Copyright Karl Shreeves
It was a privilege and also humbling, to present a two hour Dramatic Portraits Workshop this past Saturday; more than 100 people signed up, which was about 10 times what I expected! Although it was a large group, the presentation used audience interaction and discussion because without question, what makes a portrait "dramatic" is subjective. When I asked for the group's take on each image I presented as part of the workshop, I was fascinated at the opinions and feelings different people in the group had. They often saw my work quite differently from the way I do, or even from the way anyone had expressed to me before. I learned a lot just by hearing these views.
The image above was one that surprised me. It's a couples portrait (that much is obvious) of my brother-in-law and his wife, both of whom worked for the fashion industry at the time. As I interacted with them, I wanted to use a fashion-esque style and create a visual tension. I accomplished the tension by having them look in different directions (a visual technique I use often with multiple people in a shot). In my view, this doesn't detract from the relationship portrayal, thanks tothe intimate placement of his hand around her leg, and her forearm on his shoulder. To my surprise, not everyone saw it that way! A significant proportion of the group said that in the photo, because she's wearing shades and looking away, it looks like my sister-in-law doesn't really like my brother-in-law. Quite a few people saw this as a couple in conflict.
Wow, what an eye-opener! That's not what I was going for at all, and while a lot of people liked the shot (including me and, most importantly, my brother- and sister-in-law), I came away from this with several lessons. First, you'll never please everyone with a shot, even ones you love, but second, you can't forget the people you don't please aren't necessarily wrong (especially if they're your clients!). Third, I now understand better why, sometimes, clients love the shots you could take or leave, but diss the ones you're over-the-top about. What we read into the details -- and whether we see them at all -- can differ dramatically.
And, it reminded me that in photography, like all things, sometimes the teacher learns as much as those being taught -- or more.