Portraiture is the most enjoyable part of photography for me. But curiously enough, if you ask me I can’t tell what aspect of it is the most interesting for me. Maybe it is the light, maybe it is the physical beauty of the person, maybe it is the character of the person? All of those can be quite intriguing and probably it should be considered on a case by case basis.
Today I was again going through a book about portraiture work of Yousuf Karsh (I particularly enjoy his portrait of Pablo Casals, simply brilliant). While I was glancing through the text one phrase caught my attention. It said that one of the rules of portraiture is that the subject should not look directly into the lens (of course, like with any other rule, there are exceptions). This got me thinking, as in my work my subjects are almost always looking directly into the lens and I have been aiming for that very consciously. For me what is important is a personal relation between the subject and the photographer.
I went through the book again and indeed, Yousuf Karsh’s subjects very often look away. So what is the difference (of course I’m not comparing my work to his)? I think the difference is simply because there is a different purpose and different audience. When you think about it his subjects are iconic figures, celebrities if you will. The photos were about them. This is how you could see them “from a crowd”. There is no personal connection between the subject and the audience.
The audience for my portraiture work is, very often, family and friends of the subject. They perceive those photos quite differently than other people, as they are familiar with that face, with that look. They can bring memories, they can put themselves in the place of the photographer.
So the bottom line is (trivially, like with any other rule) that one has to choose consciously what he wants to achieve.
There is so much to learn… And it’s one of those areas where even if one reads tons of tutorials it is still difficult (or even impossible) to start getting decent results. You have to work with people and work on your own personality. Maybe that’s one more reason why I enjoy portraiture – it’s a great challenge, for years to come.
Take a look at the photos below and imagine they look in a different direction…
And what is your opinion?