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January 19, 2019, 08:50:22 PM


Author Topic: what makes a good portrait  (Read 2656 times)

Offline Scott S

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what makes a good portrait
« on: March 01, 2016, 03:04:16 PM »
I'd like to start a discussion about taking portraits.
first there are two things I'd like to get opinions about.
1. what is required for the perfect portrait
is it a very shallow depth of field?
is it a strong connection between photographer and subject?
is it perfect lighting?
is it great composition?

2 what makes an acceptable portrait.
this one might be harder. I have had shots where I would have rejected them for many reasons only to have people love it.
does it always have to be tack sharp?
well composed?
perfectly exposed?

sometimes I have trouble making the distinction between a good portrait, and a good snapshot. to me, if you catch the person's essence in a great snapshot type photo, you often will get more praise and interest than in a good portrait where the connection just isn't quite there.

it has been pointed out that this is more of a snap shot than portrait, but I haven't ever come close to this much connection in a photo with this boy as with this shot.



then there's this shot. more of a classic portrait. still good connection between us, so I guess it gets a pass, but I never get that OMG!! reaction with it.



I took this one on the spur of the moment, we were at the beach and these two beautiful girls walked by and I decided to ask if I could take their picture. they agreed and I took two shots, this is one of them. nice, but not sure it isn't a bit too contrived to be really good.



and this is my favorite portrait at the moment. it's more of a snapshot isn't it? I mean it was unplanned, I called Alex over and told him where to stand and had him turn and then snap. the whole thing took maybe 5 seconds.


so, what makes a portrait a portrait? what makes a portrait acceptable to show off? I have a ton of photos I consider truly to be snapshots, but then they're for me, not for my portfolio. something like this one. it's very cute, but not something I would show someone to try to talk them into letting me take portraits of their family.

« Last Edit: March 01, 2016, 03:14:50 PM by Scott S »

Offline Doodle

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Re: what makes a good portrait
« Reply #1 on: March 01, 2016, 07:55:14 PM »
Personal opinions only here (in order of the shots shown):
1) The face is in shadows and because of that, there is no good catch light in his eyes.   A reflector or a soft box over a flash would have been good here.
2) Grainy and soft. A great pose but technically it is not a good shot and I believe that is why you didn't get the reaction that you thought you should get. I believe had this been sharp you WOULD have gotten that reaction because she is pretty and the pose is good.  Nothing is in focus and with portraiture (especially that close)...if the eyes aren't sharp, it's not a keeper.
3) The background is properly exposed but the girls are underexposed. Had the girls been the priority, this could have been a great shot with the nice scenery in the background.
4) Best of the group and should be considered a candidate for B&W treatment.
    The windows that are creating the catch light make these eyes POP. (see #1 and #5 for the difference)
5) This might be ok with the mom but there are a myriad of things wrong with this:
    The messy face lacks charm without a smile behind the milk mess.
    The TV in the background
    The pinhole catch lights in the eyes. Big eyes like that deserve a huge soft box to make them shine.
    The flash was harsh.
Again...just my 2 cents. Not from any "experience" (mostly because I lack it) but just from my first observations as I came to them.
Take your camera with you dammit. You can't take your next "best photo" if your camera is sitting at home in the bag, now can you?

Offline Scott S

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Re: what makes a good portrait
« Reply #2 on: March 02, 2016, 01:16:57 PM »
Hey Doodle, Thanks for commenting. I think you missed what I was trying to get at. I wasn't looking for critique, I was trying to get at what everyone, you included thinks makes a great portrait, and what is a general standard for portrait work.
in defence of the portrait of the girl in the tree, it's a scan of a smaller print from many years ago that I took back in the film days, the original print is sharp. it's hard to sharpen scans without them beginning to look bad.

so, to re-ask you, say on the first photo, would you rather hand someone that photo of their kid which captures him very well, or a more genuinely portrait style print that is nice, but has no emotional impact. I understand it would be best to have both form and impact, but sometimes that doesn't happen.

Offline Doodle

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Re: what makes a good portrait
« Reply #3 on: March 02, 2016, 08:27:16 PM »
Hey Doodle, Thanks for commenting. I think you missed what I was trying to get at. I wasn't looking for critique, I was trying to get at what everyone, you included thinks makes a great portrait, and what is a general standard for portrait work.
in defence of the portrait of the girl in the tree, it's a scan of a smaller print from many years ago that I took back in the film days, the original print is sharp. it's hard to sharpen scans without them beginning to look bad.

so, to re-ask you, say on the first photo, would you rather hand someone that photo of their kid which captures him very well, or a more genuinely portrait style print that is nice, but has no emotional impact. I understand it would be best to have both form and impact, but sometimes that doesn't happen.

I'm still not sure what you are asking. The reason is...I wouldn't hand that photo to someone (if the intention is to sell it). It is a close up that can be done with a camera phone. Without some sort of impact, I just can't see the appeal to it.
If it is for a relative then that is totally different. Odds are, you would just be doing them a favor and they would love it.
That shot would be yours to do what you want with it but if it were mine, no I wouldn't offer it up.
I have no idea whether I answered the question though. Sorry.
I will ask you one though, based on your quote: " I understand it would be best to have both form and impact, but sometimes that doesn't happen."  The questions is: why would you try to sell a less than great photo to someone if it does not have both?  Isn't that the photographers job? 
Take your camera with you dammit. You can't take your next "best photo" if your camera is sitting at home in the bag, now can you?

Offline Scott S

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Re: what makes a good portrait
« Reply #4 on: March 02, 2016, 08:42:41 PM »
your question is along the lines of what I was asking. some days I go out and everything falls into place. the people are beautiful, the day is great, and I catch everything. some days I go out and the people are not models, it's windy, the baby is crying and won't stop and everything is against you.
if you're like me, you bluff, take the shots and hope for the best and say you'd like to work with them again on a nicer day when the baby is happier, and it's no charge, and leave it at that.
not every day is perfect, not every shot is a portfolio shot.
where is that line?
of course I'd love every shoot to go perfectly, but they never do.
sometimes you get home and the ones you plan on being the "perfect portrait" are either lacking that certain something, or are just downright crap, and then you have one you just snapped because you were there and it's better, but really, it's a snapshot.
the issue is, most customer types look at the photos and say "oh my, these are amazing!". I post them here and get a much more critical review.
so where is the line, and where should it realistically be?

Offline Hannah Lane

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Re: what makes a good portrait
« Reply #5 on: August 10, 2017, 04:37:47 AM »
I actually don't understand the question, but in case of someone still need information and suggestion on portrait photography, you can consult FixthePhoto.com, it may help)