Faces and the Portrait

All images in this article are my own, as I lack the rights to publish work from the artists discussed.

“To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them that they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed. Just as a camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a subliminal murder – a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time.” 
― Susan Sontag (1977)

Wrinkles tell stories!

I hope the above is wrong! I have photographed a lot of faces, mainly of strangers. A portrait is a special moment, and a collaboration between the subject and photographer (Lowe, P., 2016). The purpose of a portrait is to portray the character, or essence of a subject. As viewers, we like to read into a face, delving into every crease and wrinkle, layering each image with our own notions of the stories the subject may have to tell and the lives they may have led.

The peaceful expression contrasts starkly with the tattoos

Street Portraits are a niche of Street Photography (Gibson, G., 2011), and moments captured should be fleeting, natural and with minimal direction from the photographer. For an image to stand as a portrait a connection between subject and photographer must be made. A candid headshot may be Street, but it is not Portraiture and for this reason, portraits are often viewed as a marginal genre of Street Photography.

There are two bodies of art that come to mind when I think of candid people photography. Bruce Gilden is probably the most prolific photographer of the candid head-shot. Gilden’s style is quick and in your face, often there is no permission sought or given. However, it is perhaps the work of Philip_Lorca diCorcia’s project ‘heads’ (2000 – 2001) that most vividly captures the concept of candidness. For the ‘Heads’ project, diCorcia set up a hidden camera with a telephoto zoom and a flash rig. Often subjects were unaware their image was ever taken. The faces captured are isolated against an unexposed backgrounds, highlighting each persons features and expression. The viewer is left with a distinct feeling of voyeurism.

Cobbler, Hongzhen Old Street

There are many decisions to be made when capturing a portrait. One primary decision is the aperture. A wide aperture of 2..2 and below will blur out the background and isolate the subject. The image is free of distractions and can the viewer can focus purely on the subject. A smaller aperture will leave more of the frame in focus. Leaving background (and often the foreground) in focus gives the viewer a sense of placement. Taking an image of a subject in their own familiar setting is termed an environmental portrait. On a personal note I find this one of the more challenging aspects of portrait photography as both the person and the surroundings need to balance, a cluttered environment will distract the viewer from the power of the subject.

At the start of this article, Sontag describes a portrait as a violation of the subject. I find this perspective a hard pill to swallow, particularly when taking into account Sontag’s long term relationship with Annie Leibovitz, who from my perspective is one of the greatest photographers alive and whose photos display incredible intimacy. I will end on a more positive note with a nod to Steve McCurry (2010), who states, ‘Most of my images are grounded in people. I look for the unguarded moment, the essential soul peeking out, experience etched on a person’s face’. I believe this is what we should aim to capture.

Thats all folks, keep clicking. Chris


Gibson G., (2016) ‘The Street Photographers Manual’, Thames and Hudson

Lowe P. (2016) ‘Photography Masterclass, Creative Techniques of 100 Great Photogaphers’, Thames and Hudson

McCurry S. (2010) Amateur Photographer, 13 Marh 2010, p.44

Sontag, S. (1977) ‘On Photography’, Penguin

Three Photos to Capture.

“F8 and be there.”

‘F8 and be there,’ is the explanation ‘Weegee’ gave when asked how his photos were so consistent, and it has become something of a mantra for Street and Documentary photographers. When using a Full Frame camera, shooting at F8 ensures everything is in focus. If you are not using full frame, the F number becomes lower. Explore google if you want to know why. This is not a technical article.

Weegee followed a rule, and everybody followed Weeggee. As a result, there is now a heap of Street Photography that all looks the same. It reminds me of a joke I read this morning, ‘How do you milk sheep?’. Answer – ‘release a new iphone.’ Here are three photos you can take if you want to capture something a little different. Don’t worry, there are no more jokes.

Long Exposure Photography


Long Exposure

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Backing up your 2017 Street Photos.

Filing 2017, and 3 ‘lost’ photos from China.

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Boy playing around a demolished area close to Yanshupu Lu, 2017.

Work flow is an essential aspect of any photographer’s life. We need to spend less time on the computer and more time taking photos. At the end of the year, I file away the past 12 months of photos onto an external hard drive. I then back that drive up keeping copies of the external drive at work, at home, and in my computer bag. Maintaining an external hard drive is an essential part of my routine, as my primary computer is a MacBook Pro with a small 500Gb hard drive. Online options are an area I am looking at adding to my workflow, having a back up of my photos on Google Drive would make me feel safe, but it is not a free option.

Forgotten Gems

After filing away 2017, the images stored will slip from memory. However, while cleaning up my library, I came across photos that never quite got published. Some of them needed a light touch up, and other images were just growers. Rediscovering old photos relates to my workflow. When I first review my photos, I am often a too keen to publish them online. Some pictures you see and think WOW, get this out there. Other images take a while to enjoy. I look at these images and I don’t fall instantly in love, yet they grow on me each time I review my library. This post is about them, the photos I passed by the first time.

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Men with Dog in Alleyway. Hongzhen Lu, 2017

Happy New Year everyone. Remember to back up all your photos from 2017! Back them up online and use an external hard drive. My next post will look at how to quickly delete and sort your photos using Lightroom. Hopefully, I can help some of you think about how to make your workflow a little lighter in 2018.

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Graffiti Artist at work. Hang on… that’s ME!

Happy New Year and Keep Clicking,


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Robert Capa

“What’s the point of getting killed if you’ve got the wrong exposure?”

Robert Capa

Robert Capa founded Magnum Photography, and as such is included in this series. Calling Capa Street Photographer does not do him or his work justice. Capa was a journalistic war correspondent. I include him in this series as his photos capture human activity and life on the streets. As Street Photographers, we can learn a lot from him.


Robert Capa

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Ian Berry

The whole point to me of 35 mm photography is to remain unobserved, working with available light, discovering pictures while a scene is in motion. – Ian Berry

Who is Ian Berry?

Ian Berry is a Magnum photographer, I am guessing you are now getting the picture of where I look for inspiration! I discovered Ian Berry’s work in Shanghai, through an exhibition of his work that ran alongside that of Bruno Barbey. Ian Berry is a Journalistic photographer. However, if you look at his photography and read the quote at the top of this page, you will see that he treads on the ground of Street Photographers.


Ian Berry

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Inspirational Street Photographers #2

Steve McCurry

“One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is some of the great pictures happen along the journey and not necessarily at your destination.”

Steve McCurry

McCurry would probably not call himself as a street photographer and has described himself as a visual storyteller. He has also undertaken various journalistic projects, is a Magnum Photographer and has published numerous books. McCurry has worked extensively in India over the past 30 years, and published a book called; wait for it, ‘India’. This is a book I have recently purchased, treasure and dribble over.



Photograph by Steve McCurry. Taken from his book, ‘India’.

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Inspirational Street Photographers #1

Alex Webb

“Most of my projects seem to start as exploratory journeys with no visible end in sight.”
— Alex Webb

Recently I have had one of my photos compared to the work of Alex Webb. This compliment was praise indeed and came from an accomplished photographer, who has spent a significant amount of time as my mentor and teacher. It is amazing how a kind word can help push us all to create further images.

Tiffen Center

Contrasts of Colour and Light.

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