I like making potraits.
Every time I get the chance to photograph people it´s a challenge for me to capture the personality of the person. Not only the features, but the person behind the face, so to speak. It´s much easier when I know the person - someone from my family or one of my colleagues. It´s very hard when I am trying to make a portrait of someone I don´t know.
In order to get behind the (sur)face of the person, I aim to make things comfortable for her. This is where knowing the person is helpful! Making compliments almost always help - especially when it´s a woman. A bit of chit-chat can do the trick, too. It´s nice for everyone if the room isn´t cold. Some people relax when a few few jokes are being cracked.
So when we´ve had an initial cup of coffee or whatever, we will start talking about what the person in question expect from the portrait. Some want an artsy attempt - others are thinking of a present to their grandmother. These options will make very different portraits. I´m sure you get my drift.
Then we take our positions, so to speak. I fiddle about with my gear a little - while I keep on talking to keep her mind busy. It´s bad for the quality of the portrait if she starts getting too self-concious - whenever they start to think about how they look, they will get not only stiff upper-lips, but stiff faces alltogether. Then I tell her that we will probably make a hundred or more shots of which only two or three will be chosen as material to the final portrait. Then I tell her that I will make a few "test-shots". She needs to get used to the flash and the sound of the camera. So, when she seems relaxed, we proceed with the posing. Sometimes she´ll have ideas of her own, and if not I will be quick to instruct her how to sit, what direction, where to look and so on and so forth.
Then I will start to shoot series. 5 or 10 shots in each. Usually one of the last shots in a serie will be the chosen one - the one with the relaxed self-unconcious appealing look that everyone wants. The mood must be seen in the eyes, not only in the face. Only professional models can fake with their eyes - so therefore it´s very important to make her relaxed and to make her feel comfortable with me. Having done all that - which will take about an hour in all - we usually wind up with a few good portraits.
So, why do I tell you all this?
The answer to that question is, that I want to introduce to you a guy that I think is the greatest portrait photographer of all times. His name is Steve McCurry
- and he´s absolutely brilliant. He takes his smashing, fabulous portraits on the go. No studio, only a few minutes and almost always of people he does not know personally. He manages to make far better portraits than mine - in no time and with a simple rangefinder camera in available light.
To your left, you´ll see what I find the best portrait photograph ever. It´s called "The Afghan Girl".
Damn, look at that expression - and those eyes. Isn´t it marvellous?
If you wish, you can click here
to see a few of my humble attempts.