When people don't smile and look into the camera.

For a few years I did little every day other than take photographs or print photographs. Most paid jobs called for portraits or "headshots" of people looking directly into the camera and smiling as well as they thought they should. But many of my favorite images were taken when the person in front of my camera looked away for a moment. I stumbled across these three yesterday and thought I would share them with you. 

The top one is of Belinda and was taken so long ago that it was done with a Nikon FM film camera and a Tamron Adaptall 28-80mm zoom lens. The quality of the image is quite secondary, in my mind, to the way the light works and the wonderfully disordered lock of hair hanging down on her forehead. 

The image just below was taken during a silly "fashion" shoot for a Texas lifestyle magazine. We were shooting winter clothes in the middle of a heat wave and, since we were in Pedernales State Park, one of the models took a few minutes to put on some shorts and stand in the middle of the Pedernales River ( a tributary of the Colorado River) to cool off. I took the photo at that moment when the shock of the cold water had worn off and the delight of being in that moment caused our model to clothes her eyes and savor it. The image was done with a Leica R8 and a 180mm f4.0 Elmar on AgfaPan black and white film. 

The most recent shot of the three was done at a coffee shop on Congress Ave., just a few blocks from the state capitol. I was working with a talent named Jana Steele (who also graces the cover of my LED Lighting Book) and we were going for a realistic, but posed, shot of someone waiting for a first date to show up. The image was done with available light and a Canon 5Dmk2 along with the 100mm f2.0 Canon lens.

In all three images my intention was never to create a traditional portrait that people would hang on a wall but to create small, opened ended visual stories that presented a tableau from which an audience could launch into their own personal conjecture.

Nothing more than a visual poem with very few lines....


  1. I just finished my taxes and am starting to come up for a breath of air. These pictures are just what I needed to get my mind moving in a more humane way. Lovely.

  2. The other advantage of this type of portrait is that the sitter is not trying to 'smile' or otherwise pull some sort of photo-face for the camera. Which is fine if you're a model but can prove rather awkward for most people.

  3. "Nothing more than a visual poem with very few lines." My favorite genre of photographic art.

  4. Smiling is the most easily "readable" human response / social cue. So it's boring to those of us who look at things for a living, and tend to look deeper and in a more acute way for something that reveals a deeper meaning or connection. I shoot a lot of work for businesses. Smiling is good in that instance because viewers can instantly connect with the person in the photo, which is the goal of doing business.

    Bring on the non-smiling human response that invites me to delve deeper into what is going on in that person's mind, though.

  5. "Nothing more than a visual poem with very few lines..."

    I love that. I like photos that raise questions or suggest a story, that something came before or something might be coming after.

    I'm going to use that quote when I'm talking to my subjects/models about what I'm trying to do.

  6. "The quality of the image is quite secondary, in my mind, to the way the light works and the wonderfully disordered lock of hair hanging down on her forehead."
    My first thought was along the lines how beautiful this picture is. Sharpness, DOF (or lack thereoff), blown highlights, murky shadows? I dont know, didnt look that way. Shhouldnt it always be like this?


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