Exercise 3.10 – A formal portrait

Who means a lot to you? It could be the person closest to you emotionally, with whom you’ve shared important life experiences. Or perhaps its an old friend you haven’t seen for a while. Make a formal portrait of the person standing in the significant place of the previous exercise. A ‘formal’ portrait is generally full length. Deliberately posed. Won’t include excessive displayed of emotion. Model won’t interact with you but will form part of the environment in a self-controlled ‘cool’ manner. Great care over composition and lighting. Many exposures to capture meaningful portrait from your subject.


I started taking photographs as part of my painting work – resource work and recording of work. As it happened, people would sometimes prefer the photographs I had taken rather than the paintings I was making. People would ask why I didn’t take more photographs. Which I assume was also a way of telling me to paint less. What I have noticed over the last few years of my photography is that people ask why I don’t take more photographs of specific things. Friends, family, colleagues advise me what I should be taking photographs of, and generally we don’t agree on this. Family members and most commonly children is often the request, so having a formal portrait come up as part of the exercises, gave me a chance to do what people want, and what was required of me by the course.

Having read through the brief of full-length, rather cool, but people who mean a lot to you, I decided to give in to family requests and do a portrait of my kids. So my real challenge was to take a kids picture, but without turning out one of the cheesy, soft toned portraits for the front of christmas cards. I wanted to avoid the strange kids portrait of them ‘playing’ on a odd white background, dressed the same in white shirts and jeans, hair brushed and perfectly lit. The cool requirement, would I hope nullify this, plus by using the ‘significant place’ of the previous exercise it could at least skip the white background.

The girls got 2 kittens not long ago, and these poor animals rarely require the use of their legs, as they have been carried everywhere. So for some reason I thought of including the cats – they are always with the girls anyway. So it was really the cats, aligned with the formal portrait idea, that made me consider recreating Mr & Mrs Clarke and Percy. I am a big Hockney fan, but this is really just his late 50’s/ 60’s work – ‘We 2 boys’ etc – whereas his realistic images leave me somewhat cold. His draughtsmanship however is always excellent, and the structures of his paintings/ prints/ drawings is always perfectly balanced or unbalanced, but always right.

I dressed the girls – well one wouldn’t wear the dress I wanted, and picked another, but consideration was given to clothing. Items in the room were moved around to mimic the Hockney painting. A toy telephone was placed – though these things are usually found lying around our house anyway.

I lit it from the front to balance the sunlight coming through the windows – but I was conscious that I did want the sunlight so as to mirror the original. As you can imagine taking photos of kids and pets, I had no problem shooting ‘many exposures’, and in some the cat looked great, others one kid did, the next the other did – so this actual shot was the one in which they all looked appropriate. I took the tones down a little to maintain that coolness, but nothing else was really done. There was some blaring on the flowers which I tried to remove. But generally I like it – I might even get it printed up – does anyone even do that anymore? The cats name is Gloria by the way.




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