The Conversational Portrait


Last year, I had a goal of incorporating an editorial process to my images. I would interview someone, photograph them and then write a story that centered around who they were or what they did. Sometimes that ended up featuring cows or century old houses instead of people. This year, I'm going to keep up the occasional interview and story, but my main objective is to focus on simple portraiture.

After reading Dan Winters' The Road to Seeing, I was immediately captivated by the quiet portrait. I've followed his work for a while, but to see the images in print with a story that surrounded his portraits excited me like nothing I've ever encountered. On top of that, my wife gave me Gregory Heisler's 50 Portraits for Christmas. If there are two books to get the creative soul moving, those are definitely worth checking out.

At this point, I have two setups that I'm using. One is a window-light photo booth in my office at Workhorse Creative. Just a window, reflector, a green bench seat from some old automobile and a black piece of matboard.


The second setup is just as simple. A dark gray piece of matboard, and a speedlight with a 60" shoot-through umbrella. I'm using the Fujifilm XPro-1 for both of these setups. This second portrait setup is reserved for some special people - my family. I have a goal to photograph as many of my family members as possible with the same camera and lighting setup. It's portable. It's simple. It's an honest portrait.

"I'm 90% therapist, 10% photographer."
Peter Hurley

The highlight, however, is the conversation. The "session" is just a simple conversation between me and a family member. How many faces can you see in a conversation? It seems the answer is infinite. Laughter, pondering, melancholy, smirking - they all seem to come out at some point. The photography part is done. That's easy. The hard part is eliciting the emotion you want. As Peter Hurley says, "I'm 90% therapist, 10% photographer." Looking past the lights and lens is the key. That's my challenge for this year.

P. S. The 56 f/1.2 is wicked sharp. I absolutely love this if I can only afford it.