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How to Create a Visceral Portrait


I shot all these DBI portraits with a 50mm 1.2. For most of you that means nothing. But do you notice how there’s almost a 3D quality to the photo? Think of the image as a loaf of bread. Only one slice is in focus - the face. The larger your aperture (the shutter, the opening that light enters) the thinner the slice of bread that’s in focus.


In this case his eyes are that slice, which we call the focal plane. The back of the chair, his neck and parts of his collar are all nicely blurred. That blur, which is sometimes called bokeh, is what gives the photo a 3D quality. In the case of a portrait, the face pops out.


Since a person’s eyes are the focal point of your attention in life, as well as in a photograph, this ‘technique’ helps to draw the viewer into the person’s face. When you combine that with good light, interesting texture, and negative space, you are likely to get portraits that are, well, interesting.


I love this effect. It gives me a visceral feeling of presence. For me at least I can remember every person, every moment from every photograph. And that’s what I want - to feel the person I’m looking at. That feel is, I think, is what sets some portraits apart and what I hope to convey in mine.


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