Portrait, Portrait of Britain

How to Shoot the Perfect Portrait: Francesca Allen

All images © Francesca Allen

As part of our new portrait competition, we're asking photographers about the allure of portraiture, how they connect with their subjects and the projects that influenced them the most

Portrait of Britain is inviting photographers to submit images that reflect the unique heritage and diversity of our country and show the face of modern Britain. 100 winning portraits will be selected for a public exhibition showcased nationwide in September 2016. DEADLINE TONIGHT – enter now.

We’re asking portrait photographers what goes into making the perfect portrait – this week we hear from Francesca Allen. 

In your view, what makes a compelling portrait?

Colours, emotion, movement. I like to see that the image was part of a wider story, rather than someone sitting on chair for half an hour. There’s no recipe for a perfect portrait. The most beautiful portraits are those with a thumb over the lens and a blinking subject – what could be more honest than that moment of accidental unawareness?

 

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What attracts you to a potential subject?

I’m fascinated by the different ways people react in front of the camera, either by becoming totally in control of themselves or regressing into shyness. It’s a way of learning about myself too. I think that’s why I photograph women – it’s an extended exploration of self-portraiture, and all of the different women I want to be. At the moment I’m interested in photographing couples; to see how they interact with each other while a camera is present, how close to their natural states of being alone together they can become. Once you push through the embarrassment you can get some really beautiful moments. 

 

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How do you connect with your subjects and gain their trust?

I’ve never found it much of an issue; I like to think I’m the opposite of an intimidating presence. I think some photographers work by shocking their subject, seeing how far they can push them. I like to gain someone’s trust so then I don’t have to push them. People are more willing to explore themselves in a comfortable environment, they open up and unlock themselves.

 

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What makes you turn to portraiture over other genres?

It’s a nice way to make new friends; it’s much easier to connect with someone with a camera in the middle. I’m quite shy when it comes down to it. I enjoy creating these very idealistic situations and spending time within that, creating something very beautiful to look at in real life and then a camera is my second priority.  Who wouldn’t want to pretend they live in a cactus field with loads of beautiful naked women for ten minutes?

 

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Tom Wood featured in a January 1999 issue of BJP

What’s your favourite portrait/series of a British person/people? What do you think it says about the country?

Tom Wood’s work is really special to me, especially his Men/Women books. I’ve never really thought much about it being specifically British, but the characters he photographs are so diverse. It’s not always a flattering representation but there’s something about that gritty realism that is appealing, although not something I try to emulate. I will always be a big fan of Corinne Day, and her work feels very personal to me. I think Corinne has created a pathway for a lot of photographers by allowing the fashion industry to understand a diaristic and approachable way of creating fashion imagery.

Find more of Francesca’s work here and follow her on Instagram.

Want millions of people nationwide to see your image? 100 winning portraits for a public exhibition to be showcased on JCDecaux digital screens nationwide – enter Portrait of Britain. Deadline extended: Saturday 2nd July 2016.