How to Shoot the Perfect Portrait: Adama Jalloh

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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. Entries close this Saturday – submit your work soon!
We’re asking portrait photographers what goes into making the perfect portrait – this week we hear from Adama Jalloh. 

In your view, what makes a compelling portrait?

It’s a mixture of things – from the subject’s expression or mannerisms, the tones, the space, how the light might hit the subject. Its always interesting looking back at the results of an image, whether you’ve had 10 seconds of interaction with someone or spent a longer period of time with them. From time to time you get a sense of nervousness from strangers when you ask for their portrait, so being able to capture an unexpected emotion during brief encounters can be interesting.

What attracts you to a potential subject?

It could be based on the way they are dressed, something about their features or maybe a certain characteristic that they exude. Sometimes I can’t explain or have a definite reason to what attracts me to a potential subject but I just know that I need to photograph them; I end up with answers once I look at the photograph.


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

Just being honest and open about your intentions can make things a lot easier for yourself and the person you are shooting. Actually listening to what they say and just showing general interest breaks down that barrier and their attempt to conceal aspects of themselves starts to fade.




What makes you turn to portraiture over other genres?

It just gives me a better understanding of the people I come across and photograph, it could be something minor but I’m still taking something away from that interaction. Shooting portraiture definitely helps with pushing me to approach in ways I didn’t think I could; whether I get a yes or a no from someone, its about that slow build of confidence you get when asking.


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When was the first time you became aware of photography?

Probably when my parents got me my first camera. I started off shooting a mixture of buildings, public performances, surfaces and friends. I liked the fact that everyone looks at an image differently and are able to connect with it in ways another person might not. I started to realise how and what I wanted to shoot based on what I was surrounded by and the sources of inspiration that I would look at.

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

Liz Johnson Artur’s documentation of London life during the 90s sticks out a lot for me. She captured so many elements of culture beautifully and she definitely went out of her way to photograph areas and communities that lacked representation. Looking back at her images made me realise that it’s still important for these areas to be documented. When you look at how people are dressing now it’s pretty evident in her photos how certain styles have made a comeback, and it shows the appreciation people in the UK have for these trends.

Find more of Adama’s work here and follow her on Instagram at @_adamajalloh.

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