Exercise 1 : Types of Portrait Framing – Scale and Setting

People and Place

Part One : People Aware

Exercise 1 : Types of Portrait Framing – Scale and Setting

The introduction to Part One suggests that we photograph people we know best for these projects who are nearby and available.  In one respect that makes perfect sense.  However, most of the adults I know best dislike having their photographs taken, will turn away, sigh loudly or even make faces.   My grandchildren are quite happy to have their photographs taken but that brings me into another problem which is putting their photographs on my blog.

Train your Gaze, ( 2007) arrived some time ago and it’s been sitting waiting patiently for some attention from me ever since until today. I have to admit that ‘portraits’ just don’t seem to be me.  However, the Introduction gave me a clue as to why I might feel this way.  It describes the word ‘portrait’ as,  ‘Portentous, loaded with gravity and subtle persuasion…..It may influence the behaviour of your subject, opening the door to anxiety and trepidation….It can discourage playfulness and experimentation” “It depends upon the subject’s agreement to be photographed” (Intro x).  I’m thinking of various examples here. Sitting in a studio and having to pose; walking down the street (often at the seaside) where a photographer often used to be waiting to ‘take your picture’ and getting someone else to take the picture for you.

The other aspect is the sometimes cruel effect of millions of pixels cameras which enlarge every pore, line, wrinkle and blemish, unless you’re under the age of around 12. So many of my female friends groan loudly when they see a portrait of themselves which is ‘straight out of the camera’ before any embellishments have been applied. This is reassuring because I groan too but it just gives me another reason not to want to create portraits of people because there are too many self-image hurdles to overcome.

I prefer natural light but I know that artificial lighting  can achieve many other effects.  I’m still uneasy in the presence of artificial lighting and remote flash though, so I’ve taken the plunge and organised a one-to-one session during June.  I’m behind on my schedule for the first Assignment which I really need to get completed but at least I’ll know that improvements can be on their way.

I received the Course workbook at the beginning of April this year and, since then and being mindful of  both Parts One and Part Two, I’ve taken many photographs of people both aware and unaware. I’ve been on a residential workshop and also, more recently, on holiday to Brittany.  I took notes with me on the Projects and Exercise requirements so what follows will be an overview of what I achieved.

Exercise 1 : Types of Portrait Framing – Scale and Setting

My understanding of a ‘portrait’ fits with that described in the Introduction to part One. It is something derived from some sort of  agreement between the sitter and the photographer and it is deliberate and considered.  I suppose that this, in essence, is what distinguishes a portrait from a snapshot.

Something else which has exercised my mind about portraits much more so than other types of photograph is the question of whether they should be in colour or black and white.  Normally it would be a case of either/or for me but I’ve decided to do a mix and look at the effect  My husband was my ‘willing ‘subject in the following which were taken in our garden:-

Cropped in close.:  f/7 , 76 mm focal length at 0.5 mm.

I couldn’t decide which part of his head to crop with the frame so tried several, such as showing his chin; his full profile or this one which seemed to work the best from my perspective.

Head and shoulders : f/7.1, 61 mm focal length at 1.8mm

The background probably needed to be more blurred here as you can see the garden shed,  On the one hand the background ‘should’ be relatively unobtrusive but, then again, this does show more of him in his context. A viewer might start to make some assumptions about his lifestyle and mood from the setting; his expression and clothing. He is gazing into space rather than looking directly at something Is he worried; smiling; contemplative; biting his lip etc.

Torso : f/7.1 50 mm focal length at 2.6mm

By this time I was aware of the problems with the background. There was the garden shed behind; a bird-feeder on his right and the greenhouse on his left. My persuasive efforts to get him to move forward away from it all only partly worked, although at least I got him away from the green garden waste bin.  I could have used an even wider aperture but here, with a more pleasant background, I did want to show some context.  This is where he spends a lot of time and effort.

Another problem was that of exposure. I cropped as much as possible to exclude the white sky but there was still the exposure difficulty between his grey/white hair and his dark sweater. I played around with the colour version in PS but still couldn’t get it right and so converted to b+w.  Next time he’s going to have to wear lighter clothing!

Seeing more of his torso provides more information to analyse. His gaze appears kindly, maybe patient. It’s hard to get him to smile in photographs for some reason but he’s trying.

Full figure : f/7.1 46 mm at 4.4m

I have cropped this as the green, garden waste bin appeared on his left. I couldn’t crop out the bird feeder though as it was too near and content-aware/healing brush etc didn’t work.  Instead I opted to add a slight vignette although, unfortunately, it has drawn more attention to the bird feeder instead of less.

Overall, lessons learned here about clothing and background.

Here are some other photographs I took of ‘people’ aware and in different locations which follow the same pattern of head, head and shoulders, torso and full  figure:-

On the Common. His name is Bruno and I asked him to pose for me. This is actually from last year but I’m including it because it was the first time I asked a stranger to pose.


Eco Fair, Wirksworth. I had intended to take an ‘unaware’ shot but she saw me so I waved my camera with an, “Is this okay’ smile.” It was interesting how her posture became more fixed. I cropped the image slightly but wanted to leave enough of the context to indicate the setting. I like the way she is looking straight at the camera.

Railway volunteer, ‘Wirksworth.  A lovely man who was willing to be photographed.  This was an ‘unaware, aware” photograph if you see what I mean, taken when he was absorbed in his task. I know now that I should show what he is actually looking at.



Eco-Fair, Wirksworth. This lady appeared in a previous post.  I was pleased here because firstly, I asked her to pose and, secondly, I took another photograph and asked her to move. Again, this shows her in the context of selling her lovely creations.

On the Common at the end of April.  It was pouring with rain but the dogs needed their walk.  This couple had found a geo-cache so we had a chat about that and I asked them if I could take a photograph, using my iPhone which was all I had with me. I think this is more of a snapshot because I just let the iPhone do its own thing and it was quick because of the rain.

28th May 2012


Angier, R, Train Your Gaze 2007), AVA Publishing, SA