Unit 6 – Portraits (midterm)

  • Examples
  • Read the overview
  • Look at EVERY attached example inside of Blackboard


Please note, there are many self-portrait examples by students and Lee Friedlander inside of the Blackboard module. You may, of course, search for and see more of Lee Friedlander’s self-portraits online.

The three types of portraits I have identified here are Portraits, Environmental Portraits, and Self Portraits (Selfies, but with thought).   Here are some thoughts on each.

The Portrait:    

There are so many portraits in photography.   Almost all photographers at some point have done portraits of someone.   Some particularly well know photographers are Karsh, Richard Avedon, Diane Arbus, and Annie Leibovitz.   But of course there are many more.   When shooting a portrait, one choice is whether to make it candid, or more controlled.   There are simple portraits of your family, that only you could make, or you might have an commercial assignment to shoot a studio portrait, requiring planning and lighting.   Color or black and white is another choice to make, and each provides a different outcome.

I think the main consideration in the portrait is to convey some aspect of the person.   Though of course you, the photographer, are in every portrait too.   The choices you make in framing, content, point of view, and moment are all variables that change the outcome of your image.   So, too, is you ability to draw emotions or reaction, or non-reaction, from you subject.   Their comfortableness with you, or lack thereof, will be in your photo as well.

For this assignment, I’d like you to keep the image pretty simple.   One person, whom you work with for an hour or so, and try different locations, framing, background, and closeness with.   Fill the frame with their face.   Or back off and include a broad landscape.   Really look at your outcome to try and discover how this differences in your approach change the image.

The Environmental Portrait:  

Put some thought into selecting your subject.   First of all, this should be a person you do not know.   Think about someone with an interesting and visually compelling job.   Then do some research and find a specific individual.   Arrange a time you can come to their workplace, and spend a half hour or so making the pictures.      

What you are looking for is a person who’s environs help give visual information about that particular person’s work or life.   So a mechanic with a line of greasy tools and cars behind her, for instance, a pilot in the cockpit of her airplane, or a doctor in his cluttered office, all work well for this.

Tips: You are in charge here, and that is ok.     It is the one place in photojournalism that you get to “make” an image instead of “taking” and image.   This is a portrait, not a candid.   You want to put the person in the environmental setting you choose, have them look at the camera, and work to get a good composition and expression.   Try different angles, move closer and farther away.   But make sure we can see their environment in the final shot.    

Technical Side:   You should have a lot of depth of field in this photo. This is what you want so we can look around at the environment you have chosen and pick out details.   Use a wide-angle lens for this assignment.    

Self Portrait:

Look at the Lee Friedlander photographs.   Or google self portraits.   Today we call it a selfie, but I’d like you to put thought into this image, not just a quick pointing of the camera at yourself.   Take this as seriously as if you were shooting, say, the President.   How would you portray yourself.   Technically you’ll need to use a self timer, maybe a tripod, etc.   Or it is legal to have someone push the shutter for you, as long as you have created the image.  


Navigate to Unit 6 in Canvas to submit your work.

Contact Charles: cwmason@alaska.edu