Taking a likeness

Portrait photography is both a great challenge, and a great privilege, of my work. A portrait – or to use the quaint older phrase “a likeness” – is a deeply personal matter, and I am always very touched when somebody invites me to capture one for them.

If you read a book about portrait photography, you will discover that there are a number of technical considerations involved.

You need to consider the composition, including whether it is a full length shot, whether you use props, what you include and what you leave out, and how you crop the final image. How much depth of field do you want – that is, do you want the background in focus, or artistically blurred? And these are just a few examples!

But think for a moment about a portrait photograph which you know and love. It might be of you, of a loved one, or perhaps of someone famous. What do you love about it? Almost certainly, it will not be one of the technical considerations I listed above.

More probably, you will love it because you have some emotional connection with it. It tells you something about the person – their manner, their character, their passions, or their habits or idiosyncrasies. In a good photo, the technical considerations support the story or emotional impact which the image holds.

So, when I am taking a portrait, I always try to spend some time, however brief, getting to know my client a little. I ask them questions, and really try to listen to the answers.

I consider this time, before I even pick up the camera, to be the most important part of a portrait shoot. For it is this time and understanding that enables me to capture not just a picture, but a “likeness”, of my subject.

Here, as in so many other areas of life, the importance of listening to and understanding the people around you cannot be over estimated.

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About simongregor

Photographer, business thinker and tour guide.
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