What makes a good Portrait?

23 Sep 2012 admin In G+ Posts Tags: , , ,

I need to spend more time trying to better understand what makes a good portrait… Is it the look and feel? Is it the model? Is it both?

What are people looking for in a portrait? To just look pretty? to look sexy in a different way than all their friends shots? or to show a side of themselves they rarely allow others to see?

I guess when I finally start to answer all those questions, I will advance my photography… I sure know one thing I have none of the answers… and just more questions…

#amazingfaces   #photoaday   #glamour  
#glamourphotography  http://500px.com/photo/14482875

Comments: 40

  1. Jason Odell 23 Sep 2012 Reply

    I don't know, either, but women in lingerie is a good start.

  2. Ben Sellars 23 Sep 2012 Reply

    Answers always seem to bring more questions. I've read the best portraits tell something about the person being photographed. I think the best ones have you feel something about that person. I'm still trying to learn how to find that something and then decide how to portray it. Hmmm….I hadn't thought about that word before…a portrait portrays someone.

  3. Sandra Parlow 23 Sep 2012 Reply

    I always wonder about how far a person should go with post processing. I know there are programs that will smooth the skin and sharpen the eyes and even make a person look thinner, but I've seen these things be grossly overused to the point where the person is unrecognizable and even plastic looking.

    To me a good portrait should show something of who your really are. Of course everyone wants to look good in photos but I feel if it's at the expense of not being true, then it's a poor representation of you.

  4. Ben Sellars 23 Sep 2012 Reply

    I agree +Sandra Parlow. There's always the possibility to smooth skin and wrinkles, brighten eyes and whiten teeth but those things are part of who that person is. I think I wouldn't do those things unless someone requests that it be done like a glamor portrait maybe. I will however remove temporary blemishes like say..the kid got a mosquito bite last night or a pimple..I'll touch that out.

  5. Ben Sellars 23 Sep 2012 Reply

    Good points +Jessy Luna. The soft effect in the image, the mood of the black and white, the way one side of her face is in partial shadow…beautiful photo. And all of these things contribute to what one feels when they look at the portrait.

  6. Steve Boyko 23 Sep 2012 Reply

    I agree with +Jessy Luna, there has to be a presence. Many portrait photos look flat and obviously staged, whereas the best portrait photos convey a sense of the person, whether it be their humour, energy, or life experience.

    I say that as an observer. I am terrible at taking portraits.

  7. Brent Burzycki 23 Sep 2012 Reply

    +Jessy Luna as you say there has to be more – how the photographer interacts with the model, the mood or a story… 

    +Sandra Parlow FYI – no filter or plugin will make me look pretty… just saying.. well unless there is one that erases the screen and puts in a pretty photo…

    +Ben Sellars answers always bring more questions I agree – then again I am not sure if I even want answers or do I? Maybe overall general feedback is best from a very wide audience to get the most info …

     +Jason Odell so your saying, any female 🙂 – because i have seen some pretty horrific use of lingerie on the peopleofwalmart site … 🙂

  8. Sandra Parlow 23 Sep 2012 Reply

    +Ben Sellars, I rarely shoot people but I'm with you. I try to stick to the basics. Compliment but not change. However, with glamour I can see why so much is necessary as its more commercial and people having that done are probably looking for an improved version of the self.

  9. Sandra Parlow 23 Sep 2012 Reply

    I've seen you Brent….. I thought you were cute! 😉

  10. Brent Burzycki 23 Sep 2012 Reply

    I will also admit I retouch everything I can find – not to make use of the boob enlargement tools or massive changes but if a model shows up with blemishes etc most of them would kick me in the crotch if i did not remove those things….as most of those are not permanent issues, other than scars etc…

    I will also admit i normally do not shoot normal people.. they are models, pro models or people who are paid to look stunning and in most cases expect to me portrayed as such….

    I have also found ti very hard to take photos of "normal" people, probably because I am not that great at it and or I just lack the interest in the subjects unless it is just editorial etc…

    I have passed up a pile of weddings and a pile of other pay jobs because I know other fellow photographers would do the work much better than i can.. and in that I pass off the referral… as for weddings, more power to those who shoot those.. I have enough stress already…

  11. Brent Burzycki 23 Sep 2012 Reply

    +Sandra Parlow it might have been a life size poster I use for deception….. 🙂 but thanks…

  12. Sandra Parlow 23 Sep 2012 Reply

    With the work you do I would expect no less, Brent. It's kind of a given in this kind of photo.

  13. Sandra Parlow 23 Sep 2012 Reply

    We hung out once….. A looooong time ago.

  14. Ben Sellars 23 Sep 2012 Reply

    Portraiture is something I'm really just beginning. I shot family photos for a friend last year and a couple of weddings prior to that then family photos for another friend last month and another wedding next week. I've always considered myself a landscape photographer and have my beginnings there and the twilight photography I've fallen in love with but  people photography scares the hell out of me. I'm too introverted and I think one really has to interact to photograph people and find out how they are so you can know how to portray them. It's tough but I think it's also the most important kind of picture you can make. I'm terrified to shoot another wedding but the fear is about me not them and I'll set it aside to focus on their day which should be the most important in their lives….and they asked me to photograph it for them. There's honor in that I think.

  15. Ben Sellars 24 Sep 2012 Reply

    That's an interesting point I hadn't thought before +Brent Burzycki. With normal people you kind of know what they have in mind and why they want to be photographed but with professional models, I'm told a good one knows what you want before you do, I think the portrait would depend on the use of the portrait. Whether it's for a magazine cover or the models portfolio each might require a different mood or perspective in the portrait.

  16. Ben Sellars 24 Sep 2012 Reply

    +Brent Burzycki …did you see +Scott Jarvie 's post about the live show he's doing tonight..they are reviewing fifty submitted portrait albums.

  17. Doug Brewer 24 Sep 2012 Reply

    I do a fair amount of portrait work, and have always thought it was more difficult to do what you do, Brent, working with people who are already attractive. That's because it's difficult to tell if someone is reacting to the fact that it's a good portrait or that there's cleavage. I'm not diminishing your work, by the way. I think you have real skill.

    As to what makes a good portrait, I think it's empathy, the ability of the photographer to connect with a subject through the camera in order to capture who that person is for the camera. I like to watch the subject, looking for mannerisms and fleeting expressions that tell me something about the person, and many times I'll try to catch that in the photo.

  18. Brent Burzycki 24 Sep 2012 Reply

    I heard about the critique, and I think part of me has no issues with photo critiques like that people can learn a lot… But I also do not try to market anything I do to photographers… I have had so much critique from photographers pro and non pro and in the end I ask normal non photographers and they might love the images that were red penned all over by photographers… So now I am trying to balance what critiques I get to also include real people not just fellow photographers… I see many change their entire style based on one other photographers views or critiques… That really should not happen unless your skills or photos are just plain awful and you have not realized it yet… Everyone should be allowed to find their own style…

    The thing about a critique deal like tonight's is I will sit there and probably not agree with some things because they are based in a pro's eye where they are thinking about selling images vs what most here might be doing and that is just rake better photos… It is really important the critiquer knows the end result the critiquee is looking for… Or the critique can really derail the personal vision of the photographer….

  19. Brent Burzycki 24 Sep 2012 Reply

    +Doug Brewer oh trust me my biggest critique is me… When I shoot with a new model like this one in this shot, I hate the wait till the first email comes back that says she likes the shot… The rest of her portfolio is what I would call normal Glamour images and nothing very creative… My worry came from changing what she was used to seeing.. That is a huge crap shoot… Unless. You are paying your models then it does not matter if they like it.. But I know I still want the model to be the first person who likes the shot…

  20. Ben Sellars 24 Sep 2012 Reply

    True enough +Brent Burzycki. In my own photography I shoot by feel and just go with it. No one has complained yet. There may be technical aspects that matter or not depending on use but as long as the customer is happy that's fine. I can always find plenty of technical issues and I should have's and  am just recently beginning to acknowledge what's right in my photography. Between growing technical knoweledge and giving myself credit for doing it right I'm much more comfortable in my photography than I once was.

  21. Brent Burzycki 24 Sep 2012 Reply

    I know I am not one that has officially learned photography…. No school no real book learning etc I just jump in and try and see what happens.. I will say some of that lack hurts me and the other part leaves me uninhibited by rules…..

  22. Ben Sellars 24 Sep 2012 Reply

    Roy Orbison wrote songs and music the way he did because he had no formal training. In his words had he known the way it was supposed to be done he never would have made music the way he did. Thank God for self-taught.

  23. Lionel Lauer 24 Sep 2012 Reply

    +Jessy Luna  I try to create a sense of connection between the model & the viewer, & most of that comes from the eyes.

  24. Stephen Berlin 24 Sep 2012 Reply

    I have enjoyed this conversation. Portraits have trap doors. I have many portraits that I have made of friends and my wife (who's also a friend, btw). I loved them. Captured the true person. Was proud to show. But the subject hated them. With some people, it's better to capture the ideal rather than the real. I know I look better in the ideal… But I also don't have cleavage or full, pouty lips.

  25. Ben Sellars 24 Sep 2012 Reply

    I think I know what you mean +Stephen Berlin. My wife is my worst subject in that she usually can find something to complain about. "Why didn't you tell me my shirt was wrinkled!" "My hair is out of place!" LOL….that said, she is also my biggest fan she just worries about her appearance in photos too much I think. And then, some people just don't want to be in pictures unless they've prepared for it.

  26. Brent Burzycki 24 Sep 2012 Reply

    I know I personally hate photos of me… And in turn very much care that the shots I take make the subjects happy… Plus if I was half naked in front of a photographer I would want my end result as professional looking as possible…

  27. Sandra Parlow 24 Sep 2012 Reply

    I think we are all very critical of ourselves in photos. I don't like photos of me either…. Especially when other people take them. (there are some scary photos of me from photo walks out there) Some people don't have very good judgment on what's acceptable.

    I actually don't do a lot of fixing on my own selfies, but I know the angles I like myself best at, and I shoot to accommodate those, and I take a lot of shots to find one that I like. I've never actually had my photo taken by a pro, so I really have no idea what my expectations would be. But I would still want to look like me… No matter who was shooting me.

  28. Hi everyone, this was an interesting thread I have to say.  I just read through all the comments and I'd like to add a different perspective for you.  I've been a portrait photographer for close to 20 years, and I am formally trained with a degree from a 2 year photography program.  I apologize in advance if my reply is epic in scale LOL!  I may do two replies. 

    First, your original questions +Brent Burzycki  What makes a good portrait – that entirely depends on the purpose of the photo.  Editorial is ti represent something, some message.  Business portrait -make the person look official, trust worthy, approachable.  Glamour portrait – make the women look and feel good about herself (I did a LOT of these in the early 90s and often it's done to mark a milestone like a certain age, weight loss, etc), wedding portraits to document their day, how great they look, their love for each other.  All of that of course is my opinion only based on my experience doing all of that. 

    What do people want in a portrait? – again depends on who the client is whether it's a magazine editor, art director, or regular person wanting a portrait of their family.  Most average people however just want to look good.  Someone mentioned working with pretty models and pretty folks in general is harder – and that's true!  Pretty girls look for flaws and know how good they can look.  Average people who haven't had a pro portrait don't know what's possible with the right lighting, and posing.  Make them look just a little better than they think they look and they will LOVE you forever!  Show them a way to pose for friends snapshots that takes off 10 lbs and and they're your new best friend!

  29. I too agree that many portraits are over retouched.  I personally do not use any "portrait" software to soften skin or blur stuff out.  I follow the guideline that anything temporary has to go (blemish, skeeter bites, men's shaving burn, sunburn/tan lines).  Anything permanent has to stay but I lighten or soften it but do not remove it.  Here's the thing:  today's cameras and lenses are SO sharp to the point of showing more detail than is wanted on the human face, right down to actual pores.  So portraits of facial close ups often benefit from a slight soften (I do it in LR, using the adjustment brush, on the skin only very lightly) just takes away some detail that we don't even normally see in the mirror unless we get out the magnifying glass.  Anything past that point – to make the "plastic" people is too much IMO.

  30. Lionel Lauer 24 Sep 2012 Reply

    +Darlene Hildebrandt Totally agree about understanding the point of the portrait before shooting.
    WRT cosmetic work in Photoshop, if I'm doing a formal/glam shot, I'll take out obvious blemishes, & if necessary, create a soft (Gaussian blur) copy of the background layer with a mask, & subtly paint it in on top of the background image.

  31. critiques:  I'm a photography educator now, teaching classes to beginner and intermediate amateurs.  When I do image reviews I know my students aren't trying to be pros, just improve, as you mentioned somewhere above.  I always give something positive about the image first, what's working.  Then give ways they might improve it either with a bit of processing, cropping, or ways to shoot it differently next time.  Often in a class setting I'll ask the other students what they'd do before I comment and they say the same things I was going to add.  

    I think there are merits to both formal training and self-taught.  Let's compare to another industry or craft for a moment.  Would you hire a self-taught heart surgeon for your bypass surgery?  Probably not.  In some cases and careers training does matter.  In an artistic one like photography it's certainly not critical.  What I do find though is the speed at which you learn it.  I am constantly asked by my students "how long did it take you to get this stuff?" and I tell them that I got it pretty fast but I was immersed in it.  If you want to learn a language what's the best way to do it?  Go to the country and speak it, you're forced to learn or starve right?  Also there is something to be said for learning from others mistakes too.  One of the things I talk about in my classes is workflow.  Coming over from film days myself, the digital transition wasn't always a smooth one and I made lots of mistakes along the way.  I can share some things in the "don't do this" category cause I know I did it, and it didn't work out so good.  

  32. +Lionel Lauer  yup that's one way to do it.  Do you use Photoshop or Lightroom or both?  I do about 90% of all my photo editing in LR

  33. Lionel Lauer 24 Sep 2012 Reply

    +Darlene Hildebrandt Neither, these days. I used to be a PS expert, but I switched to Linux a couple of years ago & am still trying to transfer my PS skills to Gimp. That's not a high priority though, because I mostly try to compose in camera & am happy to process in anything with good RAW support.

  34. Linux, eek I know nothing about that OS.  

  35. oh hey +Brent Burzycki  just a comment on your portrait, not a crit but something to notice – take a look at her face above.  Half of her face is lit the other in shadow, right?  Notice how the side closest to the camera is more in the light than the other?  Next time you're doing a portrait do it this way, then have her turn her face more towards the light and notice how the light changes on the face.  I have written a few articles for Digital Photography School, one on lighting patterns.  Take a look at the "Broad vs short" lighting.  http://digital-photography-school.com/6-portrait-lighting-patterns-every-photographer-should-know  – just a tip, her nose will look smaller using the "short" lighting pattern.  See if you can see the difference.  Works for even the prettiest subjects.

  36. Brent Burzycki 24 Sep 2012 Reply

    That is a bold move to go to Linux and in turn limiting yourself and your tools… Thanks for the input on the topic here +Lionel Lauer and +Darlene Hildebrandt tons of very good points and we can all learn something…..

  37. what's the benefit of Linux?  I'm on a mac fyi

  38. Brent Burzycki 25 Sep 2012 Reply

    +Darlene Hildebrandt I do not use it.. I think the benefit is in some cases security and in others to not use Windows or Mac/Apple – I would go insane personally as all of my current software will not run on it…

  39. yeah not for me either

  40. Lionel Lauer 25 Sep 2012 Reply

    For photographers, Linux has zero benefit, I'm sad to say.

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