Art in a portrait…
…includes much more than meets the eye. Photographers taking their first steps with portraits often see only the person in front of them. But the portrait context also includes the scene, the artist and their culture.
Portrait context – a historical boundary
Portrait art historically reflected the fashions and ideas of the time. For example early civilisations tended to depict people in profile. These flat two dimensional portraits were a mark of early Egyptian art. Much later, in the 14th century, the Renaissance masters did portraits as a three dimensional rendering on the canvas. They used artistic tools the Egyptians did not have.
Today the portrait context is still related to the knowledge and experience of the artist. And, they are partly bound by the conventions of their time, culture and so on. You can never fully be divorced from your context. But, we are free to take a wider, more context-free view of portraits. Artists and photographers are trained to take a broad, imaginative outlook. Art and photography schools give the imaginative freedom of students a wide scope. Breaking the bounds of traditional portraiture is a part of that freedom.
Breaking the bounds of portrait context takes careful thought
Portraiture starters often only see their subject through “everyday” eyes. Most of us are not trained in the ways of imaginative scene setting. So we tend to take portraits that represent our every day view of people. There is nothing wrong with that. Family, friends and others make a fun photograph. The images can be pleasing and satisfying.
Great portraiture goes deeper than that day-to-day view. To push the boundaries of your portraits, think in a different way. The portrait photog should consider their own vision and experience. They also need to think of the environment, cultural context, story and location of the shot. The photographer should understand who they are as well as knowing something of the portrait subject.
Of course knowing these things does not produce a great image. What makes a great portrait is pre-vision. It is how you bring out something in the subject, the scene or the portrait context that is remarkable. This takes a unique perspective.
The art of portrait photography
A strong portrait steps out of the everyday view. In the video we get the perspective of a number of portrait photogs. Each has looked into the portrait context in which they are working. With forethought and insight they have constructed artful portraits. They have also made driven and powerful images of their subjects. Each has a clear understanding of the portrait context. Each has a clear view of what they want to say.
The lesson is, look for a point to make. Understand both what you are working with and what you are working to express.
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By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.