The Fine Art Of Portrait Photography

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The portrait is one of the most demanding of all photographic tasks. We are asked to capture the character of a person in the brief, fleeting moment it takes to make an exposure. Painters seem to have the advantage, being able to take hours or days to render their impressions. They can block out forms and fill in the light and shadow as they see fit. What do we have to contend with? We sit a person down in front of a machine and ask them to be natural. We fill the studio with lights and hope they don't mind the glare. We pop strobes and don't expect them to flinch, or even blink. And we place them in sometimes awkward poses that we know work, but that seems like contortion to those who can't see through our viewfinder. Yet, despite the mechanics and the artificial environment, photographers, and subjects, seem to survive. Indeed, the camera, while at times cruel, has no peer when it comes to revealing our common humanity, our hopes, fears, and dreams, all read through that most fascinating subject, the human face.

But the portrait is only part of another perhaps even more demanding job, that of the wedding photographer. Part portraitist, part photojournalist, part stylist, and part skilled technician, the wedding photographer must juggle all aspects of our craft and keep with the program, the often hectic pace of a wedding day. If ever Murphy's Law applied to a trade it is in full effect when a wedding photographer does his or her job. Even if everyone attending the wedding is on their best behavior (a rare treat) something almost has to go wrong. But the resiliency of the wedding pro knows no bounds, with being a referee, on-the-spot repair technician, and charmer who can get everyone to cooperate for that large group pose--all a part of a day's work.

We salute all those who labor in these intense environments. Despite the obstacles, you provide a unique and wonderful contribution to all those who hire you for your skill, knowledge, and, most of all, compassion and patience. You make the human record of our time, and, when at your best, you reveal your clients to themselves. Most of all, you provide memories that your subjects will cherish for many years to come, even to generations yet unborn.

And, for those of you who are considering getting involved with these aspects of the craft, or who are making your first steps into the arena, keep in mind that your interest in, and at times love of humanity will carry you through the sometimes crazy moments you might have to endure. A wedding is like theater; a portrait session is a chance to understand how much the subject in front of your lens is much like you, or those close to you. All of it will teach you how photography can serve as a vehicle for your creativity, compassion, and involvement in the world. As Victor Avila, a great wedding and portrait photographer once told me, when you see love in your subjects it comes out on film.

We are blessed at Shutterbug to have contributors who continue to make their mark in these fields. Among them are Monte Zucker, Jay Abend, Joe Farace, and Steve Bedell, all masters and craftsmen of their trade, plus guest appearances from other great working photographers. Each brings their own style, grace, and wit to our pages. And, if you ever want to learn more from these masters, check out our website at: www.shutterbug.com. Just look for the Search box at the upper right of our homepage and type in the name of the photographer/contributor and you'll be treated to a host of stories, tech sessions, and how-to articles from each of these excellent photographers. It's like being in the studio with them when they work.

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