My Favorite Portraits Of 2019

I have three. It's not always about quantity, and it's always about style.

The outcome for these end-of-the-year posts often fall into the trap of delivering quantity on a wide range of looks, focusing on dazzling an audience rather than pounding on the door of discovery. When I sat down to think about what are my favorite portraits of 2019 and why, I was both surprised and elated at my ultimate selections. It boiled down to three images. Each for me point the way forward in 2020 in what I'll be specifically seeking out when I approach people to work with in the studio and other environments.

Wardrobe = Concept

One of the most obvious types of photography to pursue in a very controlled environment, like the studio, would be a conceptual portrait. A concept could rely heavily on one or all of these elements: the model, the wardrobe, hair and makeup, background, props, lighting, and post-processing. But how to balance between all these considerations?

Rafique Sayed once told our group that if anything, get the wardrobe right when you're starting out, then experiment. I've come to adopt this approach because it made a lot of sense after looking through my portraits later. Had I made better wardrobe decisions - or even considered it a priority - the shots I had already taken could have been dramatically improved upon.

Which brings me to an image I shot in Rafique's workshop on April 28, 2019. I knew there was something special for me about this one when I was working on it in post. It may have had something to do with my direction at the time, which no other of the attendees attempted with this particular outfit - which was to direct the model to be on the floor. Although standing was brilliant and certainly showed off the beautiful black robes, a concept emerged when she was on her knees and raised her hands up. Was it a religious pose or something else mysterious? Though a concept wasn't part of the discussion prior to shooting, one is implied here, I believe.

The model here is Vaishnavi Andhale, who had been crowned Femina Miss India Maharashtra 2019 two weeks prior to this shot.

My other portrait choices makes use of an old painter's trick called chiaroscuro. I love this kind of portrait and I suppose I'll be employing stark contrasts between dark and light spaces until I get it out of my system.

I'll differentiate between the next two images. The one below was a planned shoot while the last one was improvised on the spot. The outcomes may look similar in the realm of chiaroscuro but the over all feel will be completely different between the two, or at least should appear so. For a planned shoot, it should "feel" like it was planned. The pose is deliberate. The eyes, intentional. While any single pose during a session could in fact be improvised it shouldn't appear so because of the careful planning of the lighting setup and how the images are ultimately culled for post processing in the end.

The model here is Niyati Jadav. As of this writing she is actually using this shot as her Instagram handle, which naturally makes me happy.

The last image is the same as the header, but I'll share it once more to illustrate the second type of chiaroscuro I'll be seeking out in 2020.

This is the land of the improvised, spur-of-the-moment shots which can occur anywhere outside of a controlled environment, or where the subjects themselves are suddenly lulled into the lens. The setting is that of chiaroscuro but the moment is something from the world of color and life.

I think it's important to further distinguish, for me, the two worlds of the planned and unplanned. The best way to do this is through color, if a viable option. Because at this point we arrive at a special kind of lighting which may or may not pay homage to past painting masters like Vermeer. The portrait becomes a portal into a private moment shared between photographer and subject. Maybe it could have been a painting in an alternate universe? Whatever the moment, it looks like it was spontaneous. It sounds like jazz.

This model is my wife, composer Alokananda Dasgupta. She's holding our cat, Toby, who is never happy being held in such a way, especially posing for pictures. I had been testing my new lighting setup and asked her to pose for me. She decided to grab a cat and I dialed down the settings so that I could easily achieve a chiaroscuro effect later in post.

Everything from the towel on hear head, her expression, and the disgruntled cat suggest a spontaneous moment, a slice of life borrowed and returned to the library of The Natural. I'll point out that even these type of shots can be conceptual or planned in advance - but the overall look always has the effect of a fish-out-of-water-moment, until it is allowed to return to the stream to swim away.

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