I am producing a series of books, with a very limited distribution, on aerospace photography. They are heavy on example images and light on text, yet even if you are not lucky enough to receive one, the content is still worth sharing. And that's what we have below — book 2 of 4: Faces.
Faces are fascinating to us humans. They immediately draw our attention then, from observation and experience, we deduce personality, mood, intent. And from those deductions, we might adjust our expectations, consider our own mood, perhaps modify our own intentions. It’s complicated, and it’s automatic.
Photographs of faces are particularly interesting because the image freezes in time the expression that lets us ponder so much about the person. Here are examples of those frozen moments, along with a few notes about the how and why of a good photo.
A smile is always appreciated, isn’t it? These men, above and below, appear calm, confident, and comfortable being photographed. That’s good whether you’re looking at the shop floor or mahogany row.
One trap to avoid when eliciting a smile is using a humorous comment or question that, while yielding a smile, brings with it a tension around the eyes. (Money, sex, politics — probably best to avoid those.)
Your subject need not look directly at the camera.
This slightly averted gaze can retain the energy of a face looking toward the viewer but, because they aren’t staring directly at us, the image communicates a larger story — there is some other person or activity in the vicinity.
Which brings us to one of my favorite subjects — people working.
They are intent on the task, focused on the details, solving the problems. The photographer’s job is to capture those faces (and bodies) showing their intensity, focus, cogitation.
We can’t see what these soldiers are looking at, but it must be important which, in addition to the eye-catching eyes, at right, and the vibrant color,* that mystery engages us in the image.
* By the way, the soldiers were not actually operating under red lighting — I put a red gel on a flash unit, which I located off-camera.
Sometimes it’s just paperwork.
Sometimes it’s being cramped in the belly of a jet fighter while a camera lens is poked through an access panel and the shutter tripped without the photographer seeing what the camera is about to capture.
A special challenge arises when you’re photographing a pilot, airborne at the controls. Many such photos end up looking like the inset below. Not good if the intent is to feature the person. Better to, without compromising safety, get the camera in front of the pilot.
Combining an intense gaze with those crossed arms denotes a seriousness demanding to be noticed. These men were posed for an ad in which their images would be composited together — they are serious about their work and we wanted to communicate that. Done!
Or, you just let a person’s personality come through when you briefly interrupt their day.
Faces: so much communication in such a small space and tiny sliver of time. We are immediately drawn to look at them, to interrogate them for what they have to tell us.
Whether for advertising, marketing, shareholder communications, company morale, community relations, or however you need to tell your stories, using faces wisely and well can be a powerful tool.