Saturday, June 9, 2012


About three years ago I began to suspect that there was something slightly wrong with many of my portraits. I could not put my finger on the specific problem, but it was there. Whenever I have a problem like this I go back to basics and re-read my art books. My first stop was my Rembrandt or Vermeer books, but this time I could not see what my basic problem was.

I was lucky enough to find myself in New York soon after and I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Rembrandt room. I spent quite some time just looking at these beautiful 350 year old portraits. I don't know if it came upon me slowly or whether it hit me suddenly, but I saw the answer. 

For many years I had used Leica cameras with 35, 50 and 90mm lenses. I had no problem at that time, but then I moved to SLRs with longer lenses and began, gradually, to crop closer and closer. The zoom lenses made it so easy. I was cropping out the breathing space! It was not a great amount, but it became blindingly obvious after my initial revelation. 

Take for example the portrait below. When I first shot this, it was cropped a little tighter in-camera. My positive space was overwhelming my negative space! Only after I had extended the background a little was I really happy with the result. 

Maybe we should all step back a little every now and then and re-evaluate our images.