A Portrait Is More than a Picture

“A Portrait Is More than a Picture,” New Era, Feb. 1972, 46–47

A Portrait Is More than a Picture

Catch the action. Fix a mood. The challenge of photography today is to make a personal statement. It no longer matters if you can’t see everyone’s face or hands or feet. Capture a person’s feeling—the pure exuberance of leaping down a snow bank C, the fun of a friend racing on foot beside your car D, a spring morning sharing a field with a dog E.

Seek the heart and spirit of the living person. Why photograph her when she is the prettiest and best dressed? If grandpa donned his Sunday suit and sat in a chair, you’d never know him F. And look at grandma lying on the bed. The style of the brass bedstead discloses something about the character of the subject. Perhaps she is not displayed at her best, but this is as she is to those who know her and see her as a real person G.

Choose environments that compliment the story of your subject. Home, heritage, and the South are background themes in the portrait of this couple H. Old cars are as interesting as new, and the owner’s personality is part of his taste for old things I. Unusual perspectives of the surroundings add variety J. In addition to seeing the wide vista of the environment, there are interesting details such as an old window. The shape of this broken glass lends itself to interesting design and reflection K.

Storms are great. Bring out your camera. Changing weather and overcast skies can be an advantage in casting subtle shades of light on your subject L.

Scale relationships help you to see things in a fresh way. Putting the camera only a few inches from the cat reversed the size relationship between the building and the cat. Certainly looks different than the typical ball-of-yarn or catnap-in-the-lap type of picture M.

Here is another example of scale effect. The large, dominating elements serve to focus your attention on the tiny figure. But beware that the idea you’re portraying is not dwarfed N.

Probably one of the first rules you learned in photography was to keep your back to the light source when you shoot. Sometimes it’s a good rule to remember, but this time break it. Here are two examples that were shot looking into the light source. Silhouettes come to life. In this photo there is also an interesting scale relationship created by the nearness of one silhouette and the distance of the other. Cropping off the head of the first figure focuses the observer’s attention on the arms and legs O. In the second example of shooting into the light, the child thrown up into the sky caught the light below his feet, and they disappeared. The exposure created a mottled effect of gray tones instead of a silhouette P.

Saturday afternoon means different things to different people. Let your picture express the mood and situation of the person Q, R, S.

The image of affection is fleeting—a quick gesture or a laugh and it’s gone T.

Double exposures can create an expression for dreams and feelings. This photo simultaneously suggests the inner and outward experiences U.

Sometimes the hands say more than the face V.

Think about your bishop. Not on Sunday, but after MIA when almost everyone has gone. He listens to one of the coeds in a moment of serious reflection and then leans forward to say what he feels W.

See with new eyes every time you click the shutter. Search for a new way to formulate your perception. This search gives you a new sense of seeing and evaluating. Digesting what you see and responding to it within the framework of photography may awaken new personal insights for you. And if that happens, it will make you say “Oooohhhhhh!” or “Aahhhhhhhh!” And the actual product is of less value than the personal development you experience in the effort. For increasing our perception and understanding is an intangible, all-encompassing work of art.


All photos were taken with a Nikon FTN. Film was TriX rated at 800 ASA and processed in Dektol 1:1. Exposure was made by automatic Nikon meter coupled to the lens.

A; B. Double print. 28 mm; C. White area emphasized by potassium ferry-cinide wash. 50 mm; D. 50 mm; E. 50 mm; F. 50 mm.

G. 50 mm. Tripod; H. 50 mm; I. 135 mm. Exposure reading taken on faces. Impossible to take a general reading in snow without underexposing; J. 28 mm; K. 50 mm.

L. 50 mm. Printed on high contrast paper # 5; M. 28 mm; N. 50 mm; O. 50 mm. Printed on high contrast paper # 5. Exposure determined by reading the lightest area; P. 28 mm. Exposure determined by reading the dark areas, therefore distorting the feet where the light source is brightest.

Q. 50 mm; R. 28 mm. Cropped when printing to emphasize thoughts of person on right; S. 35 mm; T. 28 mm.

U. 50 mm. Average exposure for both shots; V. 24 mm; W. 50 mm.