Favorite Images: Portraits

Dorothy and Paul, 2011 (85mm)
Dorothy and Paul, 2011 (85mm)
Lissa and Chloe, 2008 (80-200mm at 120mm)
Lissa and Chloe, 2008 (80-200mm at 120mm)
Abby, 2004 (28-70mm at 70mm)
Abby, 2004 (28-70mm at 70mm)

Building a list of my top five favorite portraits was even more difficult than deciding on my top five travel images. For one thing, my portraiture spans a much longer period, reaching all the way back to the early 1980s. Another factor is that I married a woman, Abby, I consider to be among the most beautiful of all the women I have ever known, and images of her quickly overpopulated my list.

Karen, 2001 (105mm)
Karen, 2001 (105mm)
Abby, 2004 (105mm)
Abby, 2004 (105mm)
Tracy, 2008 (28-70mm at 70mm)
Tracy, 2008 (28-70mm at 70mm)

My portraits have always been of a fairly straightforward style. I realize that there are many hundreds of styles of portraiture in photography, and within those many are an almost infinite number of personal styles. There are also many non-stylized forms of portraiture in the world too, like the pictures you might get made of your two-year-old at Wal Mart’s front-of-the-store studio (at which the “photograpers” are literally trained not to be creative.)

Thea, Jamie, Sarah Jo, and Nicole, 2005 (50mm)
Thea, Jamie, Sarah Jo, and Nicole, 2005 (50mm)
Darlene, 1984 (50mm)
Darlene, 1984 (50mm)

I also make many images of people that I do not consider portraits, because they don’t express anything about the people except how their faces look; studio mug shots, guest speakers behind lecturnes, people making award presentations, etc., as part of my job as a newspaper photographer.

Jamie and Samantha, 2001 (105mm)
Jamie and Samantha, 2001 (105mm)
Beth and Trudy, 2009 (18-200mm at 86mm)
Beth and Trudy, 2009 (18-200mm at 86mm)
Melissa, 2002 (85mm)
Melissa, 2002 (85mm)
Ann, 2009 (18-70mm at 50mm)
Ann, 2009 (18-70mm at 50mm)

One important difference between much of my photojournalism and my portraiture is that in the first, I am trying to capture a moment, and in the second I am trying to capture a spirit. What really makes a portrait for me is capturing something about that spirit of the people I am photographing. For example, an image of a curious child captures something essential about that person. An image of a model for a magazine ad does not. Children are expressing themselves when they play, while models, for the most part, are just doing what they are told.

Russell, 1987 (180mm)
Russell, 1987 (180mm)
Anna, 1983 (105mm)
Anna, 1983 (105mm)

There are a lot of variables. In the end, I’ll say that the spirit I hope to capture is mostly revealed in the eyes of my subjects. They are known as “Windows of the Soul” for a reason, that they are the most emotionally revealing aspect of the human form.

Abby, 2009 (70-200mm at 70mm)
Abby, 2009 (70-200mm at 70mm)

As part of this discussion, I am including lens focal length in the captions, since it can be a significant, though not all-encompassing, factor in the creation of a portrait. You might notice that I tend toward the 85mm to 105mm region when choosing a portrait lens, focal lengths which are often regarded as “classic” portrait lenses, and for good reason. These focal lengths allow us to fill the frame with a human face while doing so at a natural, conversational distance.

Mitchell, 2004 (70-300mm at 105mm)
Mitchell, 2004 (70-300mm at 105mm)
Kristina, 2002 (18-200mm at 200mm)
Kristina, 2002 (18-200mm at 200mm)
Michelle, 2008 (85mm)
Michelle, 2008 (85mm)

Portraits aren’t always about flattering a subject or making a subject beautiful, although many of my images are of beautiful people. Sometimes they can be about ruggedness, loneliness, suffering, playfulness, sadness, companionship, and on and on. The only real requirement is that we see who is inside.

Kathy, 1988 (35mm)
Kathy, 1988 (35mm)
Abby, 2005 (70-300mm at 105mm)
Abby, 2005 (70-300mm at 105mm)
Masha, 1999 (105mm)
Masha, 1999 (105mm)

As with the travel photos before, I was able to cull this list down only so far, at which point I just couldn’t cut any more. The images collected here are the result after one round after another of editing, deleting, rethinking, etc. The “top five” changed as often as I looked at them. I’ll leave it to you to pick your top five.

Paul, 2011 (50mm)
Paul, 2011 (50mm)
Abby, 2004 (85mm)
Abby, 2004 (85mm)
Hershel, 2004 (24mm)
Hershel, 2004 (24mm)
Abby, 2003 (105mm)
Abby, 2003 (105mm)

 

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3 Comments

  1. “I’ll leave it to you to pick your top five”

    1. Masha, 1999 (105mm)
    2. Abby, 2005 (70-300mm at 105mm)
    3. Russell, 1987 (180mm)
    4. Jamie and Samantha, 2001 (105mm)
    5. Thea, Jamie, Sarao Jo, and Nicole, 2005 (50mm)

    1. Masha has something to say, and she’s saying it with her eyes. The background, though severely out of focus, also says something to me — the city at night, moving cars, nearly empty sidewalk. And her coat says it’s chilly, or at least brisk. All this combines to give a powerful sensation.

    2. Something about the green carbiner and green sunglasses draws a line right through her smile. I feel that (forgive me, Abby!) her smile is forced in some of her pictures, it looks very natural to me in this one, and the playful look in her eyes is the icing on the cake.

    3. Having interviewed and photographed many people of advanced age, I find them the most intriguing. Not only for the stories they could tell, but for the stories they will never tell, and the stories they have long forgotten.

    4. From the portrait, these two appear to have a great relationship — sisters, or cousins, or best friends. There’s a very natural feeling about the way they are touching, and their smiles say they are absolutely comfortable in this moment.

    5. This one just makes me curious. The two on the left seem relaxed and comfortable, while something else is going on with the two at right. One woman seems to be trying to hard to enjoy the moment and possibly trying to pull the other one into the moment. The far right woman doesn’t appear nearly as happy as the rest of them, as if she just thought of something very profound.

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  2. Masha ate up that session with a spoon. We spent an hour on a freezing Main Street in downtown Ada, and she was amazing.

    That image of Abby was made at Mesa Verde National Park, just at last light. I have several amazing images of her from that trip.

    Russell was my grandfather. He died in 1989.

    Jamie and Samantha were always close and still are to this day. I made that picture of them at their request on my balcony in downtown Ada.

    The group of four was in our front yard at Christmas. That’s my mom and my sister Nicole on the right. Nicole’s expression is a little out of place, but I think it adds a dynamic to the image.

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  3. First, I love the images Richard takes of me, so minus those. My top 5.
    Lisa and Chloe true love in its purest form. I love the black and white of the dog and her tights they love each other so much they want to look a like.
    Russell this image holds amazing beauty for me.
    Mitchell a version of a boy stopped in time– such hope.
    Marsha this one is a dark seduction beautifully captured.
    Abby 2003 What a lovey way to look into a camera.

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