Program Note: for more information about shooting portraits: http://visualsciencelab.blogspot.com/2011/01/thinking-about-art-while-swimming-how-i.html
What is it in a portrait that makes me stop and take a long second look and decide that I like it better than most of the others I have seen or taken? It's an interesting question because it has so many layers. This portrait has one attribute that's widely considered to be a flaw. The subject is nearly precisely centered in the frame. I could fix that by cropping but, contrary to common strictures, I think it works just fine the way it is.
I like a portrait that makes me want to know more about the person being portrayed. I want the image to spark my curiosity in a way that pronounces the person's uniqueness. I want the portrait to have a visual appeal that supersedes the subject herself, and by that I mean that I want the tones of the print and the contrasts between various elements in the print to have a life and vibrancy all their own. I like portraits better when I don't have to decipher intentionality in the background elements. In fact, I am so linear I don't really like background elements, which is why I try to consistently make them go away by putting them as far out of focus as I can.
Male or female I want each portrait subject to have a direct engagement with the camera. There are very few portraits I like where the subject is looking out of the frame. And in those few, if I am critical with myself, I know I only like or admire them because the subject is famous or so visually compelling (beautiful/sexy/powerful/grotesque) that I am influenced by the energy of the emotionally charged aspect of the subject's image. I want the eyes locked on me as in a conversation. I want to feel the engagement that the subject had directly with the photographer. I want to be able to imagine myself in the place of the artist. If I was the one who took the portrait then the direct engagement always seems to have more spontaneous and visceral impact when I view it than a more indirect and more passive subject countenance.
I am drawn to portraits where the subject is not locked in a grinning smile but in a responsive attitude that signifies a conversation was being conducted. That he or she was sharing collaboratively in the process. But most of all I want to feel that the subject had a genuine interest in the process. And a genuine interest in the artist.