The formal portrait is alive and well
Not every portrait is a grab shot
It instantly reminded me of the thrill I get from doing a ‘formal’ or ‘controlled’ portrait.
First of all, I am not a ‘street’ photographer, although if I see something I like, I will engage the camera. I am a controlled and deliberate photographer.
Usually, I work handheld, but there are some conditions that call for a tripod, and I love those situations. I want to be totally involved with the subject, and a tripod (or studio stand) keeps me focused on them.
The above shot was made during a workshop I was giving in Seattle. I worked her in a very short area; “a little to the left, a little to the right, drop the shoulder a bit, a bit more, just a bit…”
The shot I chose was with a very slight angle to the shoulders, and the necklace was just a bit askance. When it was centered, the shot felt a bit too static, although that soft stoic look is what I was after.
I was working with a photographer in Springdale, Utah (think Zion National Park). She brought a friend in for us to shoot, and I lit worked the lighting for a very formal, deliberate portrait.
The dichotomy of the jacket and formal lighting with the wild hair and classic beard creates a striking portait that instantly engages the viewer. He was a quiet and reserved gentleman, and I wanted the portrait to reflect his gentle demeanor.
Anders is a friend from Sweden and he was visiting my studio in Phoenix. I had lights on stands already and I used that as an excuse to ask for a portrait. Yes, I will use any excuse to make a portrait.
Anders is a refined and articulate man, and I wanted the light to be reflective of his inner strength.
Ivy was sitting for a portrait and a dear friend of mine, Virginia Smith, brought out some props and began to style her. We were all laughing and having fun playing with the props when I quietly said, “be still, be quiet, be powerful…”
And she brought a whole series of very thoughtful and engaging portraits forth while I just encouraged and snapped. (I never stop talking when I am shooting… encouraging, pushing, prodding, and guiding the subjects to their own place for the shot.ar
I didn’t have much time with this shot, the subject needed to get back to work. I knew the shot had to include the esoteric-looking telescope. Getting down low in front of him was a bit peculiar for the subject.
People are not used to the photographer being in any position other than straight across from them. But I knew that the shape of the roof and the slit in the side with the very bright light coming through would help give the image a bit more context.
I love formal portraiture. Even if I find a stranger, I am always asking if they can move ‘over there’, or if we can try this different angle.
It is important for me to have them engage and be a part of the process. Then we both win, and we both put forth more effort.
And it is that formalism that shows through the portraits.
(All images were made with some sort of camera, I believe.)
I am a photographer, designer, and photo editor. You can find me at my self-named website or at Project 52 Pro System where I teach commercial photography online. This is our tenth year of teaching, and it is the most unique online class you will find anywhere.