Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres recently sent one of her staff members named Amy to a JCPenny to pose as a studio portrait photographer. As clients came in, Ellen watched the scene through a hidden camera and gave Amy exact instructions for what to say and do through a hidden earpiece. The resulting interactions between photographer and portrait subject(s) were hilarious.
Having a flattering portrait as your drivers license photo is difficult to achieve, but so is having a portrait that stands out as being bizarre. Reddit user adambard successfully accomplished the latter. He wanted a novelty drivers license photo, so he decided to shave half his hair and the opposite half of his beard. Just in case you’d like to follow in his footsteps, you can view a step-by-step documentation of his process here.
Here’s an excellent video tutorial by photographer Peter Hurley on how to improve your portrait photographs by focusing on the jawline of your subject. It’s a simple technique that can drastically improve the quality of your images.
For those of you who are interested in the fine art of studio lighting, here’s a video in which American celebrity photographer George Holz talks about how he went about photographing Beyonce for the cover of Spin magazine.
Here’s a quick and simple tip for better portraits by Reddit user rmx_:
Everyone has a lazy eye. By that, I mean one eye is always smaller and/or more closed than the other eye. In some people, it is very easy to spot; in others, nearly impossible. The “beautiful people” have more symmetrical faces, but still, one eye will open more than the other. (Denzel Washington has one of the most I have seen [...])
[...] here is the tip: get the smaller/lazier eye slightly closer to the camera. Oh, and don’t tell the person what you’re looking at their eyes for! You’ll make them self conscious. Simply ask them to look at your finger and move their head to follow it, and then guide them left or right as necessary. Chances are, the movement needed will not be so much that you have to adjust your lights.
Photographer James Loveday has a portrait project documenting the people who use Craigslist. Over a period of several months, he placed ads on Craigslist offering free portraits to anyone who stopped by his Brooklyn studio.
Each time a person or people would come, I’d have everything set up and over the course of an hour or so I’d get their portrait taken. Some people would show up ready, knowing what to wear and what they wanted, others had a vague idea of getting famous and wanted to have pictures of themselves for their future careers as actors and models and some people were just intrigued, or bored.
Everyone who participated also filled out a questionnaire about themselves and their reasons for participating. The answers are shown alongside each of the portraits.
The truth is no portrait of substance has people smiling. Look at the history of painting, Rembrandt, Titian, Goya, Velasquez, Sargent, Vermeer, DaVinci, etc., the subjects gaze to the viewer is neutral at best, neither inviting nor forbidding. It is there for the viewer to see and feel.
Smiling is like much of American popular culture, superficial and misleading. It is part of our vernacular, but it should be expunged in photographs.
You can find some famous portrait paintings made throughout history here. Virtually all of them support this argument.