Authors: Glenn Rand and Tim Meyer

Publisher: Rocky Nook

Review by Conrad J. Obregon

Most photographers take pictures of people. What is it that transforms these images from snapshots to portraits?

Glenn Rand and Tim Meyer offer their ideas on how to make this transformation in “The Portrait: Understanding Portrait Photography.” In clear, textbook-like language they explain most of the subject. Chapters range from descriptions of equipment, through lighting ratios, to posing and facial analysis. The authors break down each topic covered into the simplest components. For example the chapter on light dynamics includes a series of illustrations that shows the effect of moving the key light around the subject from a location on the camera axis to one almost directly behind the subject. The authors show us both a photograph of the lighting set-up and the effect on a bust. The illustrative portraits are not just those of the authors, but of a number of successful portrait artists, like Melvin Sokolsky and Joyce Tenneson.

There are many good books on portrait photography and authors must introduce a different way of looking at the genre to add something to the field. Here the authors often call attention to the “Light Dynamic Edge” which is the transition between the lit and shadow areas of a portrait. Following this concept throughout the book can provide a new way of thinking about portraits.

Although I found this book helpful, I was a little disappointed to find that several of the ideas were mired in the past, like extensive reference to lighting ratios. In the world of digital imaging, the ratios themselves seem less important than the effects of different light positioning. In fact, one of the faults I found was that while most of the rules and calculations of portrait photography were explained, an over-arching view of what one might try to accomplish with a portrait seemed lacking.

In addition, it seemed to me that the authors were presenting information in an approach to portraits that was a little removed from the needs of an audience that was seeking fundamental information. In the discussion of artificial lights there was reference to large strobe lights, but not to the more affordable and convenient speed lights that many will use, although a translation to such equipment is not difficult. Similarly, priority was given to the use of the incident light meter, which might be ideal, particularly in a studio setting, rather than the in-camera meter that the average photographer will rely on. I suspect this approach follows their syllabus for students at the Brooks Institute where the authors are currently employed. Individual interested in a simpler form of portraiture will probably be more interested in the books of Joe McNally.

Ultimately this book will probably prove most useful to the photographer interested in learning and articulating the rules of portrait photography rather than just moving beyond the snapshot.

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