Last year I bought a dozen books on Portrait photography, this was perhaps the best: The Photographic Portrait by Robin Gillanders. It is a book that deserves to be read from cover to cover.
The Photographic Portrait is an interesting book, it covers basic techniques as well as the authors thoughts on portraiture and his working method. Whilst a few photography books do try and combine thoughts, theory and technique into one book, I don’t know of any specifically on portraiture or so well considered.
Ive come away from reading this book with something of a new outlook on portraiture. Sometimes you need something obvious pointed out repeatedly until it sinks in, but after reading this book I’m starting to understand what Ive been missing in my understanding of portraiture.
The portraits I’m starting to love the most are portraits of an individual aware they are being photographed. It is a shared moment between sitter, photographer and their environment. The word “individual” here is key, it is trying to find the image that captures the sitters essence, or more accurately, the photographers opinion of their essence at that moment in time.
Portraiture is trying to decide how to put forward the character of the sitter for the world to understand. I feel this quality of individuality in portrait photography has slowly been eroded away. I wonder if it is even fashionable anymore or if it ever will be again. It seems so obvious but it is an aspect of portrait photography Ive literally forgotten, perhaps it is the most important and basic principle of a Portrait photograph!
Its was interesting to read the chapters on lighting. Its is quite clear that lighting is absolutely key to the authors appreciation on good portrait photography, even admitting he looks for the light, often before he thinks of the subject. For somebody with such a determination to put the sitters individuality at the centre of the image, this admission shows just how critical lighting is. With new trends and acceptance of flat and mood-less light, its more important than ever to reconsider the importance lighting in order to bring back the qualities that good portrait images should have.
The working methods of the photographer are also interesting. He tends to print dark but always perseveres to find a bright area of light tone that stops the overall image looking muddy. He tends to see composition more in terms of the distribution of tonal values rather than graphic lines.
Its a lovely old school style photography book written by a very thoughtful and intelligent old school photographer. Hopefully some of this books teachings rub off on me.