Exercise: Portrait – scale and setting

What is a portrait?

Portrait:  (old French portraire “portray”)

A painting, drawing, photograph or engraving of a person, especially one depicting only the face or head and shoulders…..A representation or impression of someone.         (Oxford dictionary – British & World English).

The description above is certainly how I have always regarded a portrait, particularly in relation to a painting or sketch of an individual.  Posed and formal, to be hung on the wall and admired by all, the artist praised or criticised for their attempt to capture likeness and expression.

I have been studying portraits in magazines, the press, galleries and exhibitions. Previously I have never given any thought to the composition or the various poses that add interest to a photograph of a portrait.

Prior to commencing the projects and exercises, I took some random photos (without giving too much thought), of what I considered to be portrait shots.

P1040114 - Copy

Above: A favourite. My lovely Mum! I set this photo in a square frame as I think it compliments the pose.


The end of a working day – A tired chap on the London underground.



An impromptu shot of my niece taken with the compact camera. The iso was set at 800, hence the graininess. I like this one, it has a look of Pre-Raphaelite, a Rossetti maybe?

I spotted this picture in an article from an in-flight magazine (Flybe Dec 14) and decided to attempt a similar shot.


 DSC_0846     DSC_0845

I’m happy with my directing skills to get the look right, although the images should be sharper. My subject does not look fully relaxed. I will re-shoot using a table for her to rest her elbow/arms on.

Exercise: portrait – scale and setting

To help me to consider both composition and the weight of attention to place on the face of my subject, I am to complete four scales of portrait in one session.

As a child, I recall viewing the holiday snaps I had taken and laughing. Usually I had managed to chop part of the subject’s head off! Now, here I was studying a world-famous photographer’s portrait work – with part of the subject’s head chopped off! (Below: David Bailey portraits)

    images0T29IE9Z                        untitledBailey

Morrissey                                           Jude Law

For the following shots I did not instruct or direct my subject, rather I observed him reading and took the shots as and when I felt appropriate.

 Face, cropped in close


This shot is tightly framed and part of the outline of head is cropped by the frame. I first noticed this style of portrait when I visited the David Bailey “Stardust” exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.  Here the viewer is naturally drawn to the eyes, curios as to what he is looking at.

Head and shoulders

head shoulders 2   head shoulders 1

Left: Rather than take this shot in conventional portrait format, I decided to include a little of the setting.  Right: Still a head and shoulders shot, but a more relaxed pose showing an arm. The viewer looks from the face to the book and then back to the position of the head and finally the eyes.

Torso, taking into account arms and hands

torso 1     torso 2

Shot with the camera in portrait format, with the image on the right showing some leg too! Here the viewer pays more attention to the subject as a whole before settling on the eyes.

Full body

body 2   full body

Variations on the standard full body portrait. I particularly like the image on the left, a natural, comfortable pose for my subject. Much less interest in the subject’s eyes in these shots, it is more about the setting and pose.