Expression Is Everything

April 03, 2017  •  Leave a Comment


Young Monk deep in thought, Bhutan.
Canon EOS 5DSR, 300mm lens, 1/640 second @ f2.8, ISO 100


When it comes to portraiture, expression is everything. Think about the photographs taken of you, perhaps for a family portrait or a wedding. If you don't have a good expression, you won't like the portrait no matter how good it is technically. This doesn't mean technique isn't important. If you capture a wonderful expression and your subject is overexposed or out of focus, that's not much good either!

If you click through to the website, you can see the four frames I took when photographing this monk. He wasn't there for long and his hand to his temple for just a few short moments. However, immediately I saw the gesture, I started pressing the button. And kept pressing it everytime he changed his expression. 

Shooting on the street like this, you don't have time to think and compose, only react. And the only reaction we really have available is to take another photograph. Of course, I have a rough idea of the type of photograph I'm looking for. You don't attach a 300mm lens to your camera and expect to shoot from the hip. Rather, a telephoto is useful for capturing big close ups and, as in this case, isolating the subject.

Note the blank wall behind, simplifying the composition, making sure the message is clear. I was lucky there - he could have been standing somewhere else. So what's the message?


The four frames before post-production. Which one would you have chosen?

I'm not sure there really is a single message we can take away from this photograph. Who knows what he was thinking: did I leave the iron on, I hope my teacher doesn't see me sneaking away from class, this cloak makes my head itch! However, I don't think photographs have to answer the questions they raise and very often, it's better if they don't.


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