How to take portraits


General Photography

People sometimes ask how master photographers take portraits, and when you ask them they often do such a lousy job explaining how it works. Thankfully, there is Franz Fiedler’s Portrait Photography (1934, I just bought the English language version, published in 1936) that tells you how it all works. Here are some excerpts.

Fiedler1.jpg First of all, you need to find the right side of the head. Apparently, one side seems to work better than the other, even though I still don’t understand it (click on the image for a slightly larger version - same for all following images).

Fiedler2.jpg Make sure to make good use of that old silvered oilcloth reflector you have.

Fiedler3.jpg Having light sources in excess of 1,000 Watts is a plus. That will keep your model cozily warm. Also note if you take photos of Pinocchio - as indicated in the diagram - proper placement of the nose will ensure it doesn’t show that badly in the photo.

Fiedler4.jpg Here’s how this works with flowers. Make sure to water the flowers generously, what with all those lights around.

Fiedler5.jpg If your model is still cold, despite your use of 1,000 Watts of light, a (fake!) fur coat will come in handy.

Fiedler6.jpg For portraits of three people, with only two people present, you can use a painting to stand in for the missing person (note, this will not work with abstract painters!).

Fiedler7.jpg Smoking sends more messages than just “No, I don’t care about my health.” Here are some of those messages.

But seriously, it’s a great book, even though the chapter of the forms of heads and what they supposedly mean is a bit disconcerting. I found my copy for $4.50 at The Strand, I’m sure there are lots of copies to be had online somewhere.