- Category: Photo Craft
By Robert Caputo
The Casual Portrait
Wherever you are with your camera, always be on the lookout for those moments when a person's character shines though. If you have a formal portrait session with someone, make some frames of him while he straightens his tie or while she brushes her hair before the formal sitting. Walk back to the car with her and shoot her on the street. If you are on a spring picnic with the family, look for that moment of bliss when your wife leans back, sated, to enjoy the caress of the warm sun. If you're on the street, look for the impatient expression on a pedestrian's face as he waits for the light to change. Always be on the lookout for the telling moment. Every person has a story, and every picture should tell part of that story.
Portraits are about people. Environmental portraits are about people and what they do with their lives. They are about the kind of house a person lives in and how they decorate it; about what kind of work they do and where they do it; about the surroundings they choose and the things they surround themselves with. Environmental portraits seek to convey an idea about a person by combining portraiture with a sense of place.
Group portraits are hard to do well, and the larger the group, the harder they are. It's not easy to get a good, telling photograph of one person, and the problems are compounded exponentially with groups. We have all had the experience of trying to get the family or the ball team to pose for a picture. Just getting all of them arranged so you can see their faces is hard enough. Then, of course, you want an image where everyone looks good—no one's eyes closed, no grimacing. Making group portraits takes imagination, patience, and diplomacy. Use your imagination. Find a way to relate the group to an environment that expresses something about what kind of group they are. Do it literally, humorously, dramatically, or by complete contrast. Get ideas from them.
Our family members are the people we photograph most frequently. We record the momentous occasions and the occasional moments. Albums full of baby pictures, first steps, Little League games, Halloweens, Thanksgivings, and weddings mark our passage through time. These photographs are our memories made real and are probably the most important pictures we will ever make or have. You should apply thought and technique just as rigorously, if not more so, to photographing your family as you do to any photo assignment.
There is no better group on which to practice photography. No others will be so trusting or willing to indulge your ever present camera, your fumbling around with lights, and your mistakes. When you are photographing strangers, you either get the picture or you don't. There is no going back to a fleeting moment. With your family, you can work on getting a similar moment again, and again, and again.
Hands and Other Details
The hands of a farmer, a pianist, a baker. The feet of a ballet dancer, a long distance runner, a place kicker. The belly of a pregnant woman, the bicep of a weight lifter. Hair caressing a pillow, fingers clutched in prayer, a peering eye. The details of the human body make great photographic subjects, either as expressions of ideas or emotions, as graphic shots, or as a way to say something about an individual. Whenever you are photographing someone, try to think of details of their body or dress that would get your message across in an indirect way.
Are there particular parts of their body or items of what they wear that are important to what they do for a living or a hobby? Does some part of them really stand out? Can you find a way to abstract what you want to say about the person by using one of these elements?
The point is to use your eyes and your imagination, whether you want to use detail and abstraction to say something about an individual or about the beauty of the human body. If you are making photographs of details of the human body, you will be working intimately with people and will have to direct them, tell them where to pose, and how.
By Robert Caputo