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Portrait Photographs: a time and space
  • Vitaliy has suggested perhaps a new discussion here in "skills" about portrait/people photography and the problems, ideas, and solutions that one finds. And as @maxotics noted in a recent post, it is so easy to shoot many images with a camera like a D600, in fact faster than we really can think about them. Most modern cameras are so quick and easy to make images with we all tend to shoot too much and think too little. My wife and I are as guilty of that at times as anyone. And we are both long-time professional portrait photographers: it's our only house-hold income. We've long known better but still ... these durn modern cameras!

    Many images we as photographers take are just to create a very nice image. We're not thinking at the time we're using the camera about how that image will be treated in post-processing, then sized, framed/matted and placed in a particular space in a particular home with the planned intent to affect the emotions of the people living in that space. But if you stop to think about the aesthetics and emotional "content" of our living spaces, it can be very worthwhile to think ahead and create something ... satisfying. Worth viewing and worth living "around".

    We have sought training and experience to do things differently: we work with our clients to plan out an image that will go in a specific place, and will have a specific emotional feel and bring that feel to that space. This is a process where size matters; composition matters; distance of viewers near/far matters; color schema matters; family inter-personal dynamics matters; space available matters. It's a much more complicated way to approach photographing your subjects. It's very much like trying to get all the emotional information from a movie scene into one still image placed in one space.

    And when done really well, clients often shed tears when the image/s first go up into place. It can have that much effect on the feel of the room.

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  • Designing an image that takes over a room and sets the mood for the family who lives there starts with knowing the minimum and "average" distance of the eventual viewers once the image is placed in the intended location.

    It takes knowing how head-size relates to the emotional reaction of a viewer at the appropriate distances. How body language of those in the image needs to relate to how the friends and family of that person see them in "reality". The use of space ... both filled and empty ... to give dimension and "placement" of the subject in the room besides in the image and the frame (if a frame is used).

    You need to plan your composition and use of space in the image to move the eye around ... or even use a placement of multiple images in a carefully designed grouping of images to move the eye around. To be aware of the way the color palette of the walls, floors, and furnishings of the room will affect the "feel" of the color palette of the image/s.

  • Thanks for making topic @rNeil .

    As I am not portraits pro photo shooter can only add two books that I used for interviews and such - Master Lighting Guide for Portrait Photographers and Christopher Grey's Studio Lighting Techniques for Photography: Tricks of the Trade for Professional Digital Photographers. You can find links at .

  • This sort of careful design also requires being able to work with your subjects to create those captured "instant moments" that ... when they see them later ... cause them to feel you have captured something both about the individuals and their inter-relations with others that perfectly encapsulates their relationships. The wife and I have done this for our clients even across multiple sessions over a year or more apart.

    This couple are professional opera singers. They've spent a lot of time over the years apart, and are very independent people. She's taken care of house & kids while he's been off for months at a time, and earlier on in their relationship, the roles at times reversed. Yet ... they are incredibly close. For all the distance they have suffered through, and for all that they are both very independent people ... this is a close couple. Quietly but intensely so.

    The first challenge is to get the relationship "right" ... show each person in a flattering lighting and pose yet reflect the relationship at the same time. They both like bw and brown-tone images so we chose a clothing of black with a low-key studio background. The home is small ... and the image needed to fit a horizontal space. So guess-timating head-sizes this is the first composition I came up with.

    1200 x 798 - 122K
  • Nothing "special" about the image in my last post ... other than when they looked at it, they simply stopped for a whole minute. "That's us, on some deeper level than I've ever seen before" was her first comment. Kevin just nodded. But we tried a few more ... and came up with one pose I really liked, again, of two strong and independent but tightly connected people ... and "enclosing" a bit more space for effect around them. However, this one they thought of as more "elegant" in feel than they see themselves ... and as we worked with it, it also was too small a head-size for the total image size we were going to need to place on the wall.

    1200 x 798 - 105K
  • That first image, in the room ... commands attention. It's a small room so a 20x24 inch image in a narrow black frame is easily visible everywhere, and the body language and expressions are comfortable to consider while seated or standing anywhere. And they've had friends and family look at it and have tears in their eyes the first time they've been in the room with it. I don't have an image of it in placement ... which I should.

    And since then, Miriam (my wife) made a trio of images of their two boys, at the time 12 & 19, that show them separately and together ... and their personalities and relationship as they are (and not "idealized) with all the gentle humor that goes back and forth. Maybe I'll post those later.

    What images ... especially in place somewhere ... affect your feelings and thoughts when in that space?


  • Hi rNeil,

    My GH2 is working like a dream and I'm getting breath-taking results in the stills photo department. I'm due to purchase a Voightlander 25mm F/0.95 lens at the end of may and the 17.5mm F/0.95 a month later. Thank you for your inspiration and guidance in setting up My GH2 properly


  • Glad it's working for you. With all the arguments about this tool or that, realisitically ... most of the cams today can do very nice work, IF they work good in something you want or need, and as noted ... once you understand how that particular tool works.

    I've got some years of experience in sorting out Nikon settings (worked with D200, D3, D800, D600), and now some with the Panny GH3. But ... if I picked up say a Canon 5DMkIII, their menus & settings are so different it would take me a while & probably quite a few questions to get it set up the way it would work best for my brain. And for my brain to learn how to understand and work with that camera, it has to go both ways.

    It would still be a very good tool for what it does best. Even if at first I sucked with it. As I probably would!

    Have fun, shoot some and then work it to death in post to really master the thing. And oh, have fun doing it!


  • Breaking Down the Lighting of a Studio Portrait

  • Frequency Separation for post processing should be mentioned as well. Just described an unusual but completely reversible way to do it by editing it in Photoline:

  • Definitely worthwhile to look at. Portrait retouch for dummies. Nice idea to pair recognition algorithms with retouching techniques. Then you come to procedures which can also be friendly for video.

  • Using light to separate your portrait subject from the background