Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Behind the portrait

In the October issue of Popular Photography, Peter Bellamy, former Professor of photography at Brooklyn's Pratt Institute, talks about backgrounds in portrait photography. He likes location portraits, because of the control you have. Most photographers feel it is a hindrance, to many distracting elements. Bellamy, likes having a pieces of their life in the photo. Any problems can be fixed simple, expression, or objects. Most photographers who shoot location portraits, just take the image, they don't worry about changing the background, which Bellamy says is their first mistake. Bellamy gives us 5 tips on taking portrait on location.

Keep them simple:
Avoid clutter, overly high contrast, and excessively bold colors. Remove objects that don't comment on your subject. They should complement your subject. If there are too many distracting objects in the room then zoom in and get a head shot, but don't photograph clutter.

Add Objects:
If there are objects that add to the subject’s personality add them it will add to the feeling the subject is exemplifying.

"Include as much background as possible:
It will add to the subject to have his personality around them, but too much will drown them. Bellamy puts it elegantly "The photographer should reveal the subject not hide them."

Light carefully to control tonality:
No shadow should be completely black, or highlight be completely white. This will be distracting the viewer.

Place your camera parallel to the background:
Make sure when you frame you have windows, doors and wall creasing parallel. This adds structure to your photo.

These where some helpful tips for me. There were things in this article that I never thought about when shooting, but I guess I wasn't the only one who hadn't. I hope some of these tips help some of you when shooting photographs, even candid shots of your friends.


Blogger Professor Melis said...

Angel, Thanks for including a personal bit at the end, though I'd like to know more about what readers of this piece think about how these rules about compositions of portraits alter what the photographs communicae.

8:55 PM  
Blogger marydorsey said...

I am a great fan of Arnold Newman, the father of the "environmental portrait," in which the photographer places the subject in a personal setting to capture the essence of the individual.

According to an interview with American Photo magazine, Newman said, "I didn't just want to make a photograph with some things in the background. The surroundings had to add to the composition and the understanding of the person. No matter who the subject was, it had to be an interesting photograph. Just to simply do a portrait of a famous person doesn't mean a thing." His signature image is of Stravinsky seated at a grand piano. I love the contact sheets of the film from this shoot; a peek into the brain of Newman, how he thought about the proofs, selected, cropped and arrived at the final image.

The comments in this article on backgrounds and "clutter" are a bit confusing: take away, add, get as much background as possible, get up close if there is too much clutter... Sounds like he wants to work like Newman but doesn't articulate it well.

9:24 AM  
Blogger mary said...

I think that environmental portraits are the best at showing individual personalities. Usually the person is more relaxed, in their comfort zone, and that makes a better portrait. Whether their familiar spaces are messy or spartan, it gives us a glimpse of who they are. I find that shooting portraits in a studio-like setting makes people more nervous and uptight, pasting on fake smiles and much more worried about their hair, their wrinkles, etc. When you get them in their familiar confines, the are much more relaxed and don't seem to worry about their physical appearance so much.

2:49 PM  

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