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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.