Portrait Photography with Merwelene van der Merwe
September 27, 2012 at 12:05pm
Meet Merwelene van der Merwe. Born with a free spirit and an eye for the smallest detail, Merwelene took the advertising and fashion world by storm with her ingenious ideas and outstanding photography. She shoots for well known international and local brands and has photographed any South African celebrities and even Nelson Mandela. This week we chat to her about portraiture photography. 
NIKON: You’re a fashion and advertising photographer but for you it’s more about the people. Tell us about your interest in portraiture. 
MERWELENE VD MERWE: I believe in celebrating the human spirit. Through the camera lens, I sometimes manage to capture it. Not only the feeling of the person, but also the styling and the complete look of the portrait is very important to me.
NIKON: What is portraiture? Are there different styles? 
MERWELENE VD MERWE: Shooting portraits is photographing a person and expressing a certain feeling. There are many styles of portraiture, for example environmental portraiture lets us into the life of the subject. I love window light when shooting portraits. Formal studio portraits is a total different style again and there are many others.
NIKON: Should a portrait always include a face?
MERWELENE VD MERWE: It is desirable to capture the person’s eyes and face in sharp focus while the rest is a bit soft. However, I’ve shot beautiful shots of the back of a person’s head and also thought that was a portrait. So it’s how you want to interpret it. 
NIKON: How do you achieve capturing the personality and soul of your subject in your portraits? 
MERWELENE VD MERWE: I do like people and therefore I am in tune with their insecurities and vulnerability. The more comfortable you make the person feel, the more successful you’ll be in capturing them.
NIKON: What are the three most important aspects/things to remember when composing the perfect portrait? 
MERWELENE VD MERWE: I do not know what perfect is but lighting plays a very big role. Then the feeling you get from the portrait when you look at it and lastly, an element of surprise is also important.
NIKON: Studio vs. natural environment? Why? 
MERWELENE VD MERWE: A studio facility is important when it comes to advertising campaigns that need total comfort and control, but I personally prefer an external environment, as there are more exciting options and surprises awaiting you as a photographer. 
NIKON: How important is lighting for shooting portraits? 
MERWELENE VD MERWE: To me it is almost everything. If the lighting is bad, I do not look at the image. Moody, hi- or low key lighting or in whatever conditions you shoot, that’s the starting point to give the feel of your shot.
NIKON: What is your camera gear of choice and why? 
MERWELENE VD MERWE: Nikon D4, as I like to shoot handheld in low light conditions.
NIKON: And lens? 
MERWELENE VD MERWE: I change all the time, at the moment it is the Nikkor 85mm f1.4.
NIKON: What is one of your most memorable portrait shoots and why? 
MERWELENE VD MERWE: It would have to be shooting Madiba's presidential campaign poster. The shots were used on stamps and various other things. Doing this shoot was life changing, as after living in California for eight years, decided there an then that I was an African and that I’m not going anywhere!
NIKON: Who in the world would you most like to photograph and how would you style them for the shoot? 
MERWELENE VD MERWE: I find this impossible to answer... I need to think about it a bit more. Whoever it is, styling would be minimum, as I like to shoot the naked truth, the naked body in their environment.
NIKON: You’ve been in the industry for quite some time now. What keeps you inspired and motivated to keep producing such great work?
MERWELENE VD MERWE: Every single day is a surprise and after three decades of shooting, I still learn during each shoot. Shooting to me is playtime! I guess I never was much of a child when I was a child and now as an adult I realise the only way to manifest is when I am having fun.
NIKON: What is your number one tip to portrait photography?  
MERWELENE VD MERWE: Work on yourself to feel good first before doing the shoot. That way you will be able to feel and see the light and the person.
Earlier this year we did an interview with Merwelene, take a look here: http://youtu.be/08uYy7a_2kY
To find out more about Merwelene, visit her website here: www.merwelene.co.za
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