It’s the idea that counts

What makes a good portrait photo? Good light? The clever use of flash guns? A complicated technical solution? Well, all of these things can help, but as David Hobby has pointed out today, the most inspirational photographs are often those where the lighting plan doesn’t play a major role; those where the idea and aim of the picture takes the lead. I wrote a little while back on the Swiss Strobist blog about the importance of planning a photo shoot and with an upcoming portrait session with several models on Sunday (my last major shoot of the year), my photographic thoughts are all about ideas for unusual portraits.

The photo above is of a friend from work, for whom I shot a series of portraits around Zürich a couple of weeks ago. While I was glad to get the chance to exercise my lighting techniques, my ideas for the shoot – which took in several varied locations – were prepared without lighting plans in mind. This photo was conceived on the spur of the moment, combining a vague idea I’d planned in advance of allowing my friend to show her tap dancing skills in an urban environment; taking two elements of her life as a dancer and resident of Zürich and combining them to create an unusual image. The lighting plan for the shot was secondary: in this case, a single flash light on a tall stand, to emulate the spotlight effect more usually seen on a stage.