Sunday, January 22, 2012

Glamour Story-Telling

I wrote quite a bit about story-telling via photo portraiture in my e-book, Zen and the Art of Portrait Photography. Some of you might wonder how story-telling is a significant component of much of my portrait work, that work mostly being comprised of glamour photography and all, but I can assure you it is.

Generally, story-telling in portraiture isn't the same sort of story-telling often seen in the efforts of photo-journalists and editorial photographers. There are many ways to tell (what's called) a story in photography. Some of them aren't simply about visually depicting linear stores or using things like environment, wardrobe, props, and more to tell some sort of story. A great number of stories, leastwise in portrait photography and regardless of what type of portrait photography you're shooting, tell emotional stories. Make that, they reveal emotions which then generate stories in the minds of viewers.

The often-seen exception to using emotions as a primary story-telling vehicle in portraiture is seen (or not seen) in many environmental portraits. Environmental portraiture regularly uses many of the same story-telling devices that photo-journalists and editorial photographers use. I'm not saying emotions are ignored in environmental portraiture, but they generally seem to take a back seat to other methods of telling a story with a single photograph.

In most genres of portraiture, emotional stories rule! The better those emotions come across, the better (in general) the portraits are. It's a notion which also includes glamour portraits. Often, the emotional stories conveyed are subtle. Sometimes, very subtle. Generally, emotional subtlety makes portraits, glamour or otherwise, even more powerful and memorable.

When I consider the glamour portraits I've shot which have garnered the best responses from clients and viewers alike, they haven't been photos which truly shine because of my use of lighting techniques (pun intended) or via post-processing applications. They haven't been photos of the most beautiful and alluring women with the best bodies or most revealed bodies. They've been photos where the emotional aspects, usually contained in a subtle expression and/or in the subject's eyes, resonated with viewers.

I love citing Leonardo da Vinci's portrait of Lisa del Giocondo, more commonly known as the Mona Lisa, as an example of one of the world's most famous uses of subtle, emotional, story-telling in portraiture. If I could figure out exactly why this portrait has stirred the wonder and curiosity of so many generations of people, I think I could become one of the most successful portrait shooters on the planet. Whatever that thing is that makes the Mona Lisa what it is, it's both subtle and powerful. A couple of other portraits I can think of, portraits that come close (although they're both more recent images than da Vinci's Mona Lisa) are the world-famous photos of Che Guevara, titled Guerrillero Heroico and snapped by Cuban photographer Alberto Korda in 1960, and Yousuf Karsh's iconic photo of a defiant Winston Churchill during WW2.

While da Vinci's painting of a well-to-do, 16th Century, Florentine woman, or a hastily-snapped, candid photo of a Marxist revolutionary, or a staged and formal portrait of a world leader might seem to have little to do with glamour photography, there's much to learn by studying images like these and many others with similar emotional components. The power of emotion and the stories those emotions convey, whether the stories are real or they are concocted and imagined by those viewing the images, and how to achieve making emotions an important aspect of your people shooting repertoire, will, in general, do as much if not more to better your portrait photography than most anything you might learn about lighting, posing, exposure, or post-production.

The gratuitous, half-naked, pretty girl at the top is Jayme. I've shot Jayme two or three times and, every time I did, I could always count on her to creatively project attitude and emotion, often of a type less seen in glamour shots.

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