For this chapter I would like to give a "snapshot" of my views, for what it's worth, on portrait photography.
Primarily, I would consider myself not to be an exceptionally good people portrait person and I am fully aware it does show in my portrait shots.
In my occupation as a sales person, I don't seem to have any problem in asserting myself on a one to one basis as far as customer relations is concerned, but I certainly seem to acquire an acute lack of confidence in photographing people with the same assertiveness. (My confidence levels have improved no end since writing this. Now - 12th July '09)
One really needs to be in full control of the situation, but certainly not to the point of being aggressive. You must learn to adopt an assertive, but empathetic manner and you must know implicitly and be fully familiar with all of your equipment.
You cannot be seen, in the eyes of your sitter, to fumble or misuse your equipment. They need to have your complete trust and the manner in which you conduct yourself reassures them. Or not!
So without question, you should have absolute prior knowledge of the equipment you will use and the type of shots you will be taking, and have most of your equipment fully set up and ready to go before any shooting takes place. To be a professional, you must show professionalism.
Consequently, through knowing my limitations, I have not yet set myself up with any proper portrait gear, apart from the odd reflector, bounce flash and slave flash. I may have to get more serious practice in on the grand children.
The portrait photographer, in my eyes, needs to be a Jack-of-all-trades in the photographic world. They need to have the ability to fully capture a person's character and personality and be conversant with the proper make-up, hair, wardrobe, props, etc.
A good portrait photographer needs also the ability of putting the sitter completely at ease and a certain rapport must be created and maintained between photographer and sitter. Otherwise, it could mean the decampment of the sitter and ultimately, through word-of-mouth, the failure of your business.
Lastly, but by no means leastly, a good portrait photographer needs to have a very broad knowledge in relation to the technicalities of lighting, indoor and out, natural or artificial. But that's another story!
Sounds daunting, does it? But if your desire is to become a portrait photographer, please take heed of all these things and much, much more.
"Here's another bright idea!" . . .
Don't just assume that eye level is the default position for taking portraits. Try varied viewpoints and angles for the best results, but be sure to focus on your subject's nearest eye to the camera.