Advice for challenging faces

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piero2022

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Hello,

having bought the camera of my dreams (Rolleiflex 6008) I was subsequently tasked by mom to make a portrait of family friends. I had eschewed the task for decades, but this time mom wants it done, period.

So it’s mother, father and daughter. Father and daughter have noble features (long, narrow faces, prominent nose, long teeth), a little bit like Sarah Jessica Parker.
Mother has got a shorter, narrow face, with sharp features, small eyes, prominent nose and long, prominent teeth.
I have an 80mm (on 6x6) and a 2x focal length extender which can bring the lens to 160mm, only available light.

They’ve been expecting a portrait for years, I cannot let them down, they’ve got to look good.
 
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Nitroplait

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Even a new dream camera can not make you a good portrait photographer, especially not if you are new to both camera and the discipline of portrait photography.
The advantage of family is that members are usually reasonably accessible, so how about taking a lot of photos every time you meet over a period of time?
You get some experience and they get different poses and lighting situations - and can select those images they find most pleasing.
And maybe you can all have some fun together in the process?
 
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FotoD

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Interesting. I'd study portraits of Sarah Jessica Parker on the web, there are many. Do you like any of them? Could you use the same composition in your portraits?

Maybe 160mm is more useful than 80mm.

Good luck.
 
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piero2022

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Interesting. I'd study portraits of Sarah Jessica Parker on the web, there are many. Do you like any of them? Could you use the same composition in your portraits?

Maybe 160mm is more useful than 80mm.

Good luck.

Sounds quite right. 160mm can flatten features, and long hair can distract. That won’t help with father though, he’s bald.


1659774437438.png
 

FotoD

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That won’t help with father though, he’s bald.

So, maybe get some more inspiration from the web. John Malkovich perhaps?

08dfd0838302525f315b3d669ab7c652.jpg

I'm afraid I couldn't find a photo of Parker and Malkovich together, that would have solved all your problems. :smile:
 

BrianShaw

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You need a second dream camera for father and daughter…. A Horseyblad.

But, seriously… if your subjects read this thread they’d probably not be very interested in having you take their picture. I’m embarrassed for them.
 
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piero2022

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You need a second dream camera for father and daughter…. A Horseyblad.

But, seriously… if your subjects read this thread they’d probably not be very interested in having you take their picture. I’m embarrassed for them.

Hi Brian,

I have improved the description - they actually belong to an aristocratic family, I would say many blue-blooded families have those traits in Europe.
 

BrianShaw

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It really doesn’t matter if you call their appearance “noble” or “horsey-face”, as you originally did. Your current focus is on your judgement of their physical features and clearly implies that you think there is something wrong with the appearance that they genetically inherited.

If you really want to be a portraitist {Edited by Moderator - unnecessary} focus on photographing their souls. If they really are friends it’s about inner soul and personality rather than about their physical appearance. Otherwise you’ll just be taking a picture of face that you don’t really like… probably wasting all of your time. Try figuring out how to enhance their best features rather than using them to “hide” the physical features that you think are undesirable. SJP’s hair was emphasized because she has beautiful hair rather than to hide any of her other features.

Study Portrait Lighting. With a different attitude, try just taking some informal snapshots of them to find the best setting, light, and poses THAT PLEASE THEM. Formal portraiture can come later.

Good luck!
 
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piero2022

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It really doesn’t matter if you call their appearance “noble” or “horsey-face”, as you originally did. Your current focus is on your judgement of their physical features and clearly implies that you think there is something wrong with the appearance that they genetically inherited.

If you really want to be a portraitist {Edited by Moderator - unnecessary} focus on photographing their souls. If they really are friends it’s about inner soul and personality rather than about their physical appearance. Otherwise you’ll just be taking a picture of face that you don’t really like… probably wasting all of your time. Try figuring out how to enhance their best features rather than using them to “hide” the physical features that you think are undesirable. SJP’s hair was emphasized because she has beautiful hair rather than to hide any of her other features.

Study Portrait Lighting. With a different attitude, try just taking some informal snapshots of them to find the best setting, light, and poses THAT PLEASE THEM. Formal portraiture can come later.

Good luck!

Thanks,

I only have available light, that’s my challenge.
 
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BrianShaw

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T


Thanks,

I only have available light, that’s my challenge.

That’s okay. There is a lot of opportunities with natural lighting. Explore the differing effects of available light… soft/reflected, shaded, and filtered. You can get a lot of different looks under each. Most likely you’ll do best to avoid photographing under harsh sun.
 

Alex Benjamin

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I'm with Brian on this one. A good portrait is not one that makes people look good. It's one that makes people look like who they are. That should be your focus, so to speak.

And it's not about the camera, nor is it about the lens. It's about the light. Strobes or available light, challenge is the same when dealing with portraits. There are plenty books and web tutorials about available light portraiture, whether near a window, outdoors, etc., so I'm sure you'll be able to find something that will guide you.

You might also find some inspiration looking in the Portraiture Forum here (if you haven't already). There are some threads on natural light portraits.

To set the record straight, there is no such thing as "noble features." That's how so-called (or self-appointed) aristocrats—of which there aren't anymore—describe themselves when they don't want to acknowledge they look just like everybody else 🙂 .
 

MattKing

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When the family friends are together, do they enjoy each other's company and interact comfortably and naturally with each other?
If so, spend some time with them, observe carefully how they respond to each other and choose a location that suits that.
If your goal isn't drama, you will want soft and moderate contrast light and, most likely, a fairly light environment. Something that says "happy". As good as the John Malkovich example above is, it isn't a "family friend" type of portrait, and probably is unsuitable for the mother.
 
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piero2022

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When the family friends are together, do they enjoy each other's company and interact comfortably and naturally with each other?
If so, spend some time with them, observe carefully how they respond to each other and choose a location that suits that.
If your goal isn't drama, you will want soft and moderate contrast light and, most likely, a fairly light environment. Something that says "happy". As good as the John Malkovich example above is, it isn't a "family friend" type of portrait, and probably is unsuitable for the mother.

Thanks, excellent advice!
 

Sirius Glass

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Use a Softar or other focus softening device for the women. Generally women will not thank you for highly focused sharp portraits. When I was dating a girl friend at the time, she saw the close up shaving mirror on the counter and she commented that what mirror should not be around women because it showed every mark and imperfection and a woman would spend hours looking at it ponder what to do about real and imagined imperfections.
 

albada

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Some suggestions that cost little or nothing:

* For soft lighting, use open shade. With a yellow filter to counteract the excess blue (color or B&W). Avoid direct sun; it's too harsh.
* Watch the background; it should not be distracting. Nature works well.
* For close portraits, use 160mm. 80mm will force you to be so close to the subject that you'll get enlarged noses. Folks will dislike that!
* Consider a prop consisting of an item in which the subject is interested. For example, a guitar for a guitarist, or a rifle for a gun collector.
* A subject often looks bad when posing with a forced smile. Try to relax him with conversation and jokes, and shoot a few frames during this time. This way, you might get the best picture ever taken of him.

Mark Overton
 

Pieter12

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It is difficult to give advice without knowing you, the subjects or the possible setting. When you put an extender on a lens you will lose a stop or two, making the viewfinder image a bit dimmer and focusing a little more difficult. So maybe the 80 will be fine. I have shot portraits with the 80 and it is a wonderful lens that allows you to isolate the subject when shooting wide open at 2.8. A tripod is your friend with medium format and available light. I would recommend looking for filtered (like through a sheer curtain) window light or golden-hour daylight if shooting color. But there can be an any number of variables, go with what looks good to you. Since they are your family and want you to take their portraits, take time, get them to relax. You know them, you probably know what their better angles and expressions are. Candid portraits are great, too. Try taking some shots of them engaged in an activity they enjoy--cooking, playing chess, drawing--something where they are less conscious of the camera and you can capture an interesting expression or gesture.
 

darr

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It really doesn’t matter if you call their appearance “noble” or “horsey-face”, as you originally did. Your current focus is on your judgement of their physical features and clearly implies that you think there is something wrong with the appearance that they genetically inherited.

If you really want to be a portraitist {Edited by Moderator - unnecessary} focus on photographing their souls. If they really are friends it’s about inner soul and personality rather than about their physical appearance. Otherwise you’ll just be taking a picture of face that you don’t really like… probably wasting all of your time. Try figuring out how to enhance their best features rather than using them to “hide” the physical features that you think are undesirable. SJP’s hair was emphasized because she has beautiful hair rather than to hide any of her other features.

Study Portrait Lighting. With a different attitude, try just taking some informal snapshots of them to find the best setting, light, and poses THAT PLEASE THEM. Formal portraiture can come later.

Good luck!

I've got to say this is right-on.
As someone that was a for-hire portrait photographer for 20 years, the OP does not sound like he is cut-out for the job.
 
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Sirius Glass

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Do not take photographs from below the subject's face shooting up, save that for monster movies.
 

pentaxuser

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When I saw the thread's title about advice for challenging faces, the phrase challenging faces took me straight to Hadleyville. My best advice is to make sure that you have Grace Kelly at your back and Tex Ritter singing 😁

Is it time for a bit of levity? I just thought I'd give it a try. A bit of levity can help sitters and the photographer

pentaxuser
 

momus

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I've never had a flash, so everything is always shot in natural light or what's available indoors. Outdoors, the light under trees is often useful, you can search around for the best side of it. Inside, window light can be very nice for portraits once you find the best window.

My portraits are never posed, they're un-posed and spontaneous and the subject and I talk and stuff. Everyone looks attractive when they smile or laugh naturally. If you're making group photos that obliviously won't work, but I would still try and make it as off the cuff as possible. Keep it loose and take an many pics as you possibly can, you might just get something magical.
 

darr

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An example of my natural light portraits.
This was done with a 4x5 Arca Swiss camera on an outside covered porch.
The interaction you have with the subject is what matters more than looking through a camera IMO.

untitled-1-e1659903551988.jpg
 
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