Capturing a persons “Presence” in a Portrait

How many portraits have you seen by photographers that have perfect lighting, makeup, and sharpness, but lack a “Presence” in the eyes that connects the subject to the viewer.

The eyes just stare in the camera without any power, or presence. Although these images are very popular, in reality, it is an “almost” perfect portrait. I would rather have a portrait of a person where the eyes are the communicator of the soul, than a “studio perfect” image that lacks a presence in the eyes.. It would be like your wife giving you “the look”, instead of just looking at the camera with a canned look on demand. Which will also look canned in the final image.

here is an example of a canned look….looks good… but you know it not how she feels at that moment, and it is more an “Art” Portrait.

Brilliant Collection of Most Amazing CG Women Portraits :

Brilliant Collection of Most Amazing CG Women Portraits :

Art Portraits are fine, but, if you are trying to represent a true look, then you need to catch them in real life reactions. This means that a day out around town with them may give you a better chance at a true portrait. That also means you will need to carry a camera that is fast to record what you want. That means that you will taking candid photos of them throughout the day…

It is tougher than having a studio session, but, the resulting images will be well worth it!

Here is a few of my family and/or extended family that shows what I am talking about.

Peter Arbib, All Rights Reserved

Peter Arbib, All Rights Reserved

Peter Arbib All Rights Reserved

Peter Arbib All Rights Reserved

These samples show “un-posed” portraits., that shows the eyes are an entry into their soul, IE: you can feel the presence, it is not a “canned” look. A canned look can have the look of an open soul to the camera, but, by the very nature of a studio image, is that all looks are canned, and therefore the image has a commercial feel, not real life feel…

It is “the real life feel” that pushes the image to higher level. in my opinion.

Lens choice is up to you…. I find slightly wide to short tele perfect for a day out with the person you want to make a nice portrait of that has more than a “pretty” face impact. So, that Kit Zoom will do just fine. Into primes? Okay, then those with a Field-of-View on a full frame 35mm of a 28mm/35mm/50mm/75-90mm will do also… maybe a 2 lens bag will work, one from the wide end, and one from the others left… either a 50mm fov of a 75-90mm fov. I recommend a 50mm fov or 75-90mm fov as one lens bag.

Focus on the eye lashes!! and DO NOT shoot with such a wide f/stop that only one eye is in focus… shoot at an f/stop that allows a few inches of Depth-of-Focus or more. Like f/4 or f/5.6. Don’t worry about the background being in focus. If you using a normal or short tele, shooting at such a close distance, (under 6′) this will still render the background out-of-focus enough to give a good separation between the subject and background.

Peter Arbib All Rights Reserved

Peter Arbib All Rights Reserved

The goal is to achieve an honest presence in your portraits, this is much harder than you think, and requires a bold presence of yourself to carry and take photos regardless of the surroundings. This photo of my Step Dad was taken during a visit, I always have a camera with me when I visit them, and they now just ignore the camera… what I want, to be successful. This day I had a film camera with me loaded with 400 BW film and my newly acquired 50mm f/1.1 Nocton. This was a photo taken at my waist. This is one the best portraits I have taken of him. You can just feel his concern and worry in this image. That is what you want in a portrait… a presence that you can feel from the photo, a look into the soul.


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