Designer Alexander McQueen and fashion stylist Isabella Blow in a portrait session for Vanity Fair Magazine. Published Image. (Photo by David LaChapelle/Contour by Getty Images)

How does one become a portrait photographer? Patience, perseverance.

June 26, 2013 | By Elodie Mailliet Storm | Art Of Photography, How-to

Photograph by David LaChappelle/Contour by Getty Images)

Being a portrait photographer has to be one of the coolest jobs on the planet. Every day they shoot, they make the dare of meeting someone and having them reveal themselves to them and the world through their camera.

Sometimes, their subjects will be famous and the challenge will be to try and make a connection, uncover something about these publicized faces that has not been seen before, shed a new light on their identity through impression or reconstruction, all of that in a very limited and controlled period of time.

Oftentimes and maybe even more thrilling, the people will be anonymous and the work will be to gain their confidence, get them to open up and receive this incredible gift of one’s trust.

Beyond that, portraits can also tell of so much more than the people in the photographs who are acting as mirrors to complex social realities and can serve as testaments to history in a similar way as reportage photography.

But how does one become a portrait photographer?

Amy Winehouse by Harry Benson

Amy Winehouse (Photo by Harry Benson)

The road is usually long and arduous. It takes many years of assisting, learning the ropes about lighting, setups, gear, technology, economics, how to archive, etc… And then of course it requires a lot of shooting, all the time, at first on their own dime. In addition and maybe equally important, It demands a lot, and I mean a lot of patience and perseverance to finally get meetings with editors to possibly get that first, second and third assignments that will help launch their career. And once they’re starting to get some regular jobs, they have to keep investing in more drive space, assistants, possibly a studio, new equipment.

“The greatest thrill and challenge,” says legendary portrait photographer Harry Benson, “is to learn to use the new technology. There is something new every day.”

Beyond technical advances they have to follow, photographers also have to keep their work growing, keep exploring and finesse their own voice. “The challenge is to take a photograph that people stop and look at and that you stop and look at. For basically it is you who should be satisfied with your own work,” Benson says.

And of course, there will be the many disappointments of meetings cancelled, shoots going to other photographers, images that just don’t quite work for whatever reason and subjects just not willing to cooperate.

In short it takes focus, patience and money to become a successful portrait photographer.

The field of portraiture, however prevalent in today’s media world, with popular faces gracing the cover of a majority of magazines and many advertising campaigns, seems bizarrely often forgotten in terms of funding for emerging talent. The majority of grants available seemingly going to reportage and fashion photography.

That is why we decided to launch the new Contour by Getty Images portrait prize. The prize is aimed at advancing the career of an emerging photographer regardless of age by not only awarding $10,000 in cash but also by offering the chance for this photographer to get their work exhibited at Polka Galerie in Paris in October.

A distinguished panel of professionals in the world of photography will review the entries including famed photographer Peter Lindbergh, who will be presiding the jury this year, Alain Genestar, founder and editor-in-chief of Polka, Jean-Jacques Naudet founder and editor-in-chief of La Lettre de La Photographie, Laurence Vecten, Director of Photography at Glamour magazine and George Mohamed Cherif, founder and president of Buzzman agency.

The applications will be open from June 13th through August 5th.
For all details, click here.

Hilary Clinton by Diana Walker

Hilary Clinton (Photo by Diana Walker)

Jay-Z (Photo by Danny Clinch)

Jay-Z (Photo by Danny Clinch)

Ai Wei Wei (Photo by Jonathan Becker)

Ai Wei Wei (Photo by Jonathan Becker)

Minka Kelly by Yu Tsai

Minka Kelly (Photo by Yu Tsai)

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