Portraits

Some "primitive" tribes have the firm belief that when you take a photograph of a person, you are stealing that person's soul. In a way, they are correct.

When a good photographer looks through a lens at a person, the photographer sees who that person really is, what he feels, fears, cares about, needs, and dreams. Portraits are probably the most personal photography you can do, and some of the most satisfying when done well. Here are a few guidelines for capturing a meaningful portrait:

■ Take the time to know the person you are photographing before you even pick up your camera. Otherwise, how can you know what the photo should be capturing? Besides, it's less invasive, more natural, and certainly more pleasant for the both of you.

■ Talk to your subject while you are shooting her—about anything that will catch her interest. Make her feel comfortable about being with you, and help her feel at ease in front of a camera.

■ Stand just behind your camera lens, look over the camera body, and make eye contact with your subject, so that she is looking directly at you through the lens. That human connection between you and your subject will make the picture come alive.

If you want a smile, talk about something or someone she loves or enjoys, such as a child or pet or sport.

If you'd rather have a serious expression, keep your conversation intriguing and thought-provoking.

If talking doesn't give you the portrait you envision, try absolute silence, using constant eye contact to keep her eyes on you and your camera.

Portraits should be exercises in minimalism, with nothing extraneous that could distract from the power of the personality. (See Figure 12-5.) While they are generally cropped quite close, including only the head and shoulders, some really great portraits are so framed that they cut out everything except the eyes, nose, mouth and cheekbones. On the other hand, if your subject has great hands or posture, or if a definitive aspect of her personality is revealed by something she might be holding, using, or doing (such as a dancer), then pull back to show as much as is necessary to capture her true personality—and no further.

Figure 12-5: In this Greg Gorman photo of the actor Jonathan Jackson, Greg uses shadows and direct eye contact to paint a sensual portrait that rivets the viewer. (Copyright by Greg Gorman.)

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