real shape to it. This is what makes us look alive in our photos - if there is no catch light, we can look a bit like we aren’t, and we obviously don’t want that!

 Life Coach and Illustrator, Emma Lou

Life Coach and Illustrator, Emma Lou

If you’ve ever seen a photo of someone and something about it doesn’t sit right with you but you can’t put your finger on what exactly it is, there’s a good chance they’ll either have had no catch lights in their eyes, or they had one in one eye and not the other! It just leaves the viewer feeling a bit weird, and that’s definitely not what we’re going for when trying to connect with our ideal clients on the ‘gram!

I personally love backlit portraits, like the one below, but in putting my light source behind my subject, I risk them having dark eyes, so I make sure there is something in front of them to bounce the light back up to their face. In the example below, it’s a lake! But it could just as easily be a pale-coloured wall or pathway, or a reflector that I carry with me on photoshoots.

 Life Coach and Business Mentor, Sophie French

Life Coach and Business Mentor, Sophie French

Another good way to make sure you look really connected in your portraits, is to close your eyes for a moment (or two, and take some deep breaths while you’re there) and then open them again right before I press the shutter. This will not only help calm your nerves but it will bring you right back to the present moment and your connectedness will totally come across to anyone who sees the photo on your website or your email header.

Have a laugh

Genuine laughter is another sure-fire way to create a dynamic and warm portrait. This is why I spend a lot of my time on photoshoots taking the mickey out of myself! It’s my job to put you at ease and hold space for you to be your true self, really letting your guard down. When you can do that, you’re so much more likely to love yourself in your photos and feel like they’re an honest reflection of who you are. I promise!

 Fashion Brand Consultant, Elizabeth Stiles

Fashion Brand Consultant, Elizabeth Stiles

Shake it off

You may have noticed that lots of the examples in this blog post feature some subtle movement. It’s quite difficult to create a truly soulful portrait when you’re sitting perfectly still, as you can come across looking a bit stiff. What brings the most vibrant photos to life is the fact that there literally is life happening in them at the moment they were captured!

 Artist and Silk Scarf Designer, Danielle Neill

Artist and Silk Scarf Designer, Danielle Neill

I sometimes ask my clients to spin around (yes, you’ll feel stupid at first but it’s quite fun after a while!) because it makes the pictures more dynamic and forces your body to loosen up and relax. It’ll probably result in a few laughs too! I also recommend shaking out your limbs and lifting your shoulders up to your ears then dropping them back down a few times, to release the tension that we subconsciously hold there.

So, next time you’re shooting some new personal branding content for your social media, let your soul shine through and you’ll love the results!

Let’s recap my top tips:

  • Make sure you’ve got a little twinkle in your eyes and that they don’t look flat or like black holes! If the sun is behind you, angle yourself towards a pale surface (the street, a field, a light-coloured wall) to bounce some of the light back to your face and eyes.

  • Loosen up, shake off any tension and drop your shoulders to appear more relaxed, friendly and approachable.

  • Mess about and have a laugh, it’s the quickest way to a magnetic, soulful portrait!

 Branding Designer, Meg of Lemon and Birch

Branding Designer, Meg of Lemon and Birch

I hope that was helpful! Let me know what you learnt in the comments below, along with any questions you have about creating engaging social media content!

I always recommend sharing a mix of portraits and other complementary images that give an insight into your work, life and values. Check out this post for loads of ideas for adding personality to your non-portrait images, plus tips on how to design a beautiful feed that will attract your ideal clients!

And if you’d like to get yourself booked in for a soulful photoshoot with me, head over to this page and get in touch!