Portrait Steichen Aphorism #21

The mailman

“A portrait is not made in the camera but either site of it.”

Edward Steichen

True, you cannot make a great portrait if you don’t know your subject or if you don’t interact with him. Any comments?

4 thoughts on “Portrait Steichen Aphorism #21

  1. I do not quite agree. You do not have to know your subject personally to take a good portrait photo of him/her. The main problem with some portrait photos is that the subject is posed for a better photo, but this makes it look unnatural. For example to make a good portrait photo at a sports event, you do not have to know the subject personally.

  2. Well, knowing your subject helps to make a great portrait. Maybe it is not an absolute must but certainly helps. You can place your subject to his/her most natural environment (hunter, carpenter, firefighter, secretary, etc.), or include objects characteristic to his/her life (violin, stethoscop, hammer, laptop, etc). Interaction helps to catch a unique expression or a telling body language. This way the portrait will look quite natural without any posing. In addition including hands makes a portrait even stronger.

    • There is a big difference between being natural or looking like natural. If you are taking snapshots of people at events without them realizing it can be more natural, then setting up the stage with people acting in it as if …. I prefer the first case even though it may be harder to get the exact moment.

  3. Steve, actually the above shot shows a subject not knowing that he was photographed. So your point is well taken. Yes, I agree it is much harder to catch the right gesture or expression that way. However there are great portraits out there where the stage was set up. I guess some people might act naturally even knowing that they are photographed. Others might just froze to death. An empathic photographer can help in this case.

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