What is a Portrait?

by | Nov 15, 2018

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

“Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter. The sitter is merely the accident, the occasion. It is not he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter who, on the colored canvas, reveals himself.”― Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

Recently I was talking with a photographer/friend from the East Coast and he showed me some of his latest portraits. I was surprised to see that most of his portraits were basically just headshots. Really, really great looking headshots but headshots nonetheless, which got me thinking Seinfeld style, “what is a portrait anyway?

Somewhere in a quest for the ultimate portrait, you’ll encounter portraits that are conceptual and these while seemingly about the subject more often than not reveal more about the photographer than you might think. Richard Avedon once said,“ My portraits are more about me than they are about the people I photograph.” What my portraits sat about me, I shudder to think.

OK, a portrait is a picture of a person being photographed but more importantly as Oscar Wilde once pointed out, it’s also a picture of the person making the photograph.

My  friend Rick Sammon likes to say, “the camera looks both ways” and I think he’s right. Cliff Lawson, one of the preeminent high school senior photographers in the Rocky Mountain West, is one heckuva photographer and his images are more like environmental portraits that show more than the subject’s face but also what the subject is interested in and shows them actively participating in these activities. Headshots they are not.

How I made this shot: The portrait of Savannah at left was created as part of series I am working on about women that are heavily tattooed* for a book and art exhibit I hope to produce. It was shot in my home studio with a Canon EOS 60D with EF-S15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM lens, with an exposure of 1/100 sec at f/5.6 and ISO 200. Background is a Savage Infinity black vinyl backdrop. Lighting is from a 16 x 30-inch Westcott Apollo Strip soft box mounted on a Purple Haze Paul C Buff Alien Bee monolight.

So what is a portrait? It a picture of a person and it can be anything that you like—and maybe something they like as well.

*If you or a friend would like to be photographed for this project, drop me a message by clicking Contact button above and I’ll get back to you or them with details.

If you’re interested in learning how I shoot portraits and use cameras, lenses and lighting in my in-home studio and on location, please pick up a copy of Studio Lighting Anywhere which is available new from Amazon.com for $22.38 and $13.75 used, as I write this. Interested in learning how to shoot better portraits and want hands-on training, check out my one-on-one workshops.