Why I love urban portrait photography – and you should too

Over the years, using a city or town centre as a portrait location has become my trademark style. Admittedly, urban portrait photography is challenging because a photographer has to control light in constantly changing conditions. Weather can be often unpredictable – sometimes you have to re-schedule  because of heavy showers or a snow storm. Also it’s difficult to plan in minute details because someone’s car happens to be parked right on the spot you eye-balled for the shoot a day earlier. It’s not for weak-hearted either – a crowd of well-meaning onlookers can gather around if you don’t move your clients to the next location fast enough.

Nevertheless, as a genre urban portraits are extremely rewarding both to a photographer and the people being photographed. Instead of a predictable and boring studio background, images can incorporate recognisable landmarks or resonant locations which would become family heirlooms.

Urban elements are ephemeral by nature. One week I photographed an engaged couple next to a cosmetics company poster. The poster was replaced soon making this opportunistic snap unrepeatable, and thus unique to these young people.

You learn to embrace serendipity. Thus boys in the pub doorway who whistle at your model are included to provide context. There are no stiff poses, it’s easier to be captured in movement. You can improvise, walk, jump, dance hip hop across the road from a busy business district. Be creative!

You are drawn to peeling paint and graffiti for added character. You match patterns in your subjects’ clothes with those on loading bay shutters.  You play with bright primary wall colours and avoid boring trees – after all a tree is a tree, greens are not as memorable or exciting…

You move from one place to another and a string of locations contribute to the emerging screenplay, each a new set. As you move your subjects relax and their body language becomes more natural and expressive.

You love hard light for its shadows. You love soft light for its atmosphere. You welcome the sun flair running parallel to the street as a compositional element. And you say thank your to a setting sun outlining figures as silhouettes.

So do you love urban portraits as much as I do?

If you do and you live in Dumfries – there is only one month left to take part in a ‘time for files’ open volunteer model call for URBAN PORTRAITS DUMFRIES project. The project will run for a year by invitation only. Until the end of September it’s open to anyone, bith individuals and families. It’s free and places are still available. It’s easy to join and you can schedule your session online in minutes. Go on – you know you want it!

Schedule your urban portrait session!

A couple against the London Eye

Incorporating recognisable landmarks is one of the benefits of urban portrait photography

A couple with a poster background

Ephemeral elements

A business district used as an urban portrait background

A business quarter used as a urban background

Two pub goers looking at a girl passing on the street

Embracing serendipity

A model sitting against a weathered wall

Rich with textures

Urban portrait including horizontal patterns and hard light

Working with hard light and found patterns

A shadow on bright red wall

Finding striking colours

Sun flair parallel to the street line as urban portrait photography element

Welcoming the sun flair

A couple walking on the bridge at sunset

Silhouette at sunset