Portrait Special: Finding The Perfect Mood
What strikes you the most when you view an image? Possibly that it is joyous, humourous or sad. Ambarin Afsar discusses how this mood is the foundation of every photograph.
Consider the images that are summoned to your mind when you think of the word ‘portrait’—a painting of an ancestor hanging on a wall in an old family home or even a photo of your parents, from their wedding. Think about these portraits. They are a means to remembering. They are the essence of a person and a slice of time immortalised within a frame. This is what makes portraits sacred and lasting.
1. What is a Great Portrait?
A great portrait is more than a likeness. The dreaded passport photo has taught us that capturing character is not easy. Good portraiture begins with knowing that it is not just about pointing the camera and releasing the shutter.
2. Forge a Connection
Make an effort to be friendly with the person you are shooting. Develop a rapport as soon as you can and do not let them feel awkward. When you are photographing strangers on the street, try to break the ice by smiling, saying hello and asking for permission.
3. Where Will You Find Inspiration?
Study people, the human form, faces in cinema and magazine portraits. Look up the works of master portraitists and quiz yourself about the stories that they tell. Determine whether the portraits are flattering, personal or distanced.
4. Who is Your Subject?
You may be shooting a family member, a friend, an acquaintance or even a corporate executive for a professional assignment. Regardless of this, give yourself a brief and identify the context of the image.
5. What are You Going to Highlight?
A person has multiple aspects and facets to them. So does a story. You need to figure out which aspect is going to play the protagonist of your story.
6. What is the Story?
Even at its most basic level, a portrait tells a story, be it the hope of the child who sells vases at the signal or the determination in a soldier’s eyes. Are you telling a romance, a tragedy or a comedy?
7. How Can You Tell the Story?
Learn to listen. All you need is a honest interest in the people you are photographing. You will find the means to depict their story in your portrait if you know what it is they want told.
8. Where Do You Find Your Story?
The crux of the story, or the mood of the story can be found in the eyes of a person. They betray emotions that are otherwise hidden—anger, dismay, sympathy, empathy, strength, anxiety and more.
9. What Do You Want to Show?
How many creases line a forehead? How many dreams are written on a face? Are people really as shy or intimidating as they seem? Ask yourself what the viewer will see when his gaze meets the gaze of your subject.
You might be out shooting something completely different, such as abstracts. However, when someone requests you to make a photo, do not refuse.
11. What Defines an Individual?
List the words that come to your mind when you think of your subject. What is their most defining characteristic? It could be an expression, facial feature, the manner in which they dress, or even a striking piece of jewellery.
To continue reading the tips, head on to our next story: Into a Vast World
For a list of all the stories, head to the Table of Contents.
This article originally appeared in the January 2012 issue of Better Photography.