Staged portrait photography is something that seems to cause a lot of confusion. What exactly is staged portrait photography? I suppose in reality any portrait is going to be staged in the technical sense. Someone gazing directly into the camera at the direction of the photographer is, I suppose, being staged.
But when I talk about staged portrait photography I’m talking about something a little more than simple direction for posture or gaze. I’m talking about either integrating some sort of prop and/or directing something to look like a single moment captured from a larger event even though the event being represented is not actually taking place.
I’m not necessarily talking about something as elaborate as Ryan Schude’s amazing Tableaux Vivants which are basically photos containing several portraits and stories sliced from a larger chunk of life and frozen at the moment. His amazing photos can contain a cast of dozens in a single location and tell several different stories in a single frame. His work displays a complexity way beyond anything that I would even think about attempting. Though not portraiture in the classic sense, they are portraits all the same.
What I’m talking about is pretty basic stuff that can add interest. For example, this shot:
During a Krav Maga class in a public park I asked a couple of the instructors to ham it up a bit with something I had in mind. During the whole time, it was raining off and on with dark clouds rolling in and out. I thought that this would be a perfect time to do something to really accent the ominous clouds punctuated by the clear sky in the distance. Where we were standing was nearly dark as night, yet the the background was bright.
I had someone hold a single speed light camera left and asked these guys to pose for a shot; think kitschy surrealism. I was thinking it would be cool to try to make it look not quite real; maybe like something done in a studio or movie set so I popped off a few shots and liked this one the best. It really does look like something done on a set with a big background hanging on a wall.
No, it’s not overly elaborate by any means but it’s definitely staged, hence staged portrait photography.
Another staged photo. Again, I’m not talking way elaborate stuff here:
I wanted this to replicate shoot house training. A little bit of a challenge since I was doing this in my little basement with tiled floors, white walls and a low ceiling. I leaned a 4 foot x 7 foot piece of faux brick wall paneling against the wall as a backdrop, hung a shemagh scarf from a C-stand with a couple of clamps and put a speed light behind it with some yellow gel. Camera left, I placed another speed light pointing at the wall for some bounce light to fill in the shadows a bit.
I then handed my wife my cleared and safety checked Sig P320 and we went to work.
Again, though not overly elaborate, this is definitely a staged portrait.
I suppose that I would go so far as to say that any photograph that has any input from the photographer regarding placement, behavior or posing of a subject is staged.