What makes a good portrait photograph?
Since the early nascent days of the photographic art, when those few who wanted to experience a new and exciting frivolity – a still picture – had to stand in frozen poses for many long minutes, lest the slightest movement would blur the already crude results of the clumsy technology of the time, the artists have striven to capture the true selves of their subjects.
When we look at the old tintypes and sepia prints of generations past, it’s so easy to understand why there had to exist a certain uniformity and an instantly recognizable cookie cutter standard. We expect to see the rigid bodies, the unsmiling, fixed expressions, – almost as if the technological necessity of the day had robbed each subject of a defining spark. Even then, the early prints afford the modern viewer a look at something or at someone they would not have otherwise seen. The original photography pioneers understood the value of a visual record just as well as we understand it today.
In the last several decades both the societal engagement with photography and the technology that makes it possible have taken quantum leaps forward. Now more than ever we strive to capture the true essence of the person – to put the ghost back in the machine.
So what makes a good portrait picture great?
It’s not the careful crop right below the shoulder, it is you. It is, in part, your willingness to exhibit a small, private facet of your character, and your photographer’s ability to not only see it, but to also convey it to your intended audience with no more than one motion of one finger. Capturing the inner face, a subtle combination of many unique nuances that make up each person is what photography is about. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? And in the end, it is.
— I. Faulkner