When it comes to portrait photography, the key is to understand who your subject is and what is the narrative you are trying to bring across. Being able to convey the personality and emotions of people through still images is a tough challenge but it comes with a deeply satisfying reward.
An outgoing personality paired with a passion for music, Michelle Grace Hunder was naturally drawn to shooting portraits and music photography. She views one of her biggest takeaways from work is befriending people and connecting with them, largely benefiting her creative process. Taking her first steps into this world by following her rapper friends around with a camera, she now shoots press shots, album covers as well as live music events. These are her insights on drawing out the spark of her subjects as she captures those breathtaking moments.
Michelle shares that the key hurdle to taking great portraits is getting her subjects in the right mood. She mentions that “it can be sometimes challenging getting people to let their guard down and relax”, but adds that she has “learnt a few tricks along the way”.
One such trick is setting the ambience with music. A silent studio with just the buzzing of electronics creates an air of awkwardness and could possibly make your subjects feel discomfort and even bothered. By filling the gap with music, you soothe them into a more personable experience. As you leave them momentarily to set up your stations, the music also makes sure that they’re not just staring at you blankly.
For an additional layer of familiarity, Michelle suggests spending time interacting with your subjects and getting to know them. Having a cup of tea or coffee and sitting down for a chat prior to the shoot breaks the ice and gives you a better grasp of what you want to present.
The above point further lends itself to crafting the stylised package that the clients want. Michelle points out that “having many conversations” and “sharing visual references” makes sure they are on the same wavelength for the session. These could be through mood boards or Pinterest pages, guiding the atmosphere of the session.
During the actual photo shoot, two aspects stand out to Michelle and they become the emphasis of that session.
The first aspect being outstanding physical features such as interesting face or bone structures. By drawing attention to these unique features, this accentuates the unique identity of the subject. Playing off such features and taking shots from different angles and perspectives gives a photograph its focal point. In that vein, she even suggests experimenting with different textures, lightings and set ups, like long exposure shots and different lighting to spice things up! This can be taken further by allotting some time for free styling at the end of the session, where you can experiment with unconventional ideas that could yield amazing results!
The second aspect that gets Michelle excited is the innate energy of the subject. When the individual is naturally energetic, it allows her “to get a solid connection with the subject to get the best out of them for the shoot.” The critical descriptor being that it has to be natural. This keeps the feelings organic and allows the photographer to paint a clearer picture of the subject’s personality and beauty.
For equipment, she primarily uses the Nikon Z 6 with NIKKOR Z 14-30mm f/4 S, NIKKOR Z 24-70mm f/4 S, NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.4 S or NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.8 S. She also owns a Nikon D4 and pairs it with various NIKKOR prime lenses, with the AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G being her go-to for portrait photography.
Music photography is a saturated field, with talented photographers abound. For someone exploring any field, Michelle highly encourages building relationships and connections within the industry, such as artists and other professionals in the music industry. Immersing yourself into the scene and loving the happenings within that world is what sets you up for success in the long run.
While getting big gigs to shoot for bands or engaging with a wide clientele might not be where you are now, Michelle emphasises that portrait and music photography aren’t all about that. In the end, it’s most important to “shoot what you truly love and do personal projects.”
As you work your way up, look to stay inspired by the people around you, that is what will keep you going. Michelle found some of the most fulfillment especially working with the musician Ruel’s team, giving her the drive to continue delivering amazing quality photography.
Michelle has been drawn to portrait and music event photography for over 10 years, travelling and working with talented bands across Australia. Her zeal for music and extroverted personality fuels her passion for music and portrait photography, where she aims to bring out the natural beauty in her subjects.