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Portraits as Still Lifes

Portraits as Still Lifes

The intersection of portraiture and still-life photography is a fascinating area to explore and express symbolism of emotion, history, and perception. In my opinion, the simpler the inanimate object, the richer the final portrait can be. With a person in the image, there’s no reason to be heavy-handed or cliché, as we are naturally fascinated by pictures of people. Photography allows us to gaze at a person, and the addition of the object encourages our minds to create new combinations of meaning. An egg is among the most symbolic objects with great religious and cultural meaning for life, hope, and fertility. Contrasting the egg against the strong face and intense eye contact of model Jean-Pierre Vertus glorifies the positive symbolism and importance of the egg. The photograph was lit with a large soft bank to camera right and a black flag on the left side to subtract light to contrast the egg more effectively.

Combining landscape photography with figure studies expresses a sense of place, light, and scale. Working in a beautiful environment with talented and trusting models allows for collaboration to create successful images. Successful landscape and fi gure images are often built on the classic rule of thirds composition, in which the figure falls on the intersection of three lines that both balance the scene and create an interesting visual tension. Placing the figure in the direct center of the frame can feel unbalanced, as the landscape around the figure teeter-totters around the centered figure.


Playing with a sense of scale, allowing the figure to be smaller in the frame gives the scene a feeling of grandeur, which is created by using a wider-angle lens. Using a longer lens compresses the background-to-figure relationship and brings the background closer to the subject, creating a stronger relationship with the environment.

Build Collaboration

Finding beautiful locations with privacy often requires favors and friendship. Never take that for granted— a bottle of wine and some good prints will open more doors than money. Always leave the location in the same or better shape than when you arrived: pick up trash; don’t trample flower beds; stay out of private areas of the home; don’t assume you can use the bathroom facilities; arrive and leave on time; and of course, return all props to their original location.


Working with professional models, dancers, or actors will allow you to concentrate on your photography. Professional models understand how to pose, have confidence, and very importantly will understand that you need to take a lot of pictures to get just what you want. Make sure to give them breaks with privacy, warm or cool beverages, and warm clothing as needed. One last note: If you, the photographer, are uncomfortable (as in being cold, hungry, or tired), then your models will be, too. If anyone on your team is uncomfortable, no one will be able to concentrate on his or her work. Be the team leader and take care of everyone by being positive and, for example, paying for breakfast after an early morning shoot. Little things count and are remembered longer than a paycheck.

Take  a Leap

We all have habits and photographic subjects that we’re comfortable with. Take a workshop, find a muse, and mix things up. With these images I had the good fortune of working with professional models in beautiful locations, and now I feel empowered to push the contrast of the portrait and still life in new directions.

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