What makes a good portrait?
What makes a good portrait is somewhat a matter of personal opinion. Nevertheless, there are some fundamental aspects that can certainly point you in the right direction.
I remember about 4 years ago having a conversation with another photographer in the Leicester people’s photographic gallery about if we would prefer our second shooter to be technically minded and understand lighting and exposure, or if we would prefer someone with a keen eye for composition and aesthetic. I would personally always go for the latter, I can fix an exposure mistake, I can’t fix poor composition and taste. So here is what I think makes a good portrait photograph.
Subject matter is key. There is no hiding away from this. Yes, you can make a dull subject appear more interesting, but it is somewhat fighting a losing battle. Thankfully, almost all people are amazingly interesting subjects, so it is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. I always think it’s wise to give the majority of your effort and attention to the subject matter and what they are trying to say.
Photography by its very definition is “painting with light”. Light is very important. This doesn’t have to be thousands of ££££ of high end lighting gear, but understanding lighting is very important. One of the reasons that I love working in my studio is that I have complete control over the scene. I can choose exactly how to portray my subject with the lighting and I can alter the mood of an image drastically without my subject having to do anything. Currently, I spend more time working on my lighting than any other aspect of my photography.
This is fundamental for all types of photography. Composition runs a bit deeper than just the rule of thirds and colour pallet. It is a great story telling tool and it can allow you to completely change the mood of an image without anyone else moving a thing. You can create conflict or comfort with your composition and also chose what the viewers eye is drawn to and more importantly, in what order. It is a very powerful tool and certainly where you should spend most of your time learning when starting out in the first few years as a photographer.
I have purposefully left Story Telling until last. This is the part that interests me most. Photography is a strange art form. It goes from the very abstract through to accurate depictions for documentation. I like to play somewhere in the middle. I want to give a good representation of the person and scene, but I always want to add my perspective and voice to this. All of the above will have an impact on the story that is told in your image. Timing also plays a crucial role. Capturing the “decisive moment” is what it all comes down to. Capturing a portrait that really engages the viewer should always be in the back of your mind. You want to draw them in and describe the person and scene to the best of your ability.
This is clearly my personal opinion as to what makes a good portrait, so I would love to hear your opinions on what you think makes a good portrait. I plan to write articles in much more details on each of the sub-headings that I have discussed here over the course of 2017.
You can view my full portrait portfolio at www.scottchoucino.com
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