ESP = Expression Sells Portraits

by | Aug 12, 2019

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

There is an old photographer’s adage that goes like this: ESP or Expression Sells Portraits. You can read more about my take on this subject here but here are a few highlights.

The expression on a subject’s face tells the story of who they are. If they only have one look during all of the images that you make in a session, a model’s portfolio or your presentation of images to them will look boring and monotonous.

And, I’m not just talking about smiles. If you’ve seen my portraits here before you know that I’m not into big smiles unless that is the personality of the subject. Some people, like my wife Mary, are just happy, smiley people and a smile is their natural expression, while many other people are not. Their portrait should reflect their personality, smiles or not.

How I made this shot: For this portrait of Amber, the lighting setup used a Photogenic 320 Watt-second StudioMax III monolight placed at camera right with another StudioMax III with a striplight attached at camera left that raised near the ceiling (almost nine feet) of my home studio.

The main light was set between one-quarter and one half power, while the combination hair background light was set at three-quarters power. Shooting with a Canon EOS 5D and EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens (at 135mm) produced an exposure of 1/125 sec at f/13 at ISO 100.

Tip: Some of you may like (while others may hate) the way that my model is posing in the above photograph but whatever the pose, it always reflects something that I saw her doing naturally and I just make slight changes to arrive at a final pose. My initial pose with Amber was with her seated (see setup, above right) by when she started playing with her hair it evolved into what you see here.

If you found today’s blog post useful and would like to treat Joe to a cup of Earl Grey tea ($2.50), click here. And if you do, thank you very much.



You can learn more about my posing techniques in Posing for Portrait & Glamour Photography and brand new books are available from for just $18.95. Kindle versions are $18 for those preferring to have the book in digital form.