American photographer Richard Avedon was one of the most influential pioneers of fashion and portrait photography of the 20th century. For over 50 years, he helped to define American culture and style with his beautifully intimate black and white images, remaining a prominent figure in his field until his death in 2004.
The Avedon method
Richard learned how to use a camera during his service in the Merchant Marines, where he found himself tasked with the role of ID photographer. This early period where he took thousands of mug shots became the foundation for his simple and minimalist style.
Virtually all of his work followed the same technical pattern:
Shot in black and white
Shot against a white background
Lit with one key light at 45° and a reflector for fill
This simplicity and familiarity meant that his subjects knew what they were going to get… more or less. Within this basic framework lay the real genius of Richard Avedon.
Shooting those thousands of ID shots helped Avedon develop a wonderful ability to put his subjects at ease – a skill that he took into his professional work to create a portfolio of incredibly engaging images.
His gift for relaxing people allowed him to capture the very essence of the subject and shoot some of the most captivating and intimate portraits the world has ever seen.
What you can learn from Avedon
It will be hard to get the exact same look as Richard Avedon because he shot in medium and large format film, but there’s still plenty you can learn from him. Shooting full-length images on a white background is tricky and requires loads of space, but you can do half-length or less in a medium-sized room, which makes this style achievable for all of you!
Of course, the most important thing to learn from Richard isn’t his style… it’s his ability to engage with his subject. He’s not interested in staging shots or fancy lighting; instead, it’s all about the relationship between him and his subject...
“I’ve worked out of a series of no’s. No to exquisite light, no to apparent compositions, no to the seduction of poses or narrative. And all these no’s force me to the “yes.” I have a white background. I have the person I’m interested in and the thing that happens between us.”
That ‘thing’ that happens between the photographer and the client is the magic that shines from all of his work… and that’s what you need to cultivate.
We recommend spending time studying the work of Richard Avedon because it will make you a better photographer!
11 February, 2021