Shifting the discussion back to portraits.

This is Suzy.  It's a quick portrait.  No more than a snapshot.

If there's one thing the blog has done for me it's to help me discern what I like in a photograph and what I don't. For the most part I like to see people in my photographs.  And I've discovered that I'm not really at all concerned with "ultimate" sharpness and resolution or perfect color.  I'm drawn toward grainy images with implied movement.  I'd rather look at black and white than color.  I like deep, rich blacks and I like highlights that hover on the edge of dissolution into white.

I like soft, directional light that spills across a face and I find most beauty lighting as boring as the output of a photo booth.  I like backgrounds that go tremendously out of focus.  I don't like monotonal backgrounds.  I like backgrounds that shift thru a register of values. 

It's hard for me to make a portrait I like if I can't make some sort of connection with the person I'm photographing.  Doesn't matter if I "like" them or not but I have to have some understanding of who they are in order to continue into the process.

Like any other creative process there is a resistance I encounter when I start to think about creating portraits.  Resistance tells me that everyone is too busy to come and sit for a portrait.  That I need to do something different with my lighting and taking portraits would be a futile waste of time if I haven't figured out my new lighting yet.  And there's always the idea that there must be a lens and a camera out there somewhere that would do a much better job making portraits than the ones I have in my hands.

In a very real way this blog is a manifestation of my resistance to moving deeper and deeper into making portraits.  Why bother to call and arrange rendezvous and set up lights if you can harvest the past and pontificate about the future?  Why? Because like the sharks artists need to continue to move forward to breathe.  

I think we'll spend the next few months shooting and writing and reading about portraits.  New portraits.  In fact, the re-invention of the photographic portrait.  Not more quick hits on the street.  A more focused intention to see people and share what we've seen.


Bruce Bodine said...


I am really looking forward to your writings on this as based on your portraiture I have seen "less is more" gives wonderful results.

wjl (Wolfgang Lonien) said...

That is a good and useful and most welcome discussion, to which I'm really looking forward to. Oh, and I just love your one- and two-light portraits so much!

Frank Grygier said...

Your portraits are an inspiration to me and I admire your work. I look forward to sharing your experiences and seeing your art reach new heights.

Victor Bloomfield said...

Paul Strand, Yousuf Karsh, Arnold Newman, Steve McCurry ... great portraitists all. Why not Kirk Tuck? Seriously.

christian said...

Kirk, a wonderful statement and I am looking forward to seeing the results. I very much identify with you, and what you say here. For a long time now I have done most of my portraits with a 35mm SLR and a 50mm lens, and no lighting that was not part of the 'environs.' I found that I love looking through the viewfinder and really concentrating on the person I am photographing. Lighting, fancy lenses, zoom lenses and all that just get in the way for me. My favorite way of doing portraits is to just sit down across from the person I am photographing and start shooting and talking. Switching from film to digital, that is why I was attracted to the Canon G10, because as puny as it is, I like looking through that viewfinder.

Gregg Mack said...

Kirk, this is so cool. I can't wait to follow you through this "new" journey and learn from every tidbit that you reveal to us through your blog.

Paul van Geldrop said...

I can't wait to hear about you telling stories of your new portrait journey. I wonder where you'll end up.

bishop said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bishop said...


I enjoy reading your blog and appreciate your photography. I've rarely seen portrait photography with such a sense of intimacy. The connection you have with your subjects is breathtaking. I look forward to seeing more of your work.

Tony's Vision said...

I love natural, ambient light. My soft box is a north window. Or outdoors in open shade with a directional quality. Backlight outdoors with a wee bit of fill from the pop-up flash. Once in a rare while I will use a reflector - a pillow case or damaged foam core. I like the little accidental things that happen with soft ambient backgrounds, and subjects naturalness that I don't think I could educe in a formal studio setting. While most of my photographs are landscapes taken in and around the California Sierra Nevada and the Great Basin in Nevada, in the fullness of time those most meaningful to me are portraits of family and friends. And of those, early 35mm Tri-X black and whites taken at our kitchen table by that north window are most precious.

My take on artificial lighting has been that it is a tool used by pros for convenience and consistency, those who have to get the job done despite the weather. Yet I love your portraits. So I am looking forward to your planned series, and hoping to discover how you inspire a natural, animated, feeling in your studio subjects. A video of a portrait session might reveal your magic. And perhaps you might also get a bit into using ambient light for portraits.

Anonymous said...

The reason I keep coming back to your website is for the portrait tips, and occasional philosophy. So speaking for myself: "Amen."

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