CLASSICAL PHOTOGRAPHY by Jess Isaiah Levin, Raleigh, NC

l250eddings, portraits, seniors, corporate events, fine art prints.

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August 2009

Head Shots and Portrait Styles

The term "headshot" (take your pick, one word or two) is often used in the limited sense of a basic picture of a person's face, enough information to make them recognizable. However, if you think about the uses we have for facial portraits (business introductory materials, friendly social connections, publicity, etc.) it's clear that most of the factors that contribute to a fine portrait of any sort will also bear on a head shot.

What makes a portrait? Well to begin with, of course, a representation of what a person looks like 'in person". But our perceptions are affected by many things:

1. We look at each other from various angles, and focus on different things. Our sense of a three dimensional world results from processing a constantly changing two dimensional projection on our retinas.

2. A living person is almost constantly changing expression to some degree. The feeling that we get about their personality and essence comes from all the different things we see, and also what we hear them say, how they act.

3. We see a person's face as it is "sculpted" by the light, yet once we form an inner image of them, we compensate for changes in light and feel that their basic facial structure remains constant.

The camera records a brief time, essentially an instant, of what a person looked like then, from that angle, in that light. So, the task of the portrait photographer is this:

1. Get to know the subject enough to have a feeling for what they really look like, what their personality is, what they would like to show to the world (or the intended viewers of the photo), and ideally even a bit of their "inner being" that might be reflected in a carefully done portrait.

2. Find the photographic means to project these things in a single image.

An aspect of some portraiture is placing a subject in the environment, showing a part of their personal world. This is one factor that doesn't usually figure in a head shot. The background is kept very simple, which concentrates the viewer's attention on the face.

A face-forward business head shot:

Fort Macon shadows

A three-quarter view from the same photo session:

three quarter view head shot

A soft light for a different person's face and personality:

head shot soft light

Almost the same angle, but a different face, so different light:

head shot, smiling

Again, a different face calls for different light, and so does the aspect of personality that we want to show:

head shot, broad light

One more example:

head shot, soft


Next: Maternity portraits

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