It’s funny, because I guess everyone has their own idea of what they think a good portrait should be. Ask most parents and to them a good portrait is simply a picture that portrays their child in a flattering way. Ask a model and they’ll say a good portrait is one that makes them look beautiful and sexy. There’s nothing wrong with that. Every parent wants to see their child smile and every model wants to be seen in a flattering light.

What Makes a Good Portrait

Black and white, Portrait of Man, Larry

But ask most portrait photographers what makes a good portrait, and I think the answer you’ll get is entirely different. I think most photographers would define a good portrait as one that reveals something about the subject. But what are most photographers really trying to reveal? From my point of view, when I look at the work of photographers who make this claim, their portraits are not so much about revealing character as they are about forcing the subject to be viewed a certain way. Some photographers try to compel some predefined emotion on the viewer. And that forced emotion is somehow idealized as revealing something important about the subject, as if that forced emotion shows character.

As far as I’ve concerned that’s bull. If everyone looks at a picture and sees the exact same thing and feels the exact same way, what exactly is being revealed? What is really there to see? After all, if everybody sees it how revealing can it be?

With my portraits, the most common criticism I hear is that my pictures are cold and emotionless. And I suppose they are when compared to what most people expect a portrait to be. And that’s fine if that’s what you see. I don’t really expect to please anyone except myself. I’m happy if I do, but I don’t mind the criticism if I don’t. In some ways I even see that criticism as a badge of honor.

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