One question that’s come up in discussions about portrait photography, is whether it’s necessary for a portrait to show the whole of a person’s face, or even to show their face at all? In a previous blog post I explored the use of shadows and out of focus areas in creative portrait photography, and I’d like to develop that a bit more.
In this outdoor portrait I’ve cropped the image at the centre of the subject’s nose. It helps to contrast their skin tones with the tones of the rusty corrugated metal behind them. It also puts the person in a more interesting place in the frame, with much more space above them than the space they take up.
This is a horizontal treatment of the same compositional technique. Here the empty space was black, so it was better to convert the image into black and white rather than leaving it in colour. You get a real idea of the boy’s character even though you can’t see all of his face.
This is an even tighter crop on a girl’s face. It’s said that the eyes are the “windows to the soul”, so I’ve really concentrated on a single eye. As it was so strikingly blue, I left the eye in colour and converted the rest of the image to B&W. This splash of colour helps to draw your eye to the girl’s eye.
So how small a part of a person can we show and still show their character? This shot of an eye, taken with a macro lens, shows a good line of communication between the subject and the viewer. The fact that the person’s “laughter lines” aren’t creased tells you that they aren’t smiling. The direct gaze, with a large pupil, shows confidence.
So what if we don’t show their face at all?
To me this is still a portrait even though the child’s face isn’t visible. There’s a delightful contrast between the girl’s dress and the chunky boots; a contrast between smartness; “I’m being photographed”, and practicality; “It’s raining”. Her parents would immediately recognise it as her.
So, it’s clear to me that you can show a person’s character in a portrait without showing the whole face. Set yourself a project to take a person’s portrait without showing their face at all!
You can learn how to look for images like this, and learn creative compositional techniques, on my “The Creative Eye” course on November 13th at the Court Hill Centre near Wantage. You can book your place here.