Photo Review Series #4: The Portrait

This is the fourth post in a series in which I pick some really cool photos and break down the elements about them that I like best. They’re designed to help you (and I) improve your photography. In case you missed the last one, you can check it out here.

Today, we’re going to dive into the world of portrait photography. This isn’t my strong suit when it comes to shooting; I know a good portrait when I see it though, and today we’ve got a good one! Here are the things that make it a standout in my eyes.

The Lighting

Truly great portrait photography requires a deep knowledge of lighting – moreso than most other types of photography. With portraits, you need to consider the shape and contours of the subject’s face in order to achieve the outcome you want. Maybe it’s a well-lit face, maybe it’s half-hidden by shadow for a more ominous look – either way, it takes specific lighting knowledge that other styles of photography don’t require.

Now that I’ve illuminated the subject of lighting (heh, see what I did there?), we can better appreciate the lighting in this shot. Notice how the use of light doesn’t wash out the subject in any one area? The portrait has a balance of light and dark areas, with no one area being too light or dark. Everything is well-lit, allowing us to appreciate the next thing about this shot that I like.

The (Lack of) Colour

It’s amazing what a difference colour can make in a shot, especially a portrait photo. Warm colours in a portrait can give you a warm and fuzzy feeling, but colour can also distract the eye from other elements the photographer would like to draw attention to, like textures and details. Speaking of which!

The Detail

The detail in this shot tells a story. The photographer who captured this shot (Leroy Skalstad) was going for a specific feel, and one of the ways he accomplishes it is the detail in the shot. The photo was finished in a way that emphasizes the detail of the subject’s skin and beard – the subtle wrinkles and imperfections, and the flecks of grey.

Detail extends beyond just the face though, and it extends beyond the final shot and into its preparation. The subject is wearing a hoodie, which gives it a very different feel than if he were wearing a button-down shirt, for example. This is a man who isn’t afraid to roll up his sleeves and do some hard work.

The Eyes and Facial Expression

This is an element of portrait photography that is so important that I gave it its own section. The saying “the eyes are the window to the soul” is as true in portraits as in real life. They convey so much meaning and emotion that you absolutely have to nail this piece to get the shot right.

Look into this man’s eyes. Look at how he’s posing. What do they make you feel about him? What story begins to materialize from the fog of your imagination when you look at him?

The detail in his skin and his choice of clothes may suggest he’s a working man, but his eyes tell a deeper story. They tell me that, while he may not be afraid of hard work, he’s getting a little tired of it. He’s been around long enough to have seen some things, and is ready for a break from it all. He wants the chance to just breathe, and live easy for a change.

Now obviously I’m making this all up! But the point is that the photo gave me the details that let me draw such a detailed conclusion from my imagination. That’s the beauty of a good portrait.

By the way, the fact that this photo was shot in black-and-white further lets the emotion here shine through.

Wrapping it Up

The ability to take a great portrait shot is a specialized one in the world of photography. While I love to shoot landscapes, I’ve always admired those who can shoot a fantastic portrait. Maybe it’s because it’s so difficult to do well, or maybe it’s because it accomplishes something the best art always does: it tells a story.

Either way, you have to appreciate a shot like this one. When you’re looking at a portrait photo, look into the subject’s eyes (even if they’re closed) and let yourself feel what you think they’re feeling. I find it’s one of the best ways to appreciate the shot.

Next time, we’re going to review a long exposure shot in detail!

Your turn! Is there anything you want to add to my thoughts on this photo? Is there a specific type of photo you’d like to dive deeper on? Contact Me or let me know in the comments below!

CATEGORY: Photography, The Arts

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