Thoughts on Portraits

In Black and White, Portraiture, Uncategorized

My Digital Art 2 students are currently working on creating portraits in our classroom. We’ve got a set of cheap soft-boxes, some crumpled cloth backdrops, and a set of mid-grade camera gear and we’re making the best of it. I made all my students take turns playing the role of photographer, subject and lighting assistant for their latest assignment and then I had them write about their experiences. I asked 4 questions: 1) What was the most difficult part of being the photographer? 2) How did it feel to be the subject? 3) Did the photos meet your expectations? 4) As the photographer, did you like photos that your subject didn’t and if so, how did you handle the situation?

I got the answers I was expecting for the most part. Most kids said it was difficult, as the photographer, to get their subject to do what they wanted or to adjust the cameras and lights properly. They also wrote how it was awkward and uncomfortable to be the subject, especially when the photographer wasn’t giving them clear direction. They had never really used studio lighting before, so they were pleased with the dynamic results they were able to achieve with small adjustments to light positions and camera angles. Most of them said that their subjects were overly critical of themselves in photos and that they had to delete or reshoot images that they liked because they didn’t want to offend their classmates.

But I had a student answer the 4th question in a profound way that ended up inspiring a whole new angle to discuss. My student wrote, “In some instances, the photographer is working for the subject and in other instances the subject is working for the photographer. If the subject is working for the photographer, then it doesn’t matter if they like the photos or not.” When I gave the assignment to the students, I hadn’t even considered this concept and so it opened up the floor to discussing editorial and journalistic style photography even though that wasn’t what I had originally planned. I was able to introduce them to another set of photographers in a fluid and organic way and my students were more engaged because it came from their own reflection.

It’s days like this one that let me know that I made the right decision when I agreed to take over this teaching job in January.

Ever the student – Angie

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