Portrait Comp 2017

Forums Critique Requests Portrait Comp 2017

This topic contains 12 replies, has 5 voices, and was last updated by  ajroyle 2 years, 7 months ago.

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    I know I asked this question last year, but have we specified what qualifies as a Portrait. In the included image is there too much background? how should it be cropped?



    Click on the image to view in Flickr

    • This topic was modified 2 years, 7 months ago by  wbaxter.
    • This topic was modified 2 years, 7 months ago by  wbaxter.

    Pete Robinson

    I don’t think there is too much background in the photo. Some may say it’s a bit busy and the strong reds compete with the lady, but it’s an environmental portrait so the background is part of the whole and adds to the subject. I think I would have chopped her legs off (sorry miss), as their light tone pulls the eye a bit.




    Gives our definition of what a portrait is, but there is still discussion going on (and maybe there always will be). However these are our rules for 2017.

    Whatever competition rules might be it is still down to the judge on the night to nuance it and I have to remind you that the judge this year is a little bit studio inclined.

    Club portraiture is always going to be a bit problematic. It can be limited by the fact that the context, the subject and other factors are unknown and your scope for a layered image is limited by the work being taken at face value.

    Street shots are likely to lack quality compared with anything where you have had more control and that means that you need some other powerful quality in the image to make up.

    It is hard sometimes to pull yourself away from your emotional ties with the subject (you and I were discussing this factor recently with regard to ones own images) and look at it dispassionately.

    Here, I think there are a lot of highlights on the right which pull your attention away from your subject and darkening them a little has given that greying effect rather than disguised the problem.

    Do you remember my comments about the French flag? The red in the background is far too lively and I would say this shot is crying out to be monofied!

    Context can be valuable, even essential to the story or visual design but here it is working against you and needs taming!

    (BTW I was at first led to your image on Flickr and have added something there which is now irrelevant.



    Thank you for your comments, This one will not be going anywhere. The most important point is the fact that a portrait can be more than Head and shoulders and can have a relevant background that does not distract the viewer, but will enhance the mood or meaning of the image


    Ian McNab

    I’m late to this, but I agree with you, Wallace:
    “a portrait can be more than Head and shoulders and can have a relevant background that does not distract the viewer, but will enhance the mood or meaning of the image”

    An example? Arnold Newman’s famous portrait of the pianist and composer Igor Stravinski: as expressive a portrait of the man as you could wish for; and he takes up less than an eighth of the frame:






    Pete Robinson

    This has always been one of my favourite photographs. Very thoughtfully composed. It’s a strong portrait for me with the relationship between Igor Stravinski and the musical note shape the piano makes.



    As a point of interest I think I am right in saying that this particular crop was an afterthought. But, so what, the end result is what matters and the unusual cropping is why people remember it.


    Ian McNab

    That’s right, John. And it was the last frame of the shoot. Here’s the contact sheet for the shoot, with the crop marked up:

    (Click the image for a full-sized view)

    The idea of echoing the shape of the piano appears in the first frame, but gets clarified in Frame 4; then Newman plays around with it, and by Frame 8 has the thought of Stravinski leaning his head on his hand with his upper arm along the piano. This idea comes back at Frame 12 as a wider shot, but the head is too tilted. The last frame gets it!


    Martin McGing

    I take a simple view that a portrait should be predominately about a person.  Including a background is fine as long as it gives context to the image and as long as it does not dominate the image.  In my opinion the image of the piano (which includes a person) does not fall in the category of a portrait.  If the photographer had chosen the image that included the key board and was predominately about the person, then I would be happy to accept that as a portrait.  I am not saying that the piano image is good, bad or indifferent, its just not a portrait.


    Ian McNab

    I take a simple view that a portrait should be predominately about a person.

    I think I’d have to agree with that, Martin. But what you then argue is that a portrait should be predominately a picture of a person, which surely isn’t enough: if it were, portraits would be indistinguishable from passport photographs.

    Indeed, portraits can be so essentially about a person that they may not necessarily be a facial likeness at all:


    ‘Mike Tyson’ by Albert Watson:



    “Miles Davis – trumpet and hand” by Irving Penn


    “Brassai” by John Loengard



    And the person certainly does not have to be the dominant element in the frame…


    “Marcel Duchamp” by Henri Cartier-Bresson


    “Henri Matisse” by Henri Cartier-Bresson


    “Marylin Monroe on the set of The Misfits” by Eve Arnold:



    In the last three pictures, the elements that appear with the person enrich the protrait by providing layered meanings and references to the personality, character and accomplishments of the subject.

    And this is exactly the function of the piano in Arnold Newman’s photograph of Stravinski, who was a pianist and composer, and one of the most famous musicians of the 20th century. It’s surely one of the most brilliantly creative portrait photographs ever taken.



    I left responding to Martin’s post whilst I got my new (slave) printer sorted and – Ian has saved me the trouble, and far better illustrated than I would have done.

    Although Ian’s examples would make unusual camera club entries I think most of them, with a title attached, would do well.

    (As a side issue, one of the most disappointing things I have ever heard said in club photography, and all the more so for issuing from the mouth of a very senior judge, was that titles were of no interest in judging a picture. It meant that this particular person could only ever be interested in the surface – superficial – qualities of a photograph).

    The first three do not show us what the person looks like – something many would take as the primary role of “the portrait” but I see them as witty insights into the nature person – and they communicate even if you do not know the person. (the Brassai one even confirms that he suffered exophthalmos).

    The last three would more comfortably satisfy the camera club judge since the do show us what the person looks like – but they surely also tell us far more in having a context.


    Ian McNab

    Of course, portraits can also sardonically undermine their subjects, as these two brilliant pictures do by revealing the chilling, narcissistic power-hunger of the their subjects:


    “Napoleon on his Imperial Throne” (1806) by Ingres


    “Donald Trump” by Nadav Kander (with the knowing assistance of the page designer!)




    Yes, there were interesting articles about the Trump portrait which I had planned for us to look at on 2 Feb. Kander himself commented that the discovery of “layers” in a work is something which enhances your understanding and enjoyment. For some reason he wasn’t too specific (-;).

    Very often club portraits do not permit much in the way of subliminal messages since the person portrayed is usually unknown to the  viewer.

    In defining what we should accept as a portrait I hoped to keep it as wide open as was reasonable. The committee had some input too.

    Mind you, whilst we might discuss definitions and think with Bergeresque depth about the issues we are, in the end, at the mercy of the judge in interpretation – as is always the case!

    Of course, you need not let that bother you!


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