Monday, February 1, 2010

February Monthly Special: The Face

(If you're a long time reader, you've seen the above portrait as part of a face grid)

The iconic film director John Ford once said that there is no greater landscape than the human face. Or at least that's what I heard quoted by one of the directors at the Sundance Film Festival last week. I googled it but ended up on the Oscar Wilde quote, "A man's face is his autobiography. A woman's face is her work of fiction." Not quite what I intended.

When considering this month's theme, I kept coming back to the human face because:
  1. I am one post away from doing a complete portrait retouch workflow tutorial
  2. I gave my students a portrait assignment and was surprised at how many people downplayed the human face
  3. The fact that interesting faces can be found anywhere has been of great consolation when I'm not in a photogenic city.
  4. A simple close-up is one of my favorite styles of portrait.
I have always loved an extreme close-up.

It's so easy to get preoccupied with clothing, environment, experimental angles, effects, colors and so on, that the actual face can become an afterthought. And then there's that problem of the mask—that smiling "say cheese" face that people make. Any parent knows that at some point in early childhood, you start to see the fake smile, like this:
It can be cute for one photo, but when you kid starts doing it in every photo it can drive you crazy. And then what do you do? If you're like most people, you start coaching them to smile "normally" and you battle of the smiles ends up reinforcing the idea that there is one certain expression suitable for every portrait.

Here are two shots of Eva prior to the "say cheese" smile:

Does this mean that by age three we are doomed to less realistic portraits? Of course not. But we might have to work for them a little harder.

This month we're going to focus on the face. Just the face. Naturally, I'll do the portrait retouch workflow I've been promising, but even more important than Photoshop tutorials will be ideas for getting simple and interesting portraits that bring out personality, that explore, in the purported words of John Ford, "the landscape of the human face."

Don't be shy. Share your favorite portraits by posting on your blog and linking back here (as explained in my FAQ page) sometime this month.