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Old Oct 5, 2010, 10:20 AM   #1
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Default a composition question about portraits

Hi all...

If you looked at my post in the family photos forum, you probably noticed that I have a penchant for informal shots, odd angles, off-center photos and close ups when I'm taking pictures. They just kind of work for me.

I'm curious, though, whether people in general like that approach or if most people still prefer the normal posed portrait? Someday down the road after much more practise and getting the right gear, I think I would really enjoy doing kids' photography (not weddings, though - I did that once and WAY too much stress!!). I'm thinking on starting to study a bit and practise toward that once I get my new camera.

And then I guess there's the notion that I should just work on developing my own angle and if people like it they would buy it, eh?

Maybe I just answered my own question.
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Old Oct 5, 2010, 11:06 AM   #2
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Well I think the answer to your question is ..... if the photos are for your use then do them any way you want. If they are done for others then you have to know what they like. And for the most part, I would think they like what is generally assumed as traditional poses and angles. Sometimes a quirky angle will work nicely and be even better than the traditional portrait or landscape format. But if that was the case every time then quirky angles would be the norm.
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Old Oct 5, 2010, 11:46 AM   #3
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a few samples would do justice on feedback. There are "rules" to potrait work but rules are also meant to be broken. A pose or angle on one person may not work with another. Different angles, off center, closeups etc are part of the norm....Its just dependant on who is buying.
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Old Oct 10, 2010, 12:19 PM   #4
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It's not as if humans haven't been portraying each other for some centuries. We have many traditions of and approaches to portraiture. Take your pick. Formal or not, posed or not, costumed or clothed or not, oblique or not (think of images of hands only, or of high-contrast silhouettes). Do you wish to portray someone's (un)distorted features, or their hard-won character and experience, or their possibilities? Do you depict a person, or their life and times, or what?

I'll propose a dichotomy: We can image (portray) a thing, or a persona. A thing usually requires detail, precision, our sharpest lens. A persona can require much less perfect resolution to be recognizable, but more needs insight. Thus a portrait need not be of a human -- we can approach shots of animals, buildings, flowers, rocks as portraits also. We can shoot a building as an architectural artifact (or even as a bit-player in an active cityscape drama or comedy), or as a living space with experience worn into its features.

I'll propose another dichotomy: The snapshot photo vs the planned photo. To grab an image of what's in front of us, is a snapshot. To arrange the elements of an image to satisfy a pre-visualization, isn't. Either approach can produce satisfying portraits. My father was a master of snapping faces with his 6x6 Minolta Autocord, 75/3.5 lens, usually ASA-100 Verichrome Pan film, but his planned shots were usually stiff. My wife was a successful formal portraitist (shooting Bronica) but her informal shots usually failed for lack of a compositional focus. We all have our strengths etc. We probably need to try many approaches to find what works best for any one of us.
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Old Oct 10, 2010, 3:03 PM   #5
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That was really good... !! Do you by any chance teach photography classes?

I think that's it, really... I do better at catching snapshots that show character and life but I don't have as much of a knack for arranging pretty portrait sittings. However... I have found that a great snapshot caught on a good camera prints out to make a nice wall portrait that makes people go "ooh, nice shot!"
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Old Oct 10, 2010, 5:33 PM   #6
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I have a similar style with portraits. (when we're having fun) I personally think they have a lot more energy. But there's also a place for a standard head and shoulders shot, so I would say jst go for what looks good, just make sure you get a standard looking shot as well to make sure you have everything you need.
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Old Oct 11, 2010, 8:09 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kaaryn View Post
That was really good... !! Do you by any chance teach photography classes?
Maybe I should, heh heh. And get paid for it. Right. But no, I'm just a lifelong student who was raised in my dad's small darkroom, who worked as a photog in the US Army, who has studied audiovisual arts for a long long time and tried to see how the masters and mistresses of the craft do their thang. No MFA, and I've only taught computers not photography. (I gave COBOL classes. Eek.)

I've shot (un)official portraits that have been published worldwide (long ago). I'll admit to a preference: 80/3.5. On many cameras, many formats. At least, I've shot portraits on 9x12, 6x9, 6x6, 135/FF and HF|APS-C -- and 80/3.5 is my favorite for portraiture of humans. To bring out craggy features, stop down to f/11. Make sure subject, background, lighting are properly arranged -- the lens matters less than those externalities. Yes, I've shot faces with lenses from 10mm to 1000mm. But formal portraits usually demand a certain roundness that seems best obtained around the 80/3.5 node. And for informal portraits, anything goes...
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Old Oct 11, 2010, 11:02 AM   #8
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When shooting it is good to develop your own style rather than being a copy of many others. When planning to move to professional work then you need to ensure that your style is marketable.

Let's take wedding photography as an example (probably because it is one I know well), there are many of us who are doing similar things to the competition, it is only as you go up to the higher levels to you start seeing the different styles emerging. There is one very successful photog in the US who has gone for the heavy photoshop look taking years off of her older subjects. This style doesn't work for the masses but for her it is a thriving niche that has more than enough business for her.

Looking at my own photography, I'm nothing special but working here in Egypt with my UK style rather than the local one I'm able to get a lot of interest as there are many people who want something outside of the normal.

So create a style that works, that you enjoy shooting with and that is going to be interesting enough to other people if you want to sell your services. Study other photographers, find the elements of their work that you like but don't be a clone, do your own thing, add your own thoughts to the game.
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Old Oct 11, 2010, 12:11 PM   #9
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Having a talent for getting good informal portraits, and developing it, could very well bring you quite a bit of work. There is a trend away from formally posed portraits, particularly for things like class yearbook pictures. These aren't just snapshots, though, so learning as much as you can about composition, backgrounds, and poses, would be a very good idea if you intend to do photography as more than a hobby. Even as a hobby, it never hurts to know more about it.

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