The tiro may hitherto have regarded these two terms as synonymous—as meaning "the same thing." And so they do to many photographers. This is just where good portrait painters find fault with average photographic portraiture. Nor is it to be wondered at that the majority of professional photographers only aim at supplying likenesses when their patrons ask for nothing different.
Happily, however, there are a certain number of professional portraitists who are aiming at, and oftentimes succeeding, in adding to the likeness that characteristic yet indescribable subtle something which makes it a portrait as well.
If we took at random a score of portrait examples of the more advanced amateurs and a like number of ordinary professional works, we should probably find the latter showing better technique, but the former would show us better portraiture.
This point, therefore, should teach us to see that in a portrait we must aim at avoiding the air of self-consciousness in the sitter which accompanies the professional studio example. As some people have a special set of (theoretical) morals which they assume with their Sunday clothes, so others seem to have a special series of abnormal expressions and poses which they assume for the sake of photographic portraits much in the same way as Sir Joshua's sitters seem to have spent their whole existence in saying " Plums, prunes, and prisms".
In a portrait we seek to find some intimation of the character of the person, something in addition to his outward form and shape. This may be portrayed in many different ways, independently or conjointly. For instance, the lolling pose of the indolent sitter, the alert wide-awake turn of the sitting or standing figure, the pose and poise of the head on the shoulders, the facial expression, the position and suggested action of the hands, the engagement of the whole body, the dress: these are some of the matters which properly engage the attention of the portraitist. And one or two very brief hints may serve to indicate some of the lines of study and observation.
A resting, leaning back, reclining pose does not harmonise with a wide-awake alert facial expression. Again, the pose must be in harmony with the surroundings. Thus, a reclining pose would not harmonise with a rocky background, nor should we usually look for a dramatic pose surrounded by flowers and foliage. A child holding a toy boat would look " out-of-place " in the midst of a garden or with a woodland background.
The position and balance of the head on the shoulders are vastly important factors in conveying character. The reader, doubtless, will readily recall the memory of some one who habitually hangs his head forward or backwards, or has it a little bit on one side—this latter trick is often the result of astigmatic vision. •
Most people have some characteristic hand pose which they unconsciously assume when they are engaged in an interesting conversation or occupation. One man twiddles his watch-chain and another similarly patronises his moustaches, another dives his hands into the lowest depths of his pockets, while another seems to fear his coat is slipping off his person, and so on.
So many of our sitters say, " What am I to do with my hands ? " The question shows how self-conscious they are. Perhaps the best answer is an artistic (poetic) evasion—e.g., " We need not trouble about the hands at present. It is more important to think about the arrangement of the flowers on the table, etc.," and so turn the sitter's mind away from the self-conscious hands to some other matter.
One or two points are worth bearing in mind. For instance, the edge or side of a hand is more shapely and graceful than the back or palm. The fingers are preferable curved rather than straight. A hand in strong light will look larger than in shadow. If the hand be at all conspicuous either by reason of its size, pose, or lighting it is not desirable to place it vertically under the head.
Photographers sometimes try to evade the subject of hand posing by arranging them out of sight. But this expedient, as often as not, carries its own condemnation by showing that it is a forced and not natural arrangement. The hands are often an important factor in the general success of the portrait, therefore to hide them is an obvious mistake. One should always observe the tone value of whatever comes behind the hands—clothes, table, etc.—so as to avoid excessive contrasts.
For portraiture this should never be forced. Our aim is to produce a record of the person's character, and it is not unreasonable to say that our preference shall be given to his virtues rather than his vices. Most of us know some one who is usually a light-hearted and cheerful companionable fellow, but who also has a violent antipathy to some one thing or person which, like the proverbial red rag, puts our friend in a towering rage. To portray him in one of these quite abnormal fits would not be true portraiture, though it might be true at the moment. This of course is an exaggerated instance to point the moral, which can easily be applied in many other directions.
The one expression to avoid is the conscious "know-I-am-being-photographed " look which so many people almost involuntarily assume before the camera.