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09/29/2009

Portraits

Carlos Osorio - Staff Photographer

One of the things we tend to do a lot of is portraits. As a result, you get to see the many different styles of photography here at the Star. Sometimes you can even tell who took the photograph without reading the byline. For me, portraits always go the same way. Meet the subject and try to make them feel comfortable. The worst thing is when someone looks uncomfortable and stiff. Once they know that you aren't going to steal their soul with the camera, the next thing is finding a location. I usually let the person walk me around. If I'm in their home, I ask where they normally sit. I try to accommodate them as much as possible. Sometimes, you just have to find the right balance of colour and light. Once I find the spot and get my cameras ready, I tend to give very little direction and just let the photos happen. I find that if I am giving directions, the best photos will come in the moments between poses. The key is being ready to capture those small fleeting moments.

Here are a few portraits I have done recently. 

The first is actor Andrew Craig. I photographed him at the Factory Theatre in Toronto. Story Here.

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He was really easy to work with. Actors usually are. I basically said, could you stand here and look at me please.

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I have photographed in this space before but hadn't seen the light pouring in like it was here.

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Always give them options. 


Jabari Lindsay is project manager of Torontos Youth Gang Prevention program, a $5 million, three and a half-year pilot project catering to 300 young people aged 13 to 24 in the west end of the city. Really easy to work with. I photographed him in and around Nathan Phillips Square on his lunch break.

CO-JabariLindsay01



This last one was a news portrait of Jarnail Singh. He is a New Delhi-based Sikh journalist, who threw a shoe at an Indian minister who didn’t answer his questions at a news conference about politicians acccused in the 1984 massacre of about 2,000 Sikhs. Story Here.

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This was a really quick shoot in a lobby of a hotel. If I don't have much time you can't go wrong with nice light by a window.

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Carlos wrote: "Once they know that you aren't going to steal their soul with the camera ..."

I'll argue that, sometimes, the photographer wants to, and even should, steal a bit of their soul. This is what separates the great portrait from the average. Ideally, a portrait should allow the viewer a moment's chance into the world of the subject.

Whenever a subject jokingly asks me if my camera will steal their sole, I always answer, "I hope so."

One problem is that newspaper photographers have to be great artists, but in a hurry. It's very tough to produce an insightful portrait of a stranger in an empty office in three minutes. It's easy to produce a creative picture, but that's something else.

Celebrity portraits, for better or worse, are hugely popular because they allow the viewer to be close to their favourite celebrity, to have eye contact with them, and, perhaps, be in the same restaurant or hotel room as them. Sure, it's a virtual thrill, but the emotional response is often almost as good as being there in person.

Non-celebrity portraits are different. There are no virtual thrills to be had, but the picture still needs to create some sort of connection with the viewer.

Business and appointment-notice portraits are cold. These pictures are "inventory" photos that say only, "This is what Jane Smith looks like."

General newspaper portraits are also essentially inventory pictures. A picture of a school athlete, a doctor, a business owner, a victim of crime, a disgruntled employee, etc, each have to put news value first. But from time to time, opportunities exist to go beyond the newspaper page.

Although, most good actors and models can fake it, a "real person" cannot. Yes, a good photographer can also fake it with the right lighting, the right pose, the right direction, and knowing the right moment to push the shutter button.

What is a great portrait? A photographer might define it in terms of creative lighting or camera angle, whereas a page editor might define it in terms of fit with the accompanying story. But, in the end, it's only the viewer that can define it, in terms of their emotional response.

All of these images are soft around the eyes and all but the first is rather underexposed.

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