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July 22, 2014

Learn why portrait maestro Andre Hermann loves Lumia

We all love taking photos of people. So perhaps it’s no surprise that portrait photography was one of the first photographic genres to gain real popularity.


In fact, people already started to favour photos over paintings in the 19th century. Not only were they cheaper, but also you didn’t have to sit still for so long. Of course, the style of these early works reflected the technical challenges associated with long exposure times and the painterly aesthetic of the time. In the 170 years since Louis Daguerre’s Daguerreotype photographic process set the world alight, many things have changed, both in terms of technology and the way we take pictures. Yet some people still love shooting portraits, which look as timeless as those very first images.

One such man is documentary photographer André Hermann from San Francisco bay area. André, a member of the marvellous collective of mobile and social creatives Grryo, his work has been featured in places like the New York Times Lens Blog, Travel & Leisure magazine’s travel blog and Creative Quarterly magazine. Now he’s hooked up with us here on Conversations to share some of his work, his thoughts on what makes a portrait really pop and why your Lumia is such a great smartphone for shooting them.

1. You’re a master of the smartphone portrait. What, in your opinion, makes smartphones especially good for this genre of photography?

What makes smartphones good for portraiture is the compact, unintimidating size, and unique physical appearance compared to other more traditional cameras. Working on my current portrait project, most of the people I have met and worked with were surprised to see I was using the Lumia 1020 to make their portrait rather than a traditional DSLR. This was a great icebreaker that I believe helped them to relax and ultimately think about the camera less.

Another feature that makes smartphones so great for portraiture, especially in my case, is that I can show them how I process their final image after I’ve finished making their portrait. They would then receive their email shortly after via email.


2. Renowned portrait photographer Richard Avedon once said “My portraits are more about me than they are about the people I photograph.” How do your portraits reflect you as a person and as a photographer?

I wouldn’t go as far as to say the portraits I make are more about me than my subjects. That sounds very selfish to me, as if I am more important than the subject. That is just not the case. Anyone who knows me well will agree. I ask them to make a portrait with me. They present themselves to the lens. It’s a conversation, an exchange. I ask them to willingly give me something, a moment of their time, their attention. In exchange, I give them a portrait. We speak casually as I am setting up the camera.

These portraits do in a sense reflect my own strengths, insecurities, and general love and curiosity for people. Even though my smartphone is small, it’s still just a camera and can still be intimidating to some. Let’s face it, we are at our weakest when at the mercy of the lens. We peer into our own soul as we look toward the lens. We hope none of our flaws are showing. As the photographer, I am in control and at an advantage. Not only in control of the shutter, I am looking for and studying each flaw. Finding subtleties that make one person different from the next when I ask each person to “just be yourself.”

I treat every person I work with as I would want to be treated if I were sitting on the receiving side of the camera. I know what it’s like to be there. As part of the series, I turned the camera on myself.


3. If you could take a portrait of anyone in the world, who would it be and why?

I’ve always wanted to work with Jack Black. I love his movies and his band Tenacious D. He’s a colorful, interesting person who seems to have a never-ending pocketful of character.


4. Recently you’ve been using the Lumia 1020 to take a series of portraits. What do you best like about it and how does it compare to other smartphones and cameras you’ve used?

This camera is made for portraits. It packs a punch when it comes to file size and image quality. The Nokia cam app paired with the Oggl app works seamlessly for my workflow. Finally, the option of shooting in .dng format is awesome! Paired with the camera grip it’s a ‘different’ looking device. Everyone wants to know what it is. Like I mentioned earlier, this acts as a great ice breaker.


5. Finally, what are your top three tips for an aspiring portrait photographer packing a Lumia 1020?

1. When focusing on the face for portraits, focus on the eyes. When your subject is wearing glasses, focus on the corner of the mouth. The corner of the mouth is on the same focal plane as the eyes. This will ensure the eyes are in focus and not the frames or the lens.

2. Consider using the Nokia Camera Grip Battery Case. This really helped me to hold the camera steady using its camera grip of a point-and-shoot. It also doubles as an extra full charge (a definite must—extra power). Or, use a light-weight tripod.

3. Carry a model release (multiple copies to accommodate as many people as you plan to photograph) and pens. There are model release apps out there like ‘easy release’. I’ve used this app with my ipad. It offers a convenience that a paper hard copy can’t match, and is fairly easy to use. Only one person can sign at a time. If you’re photographing multiple people, a model release bottleneck happens. Most people won’t wait around to sign your release. So pass out paper hard copies.


If André’s insights, advice and stunning shots have got you as fired up with enthusiasm as us be sure to follow him on Instagram. And if you have any questions or portraits of your own, we’d love to see them in the comments below.