Key word in stock portraiture: Humor

Some of you probably remember this article about portrait photography. The article featured some of our artists, but since then, we've been thinking of getting into more details about what makes a portrait stand out.

First of all, let us tell you that there are many photographers on Dreamstime who are shooting stunning portraits. One of them is Scott Griessel, artist known as Creatista.

Man Gives Money to Fortune Tellers

Why we selected him among other top portrait photographers? Scott Griessel is a great portraiture photographer who is not afraid of getting the humor out of almost any situation. Many of his portraits are full of it. Their uniqueness comes from the different angles he's using - sometimes "impossible" to work with, we might say -, impeccable technique and extremely expressive models. Each photo has a story, and the people portrayed by Scott are telling it very well and in a funny way. The images are colorful and almost talkative without being aggressive in any way.

But Scott is very generous as well and offered our community details about his work, tips that might help you create outstanding portraits.

How did your interest in portrait photography begin?

Photography really is all about people for me. I'm not so enamored with the technical aspects. Of course, I need to know my way around a camera and lighting and all that, but I don't geek out too much on techy stuff. I'm very interested in people. I started my career - and still work - as a filmmaker.

Still photography was something I added in about 15 years ago. Since I do documentary work, I'm interested in stories. I do quite a bit of editorial portraiture for organizations and magazines. That's all about working with people where they are. using the backgrounds of their life for the background of the photo. I like that. I find people endlessly fascinating.

Bandit Portrait

What type of equipment and special techniques work best for this kind of photography?

I do a fair amount of work on location and tend to work pretty fast when I do. I love my Canon 70-200 and 16-40. I often stay away from the 50mm. I have a 50 prime which is really gorgeous, but I like to try to make portraits that are a little different than what we see with our eyes, so going wider or longer makes things a bit more interesting, I think. I really like messy shots. I used to be a creative director at a marketing agency that worked for several automotive manufacturers, including Volkswagen. In the 90s at VW, we followed an agency style called "accidental photography." Of course, there wasn't anything accidental about it. But we wanted to imply that it wasn't overly managed. So we wouldn't clean up the background too much. I learned a lot from that. For stock photography, I often do manage the background a bit more and clean things up. Even so, I like a lot of stuff back there to give it all a sense of place. I'll leave in telephone wires, for instance, when I like the shape they make. I like big old-school lights. My softboxes are ancient. They have faded to a warm off-white color I love for faces and skin in general. They aren't pretty, but their light is. While I have Alien Bees for lighter work, I still use DynaLite packs and heads, even on location.

I think for me one of the biggest things that is different from a lot of photographers is that I'll work with big groups. Five or ten people ore more at times. I put people in the background and foreground. So it really becomes a sort of group portrait. It's tough, because you need to get everyone's expression, position and pose right. I like the challenge and I like the way shot opportunities multiply when I work with lots of models.

What are some of the qualities that make some portraits stand out?

There are so many different reasons to do a portrait. In true portraiture - portraits for the sake of portraits - if it holds a truth, I'll probably like it. I'm way less interested in pretty people than people with some character. As a photographer doing quite a bit of stock photography, I'm trying to illustrate one idea in each shot. It needs to be something that can be immediately understood. It's a woman clipping coupons or a gangster with a gun or a cowboy in a shootout. That's it. So, for stock photography, I think the best images - most marketable, to be honest - are pretty straightforward. One big and/or simple idea.

For me, especially with stock photography, many of my images reflect a sense of humor. I don't know if a still photograph can really be called "fun," but often I'm going for something whimsical. When I'm doing costume work on location, I want big characters that slightly overplay their role. I used to direct commercials from time to time. You had 30 seconds to tell a story, so it had to happen fast. So characters needed to be immediately recognizable. I think it's similar with stock photography. You only have one instant to make an impression on a buyer and on their audience, so the image needs to speak to them somehow. If the characters are easy to immediately understand, that really helps make the connection. If they are fun or even funny, that is one way to make that connection.

What is your favorite portrait and why?

Like most photographers, I have tons of favorites. I assume your asking about photos from my own portfolio. :-) Here are a few favorites.

Horrified Senior Woman

Portrait of Worried Senior Couple

Who are your greatest influencers in portraiture?

Probably three. Here they are with an example of one of my favorite portraits from their work:

Richard Avedon

Gregory Crewdson

Cindy Sherman

When you meet a new person (model), do you figure the final result of the portrait or do you go with the flow and choose the best in the end?

I usually have a scenario in mind. I'm often trying to be cinematic in some small way. I want the photo to feel like it's part of a story. Like something just happened and something is going to happen next. For stock, I've narrowed that down to trying to connect with a single idea in a single shot. Then, I take a ton of photos really fast. I just keep moving and adjusting and rethinking and reframing. Then I spend a fair amount of time in the selection process. I'm usually surprised by my favorites. Most often, the images I like best aren't the ones I thought I would. A lot of times it's one of the first few in a series and I end up throwing out a bunch of the adjustments. Even so, I like taking a lot and sorting things out later. It fits my personality.

What other arts besides photography are influencing you in your work?

I'm a filmmaker, so I think I probably view the world in a little bit of a cinematic way. So movies and TV styles affect my eye to some degree. For composition, I really like the Renaissance painters, especially Caravaggio.

Photo credits: Scott Griessel.

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Very interesting and informative. Thanks to the article, I've also added Gregory Crewdson to my list of favourite photographers.


Great article. People should really pay attention to what Creatista has to say. His advice is spot on. Thanks for the update Malina.


I love Creatista. Been a fan since I first seen his work, many, many years ago :)

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