Photographers, in essence, are storytellers. Instead of words, we use images to tell our stories. In traditional portraiture, we most often focus on the face of our subject to narrate the shot. We look to capture just the right curve of the mouth, the twinkle in the eye or the tilt of the head and rely on facial expressions to reveal the heart and soul of the person in front of our lens. There’s so much more to telling the whole story than that.
In our new book, Expressive Photography: A Shutter Sisters’ Guide to Shooting from the Heart, we introduce another approach to portraiture: focusing on the details. Although often overlooked, the small gestures and subtle nuances of your subject often can tell you more about them than any headshot ever could. Co-author Andrea Scher adds, “A subject’s spirit can live in the tiniest details—that perfect brooch, the gesture of her hands, the tiniest rose peeking out of a pocket. As photographers, we get to notice it all. As seers and story-framers, we get to make these powerful choices: What story do we want to tell? Where do we want the viewer to look? What do we want them to notice?”
When challenging ourselves with questions like these, our entire perspective changes. There’s so much we can reveal about our subjects simply by shifting our focus, moving past mere facial expressions, taking a closer look at the details.
Tips For Discovering The Details
Posture: The way your subjects position themselves, with little prompting from you, can reveal volumes about how they’re feeling. Through creative framing of the elements of body language alone, you can capture an effective and emotional portrait.
Gesture: Expression comes in many forms. One good example of this is talking with one’s hands. Hands tell amazing stories, and when captured in a portrait, can tell us everything we need to know. Consider all the things people say using their hands and challenge yourself to use gestures like these to bring more feeling to your portraits.
Wardrobe:People express themselves everyday with their wardrobe choices. Whether it’s baggy jeans, polka dots or a tutu, let clothing help you paint the perfect portrait. Consider using your subject’s unique uniform as the main focus of your shot.
Accessories:Shoes, although farthest from the face of your subject, can often tell a story all by themselves. Including shoes (or other telling accessories) in your portraits not only will create visual interest, but often will communicate a more inspired narrative of your subject’s personality.
All Of The Above: Sometimes you won’t have to choose just one detail on which to focus. As you begin to hone your eye to the details, you’ll find your subjects bring them in spades! You can include a number of these elements in creating unique and compelling portraits that are rich with artistic expression—both yours and your subjects’!
Learn more about the Shutter Sisters on their community photo blog, www.shuttersisters.com, or in their book, Expressive Photography: A Shutter Sisters’ Guide to Shooting from the Heart.