Sunday, 14 November 2010

Project 05: Eye-contact and expresssion

This project requires the photographer to shoot a portrait session, with face prominent, in which the subject is directed to at times look towards the camera and at others to ‘look away’.  I spent around 30-40 minutes, with Tim as my subject, and took around 50 different images in that period, from which I have selected 10 to illustrate the outcomes.
These first three images all have Tim looking directly towards the camera, the first with the body more or less square on to the camera, and the others with the body turned slightly left and right.
It is obvious, in all three, that the subject is aware of being photographed and that he is therefore ‘posed’ to some degree, though all three appear reasonably ‘relaxed’ and ‘natural’.  The viewer is immediately aware of the eye-contact, which engages his/her attention, though there might be very slight differences of expression that could lead to slightly different interpretations of the subject’s mood, intention, or whatever.
In the next batch, I have asked Tim to look away from the camera, whilst essentially maintaining a ‘neutral’ expression.  It seems harder for the viewer to understand these images.  They are posed and they look posed, but without the direct eye-contact, it is difficult to tell how engaged the subject is with the process, and for the viewer to engage with the subject.  They seem much less ‘personal’.  We feel much more comfortable judging facial expression when we have eye-contact with the subject.  At the specific level, the second image (top right) feels the most natural to me, and I think it is because Tim is leaning slightly into the direction that he is looking, with his head turned that way.

I know Tim well, and we engaged in plenty of conversation during the session – sometimes as I gave ‘stage direction’ and sometime just general ‘chat’.  I wanted to capture some less posed images and, using the cable release, pressed the shutter several times when Tim was not concentrating on ‘the pose’ (something he was perfectly aware of, of course).  We also, at one point, sought to simulate the ‘interview’ situation, looking to get a more absorbed version of the look away from camera.  Some of the results follow.
The first is directly comparable to the first of the previous four, with Tim sitting in more or less the same position.  The difference is that we have engaged in ‘banter’ that has brought a natural smile to Tim’s face.  Although he is looking away from the camera and the viewer does not have eye-contact, it feels much easier to engage with him as a subject in this image.
The second of this batch, below, is the one simulating an interview.  The subject’s face is turned more away from camera in this than in any of the others, but he looks absorbed because he is actually looking at me sitting out of frame to the left.  He doesn’t have eye contact with the camera, but he does have eye contact with me, resulting in a much more natural and less posed image than ‘gazing into the distance’.

Finally, the image below is probably the least ‘posed’ of all.  Again, we are sharing a joke, and I can tell from Tim’s body position that it is one the earlier shots, when he was sitting more or less directly facing the camera and we were shooting images of him look directly at it.  I am standing slightly left of camera and he has looked at me whilst laughing.  Once again, a viewer is likely to find it easier to engage with this image than with, say, the first of the previous batch of four, even though the subject is looking in more or less the same direction, from more or less the same position.
The project builds well on the previous ones, particularly with regard to communication between photographer and subject.  There is much more to directing a successful portrait than asking the subject to look one way or another!
Thanks, Tim, it was a very useful session.

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