Portrait photography

Artistic portrait photography building blocks


Among the many creative photographic genres, it is perhaps portrait photography where two camps – the representative and the artistic – can be most clearly observed. While the former requires context through captions and backstory to elevate it, in the latter the absence of such requires a creative aptitude. Attempting to merge the two camps into a single photograph can often decrease its effectiveness.

Portrait photography at its peak should be intense. The photographer has chosen a subject for a reason, and that reason must stand out in the final image. He must be the driving force of the session. What attracts us to photograph this individual? Once identified, the photographer must cling to this reflection until his possibilities are exhausted.

A useful exercise in harnessing this intensity is to think of the babysitter as someone you have strong feelings for. Feelings can include admiration, attraction, respect, or even loathing. For a great example of the latter, look no further than Alfred Krupp’s image of Arnold Newman.

As viewers, we are drawn to faces and expressions and for this reason, the conventions of portrait photography are based on the presentation of a face in its entirety. How we do this depends on what we want to convey of course. In great photos, it can be a fleeting moment that emerges despite the skill of the photographer (partly why the sessions involve multiple captures) or a stillness that hints at hidden depths or suggests timelessness. .

Either way, we don’t have to shoot head-on, although that may be the best option. Instead, profile shots or oblique views can also work. A psychological dimension, often absent from poorer portrait photographs, can also offer something very unique.

Creating an atmosphere with contextual portraits is an alternative with its possibilities to give meaning to a photo. Pulling back and including the environment can be a solution if the subject’s expression is not interesting enough to carry the image.

Attractiveness of the face is part of the reason why many photographers are easily drawn to pretty women and old men, the two opposites who both carry the most charismatic weight. Some people photograph surprisingly well and others less despite their good looks. Ideally, we should think beyond this narrow view and open up our engagement and matter. Including the context is one way to think about it.

Here are four photographs that use various approaches to go beyond the purely figurative.

Create a psychological plane with hidden depths

This portrait captures a moment and an expression that shows the subject in its greatest vulnerability. Setting a mood for the film is a rare event and one that fortunately emerges through many sessions. Knowing when to photograph someone is a key tool for the skilled portrait photographer.

Taken with a 5 × 4 camera, the limited depth of field (DOF) focuses our attention on the subject’s eyes, while the tilt of the head creates a dynamic diagonal line that is further enhanced by the hairline and the hairline. neck tie, leading to the upper right corner. Lighting is perhaps the key to this image. The diffused light above the head in this case adds “character” to the face.

A portrait with a point. How the context can be used creatively.

Sometimes a photographer moves by intuition, towards the spark of an interesting image. In this example, for the photograph of Kenny dressed in black, it’s placing him in front of a backdrop that elevates him from a simple snapshot of his face to something unique that can only be expressed in language. visual.

The combination of a fleeting moment where Kenny’s eyes are turned, with eyes painted behind him, transforms what could have been a representative shot into something unique and creative.

Suggest timelessness through lighting and installation

In this photograph of a musician dressed in white, the use of classic window light provides both ambiance and meaning. The subject’s gaze towards what we imagine to be the outside suggests a life lived inside. The inner darkness helps to create this feeling. The reflection on life and the stillness that accompanies it is also created by achieving a balanced composition.

Note the position of the subject in relation to the window as well as the separation between the window frame and the model’s left arm. Everything feels out of place, which adds a sense of stillness and permanence.

Achieve authenticity with the encounter of an ethnic group

International adventures in different cultures are the travel photography stock trade, but there are some pitfalls to be caught in ethnic communities. It can be very easy to take a photograph that has no visual purpose other than a recording of that person in their habitat. These types of photos suffer from a dominant blandness.

Often, the difficulties of setting up a plan, through ignorance of the environment or the subject, mean that the message is diluted by poor expression, lighting, gesture or framing. In this photograph of the woman and child, I made sure the two were engaged to suggest a shared moment with the photographer.

Contradictory expressions say a lot about the reality of interactions with strangers. What superficially appears to be a figurative shot is one that owes more to craftsmanship, in controlling lighting, focus, background, as well as the position of the hands and both hands. faces.


About the Author: Darren Lewey is a Morocco-based photographer and workshop facilitator who conducts online classes and retreats. You can read more of his tutorials on Creative Camera.


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