Some things to consider when determining (and creating) solid portrait pictures. These are not all of the things to consider but are what I thought of sharing tonight.
Tonight myself and are doing a live show where we'll be quickly reviewing 50+ submitted portrait albums.
I figure it's a perfect time to share how I myself look at portrait photography.
Submit and/or Watch
To see more details about the show and perhaps even submit an album in the next 3 hrs check here:
1. EMOTION AND EXPRESSION
- In fact an awesome expression which conveys a lovely feeling may in fact trump many of the following factors. I may indeed love a blurry picture with terrible framing just because of a moving expression.
Many of these things may be so spectacularly great in one particular arena that I may be very forgiving of the others. The grand objective is to succeed in all areas but it doesn't always happen that way and with people moments are fleeting and we must take the opportunities we get and make the best of it.
By this I mean the colors all throughout the picture but I in particular pay close attention to the color of skin. I happen to like the color of skin in a picture to be the way it is in life. There may be room for artistic licence but I like to know it was a purposeful choice and not simply because the artist was not capable of true color and therefore masked it with something else.
And if it's B&W then they better pay close attention to Contrast
There are many ways to work with contrast levels in a picture. In lightroom I use the contrast slider, the blacks slider and the point curve the most to effect the contrast of a picture.
I like seeing strength in the areas of both the dark and bright pixels. But I can be convinced by pictures that don't focus on contrast. I know that my own style does have contrast.
I'm not a pixel peeper that will zoom in on your picture to inspect every inch for sharp pixels… but I do want… no… require that it have a sense of being in focus.
Our eyes do not like looking at out of focus things… and the more and more we look at pictures the more we're able to recognize sharpness in pictures.
Sharpness in the right places and this may lead to certain areas not being sharp which helps to strengthen the attention to the sharper areas.
In portrait photography most all of the time I feel the background should not distract from the human element and therefore should be significanly less sharp. Unless for a purposeful reason the artist believes having the background play an equal role to the subject is important.
Namely my long time motto I created to teach photography years ago:
"Create attractions and avoid distractions"
Ask any past intern and they'll say this is one of the keys of my photography and my photography teaching.
What things are distracting me from the main subjects in the pictures?
The key is that the brighter and the more in focus that thing is the more of a distraction they may become.
A lot of the things I mentioned previously are very technical things that depend on knowing the camera well. Emotion and expressions deal a lot with your people skills and ability to create a great mood for people AND/OR your astuteness with Timing.
Framing is one of biggest Artistic things that we have control over.
It's closely related to distractions because "what did you decide to cut out and what did you leave in and is there anything in those decisions that may be distracting?"
When I look at framing I often think of borders: What borders did you put around the subject. Was it just an accident that you cut it where you did… or was it a purposeful and meaningful decision. I feel like good borders/frames are one of the signs of an experienced photographer. I can't say they are the biggest factor of a great picture but they are often the most telling of the signs of a good photographer.
There are stories behind every image and some of them are good and some of them are boring. Some of them can make us laugh and some can make us cry. Even a less than awesome picture can have an amazing story that can make us cherish that picture for life.
People grow attached to pictures because of those stories and can easily overlook the other 6 things that have been stated previously.
Photographers should appreciate those stories and aim to foster an environment for awesome stories. However they should also do their job and take asthetically pleasing pictures to go along with those stories.
For instance tonight during the show I will not be evaluating pictures based on any stories and so my evaluation will be lacking in this 7th area. But I can't say this is a bad thing either.
ADVICE WHEN LOOKING AT PICTURES
Don't get hung up. (Don't have tunnel vision
Meaning don't fixate on one particular bad thing going on in the picture.
So a hair is out of place… if you can't look past that you'll never get very far.
Yes there may be things to fix in pictures… but if you're viewing a picture you need to look at the whole picture and evaluate how good or bad they achieved overall in items 1 through 7. I know it's easy to simply talk about one particular thing (i do it) but a good critique takes into account everything.
A perfectionist who fixates and can't move past will never make it in this industry. But someone who seeks perfection and can accept progress for what it is will do very well.
Stop excusing your weakness by calling it perfectionism.
And stop getting tunnel vision and refusing to see the big picture.
Last of all… the obvious:
I will like different pictures than you will like.
However we try to understand what other people like because Art is seen by others… and it's nice for it to be liked by others.
And I recognize that this will only be valuable to those who value my opinion
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