“Unless some sweetness at the bottom lie,
Who cares for all the crinkling of the pie?”

This line is from William King’s Poem, “The Art of Cookery,” and it applies perfectly to portraiture. Today’s tip is quick, and it includes the challenge that you should memorize this line of poetry — it’ll broaden your horizons ;)

Does your portrait emote?

I take this line to mean that no matter how good a pie looks if it doesn’t taste good then it’s a failure. For you and me, that means that no matter how much hairspray you’ve used, no matter how dramatic the lighting, no matter how fluffy and cuddly the blankets, if the picture lacks emotion, then it’s a failure. Emotion is the sweetness. It causes your viewer to linger and ask for another slice.

How do you show emotion?

The simple answer is that it’s all about the eyes. If your subject’s eyes are alight then the picture will be engaging. That doesn’t mean wide open and staring at the camera. It means that they need to be engaging with the viewer, and that means they need to have engaged with you while photographing.

It’s the twinkle. The spark. It’s shown in the eyelid and the brow and the jaunty angle of the nose.

It doesn’t have to be happy. It doesn’t have to be looking straight at the camera. Maybe the eyes are closed, but they are still the center of emotion on the face.

The eyes are where the sweetness lies, and if they’re dead I’ll pass your picture by.

Don’t settle for a good crust

No matter what how much effort you’ve put into everything else, if the emotion is missing from your portrait it’s a failure. You may have an amazing crust, but if the center of your pie is bland then it’s a failure. The eyes are the easiest place to bring emotion to your photos. Of course, there are other ways and we’ll explore those in the future. But the eyes supersede them all.

Do whatever it takes to make your pictures sweet.

You know who puts emotion into his work in every shot he shares, even when the eyes aren’t visible? My fellow author, Mykii Liu (see his articles here). Check out his Instagram feed, and then go shoot. In fact, check out his work right before every shoot and I bet it’ll help bring a little more sweetness to your pies.

Portrait Tips come out each week, and you can see them all right here.