There is a common saying to the effect that the best way to pose one's sitters is to leave them alone—i.e. to engage them in some interesting conversation or occupation and to watch and wait without letting them even suspect that they are being watched, and then having observed some characteristic turn of the head, disposal of the hand, facial expression, to store this up and arrange for its continuance or revival.
The amateur has one great advantage over the professional, for the latter perforce has to " execute " so many sitters per day, many of whom he may not have seen before. But the amateur generally selects his " patients " from among his acquaintances, and can previous to the operation engage in half-an-hour's gossip, such as easily follows when portraits of mutual friends are being examined and criticised.
Orthochromatic Plates and Colour Screens are often ruled out of court for portraiture, on the not always sound assumption that they entail exposures impracticably long. For ordinary room portraiture they can generally only be employed under such favourable conditions as a good light, a fast plate, a steady sitter, and screens which do not necessitate exposures beyond two or three seconds. But for outdoor portraiture under favourable conditions their use by no means need be exceptional. Moreover the gain of more truthful rendering is quite worth the risk of occasional or slight movement rendered probable by the increased time of exposure.
The directions wherein lie some of their more noticeable advantages are better rendering of tone, value of drapery, colours, and textures, a marked advantage also in the rendering of various complexions and hair colour. Moreover they considerably reduce the work of the retoucher, and also often convey a certain atmospheric quality—using this term in lieu of a better—to a portrait which is nearly always absent in portraiture with ordinary plates.
Of course for entirely satisfactory results one must use a plate sensitised for all colours with a suitable colour filter or screen. This often entails increasing normal exposure about 40 times, resulting in an exposure too long except under very favourable conditions. But by the use of a paler and of course not so truthful colour filter results vastly better than those obtained without screens may be obtained. Thus a six or eight times yellow or pale orange screen may enable us to get a full exposure with an exposure of not more than a second.
Vignetting is not nearly so much in vogue as it was some ten or fifteen years ago, and this change is happily in the desirable direction. But it should not be too hastily concluded that its general avoidance should be followed by its absolute exclusion. Occasionally the vignetted portrait is entirely successful and satisfactory. In such cases we may generally observe the following conditions. The sitter is simply dressed—i.e. absence of marked patterns or contrasts. The draperies are .white or light. The background is fairly light, though not quite white, and is of the plain variety—i.e. without pattern, though it may be somewhat graduated in light and shade. The pose is so arrranged that the sitter is not looking at the camera. There is absence of very sharp focus in any part of the picture. The face is not very much darker or lighter than the background.
Relative Position of Camera and Sitter is a matter which does not usually receive the attention it deserves from the amateur. Very often he supports his camera on an ordinary tripod, and this usually brings the lens too high up above the seated figure. This looking-down-upon the sitter effect often gives a distorted and unpleasant view. We see too much of the top of his head, and his shoulders seem too high, which at times gives a suggestion of humpback. The nearer we are to our sitter the more marked is the evil effect of this too exalted view point. Moreover, if the floor of the room be seen this elevated position of the lens gives an unpleasantly exaggerated perspective effect, and seems to suggest an uprising rather than a level floor.
Draperies often go a long way in the making or marring of a portrait. The former is very noticeable in many of the masterpieces of painting, while the latter is the rule in photographic portraiture. With so many people there seems a lingering tendency to what gardeners used to call a " throw back "—i.e. return to primitive and wild forms. Dressing for a photographic portrait so often means, if not returning to ancestral war-paint and feathers, at any rate putting on their newest and most striking and startling up-to-date latest fashion garments. If anything is calculated to induce a conscious expression either of vanity in woman or discomfort in man, surely it seems to be the putting on of new clothes.
The portrait student will do well to make careful notes of the tone value for light and shade effect of various colours and textures such as are usually worn, so that he may advise his sitters not only to eschew new clothes and put on those that fit by reason of being well worn and have had time to accommodate themselves to their wearer; but also may offer suggestions as to what to use and what to avoid.
Strong contrasts, such as white lace on black silk, are best left alone. Such marked differences are very likely to be "noisy" in the picture. Again, pronounced patterns, stripes, checks, etc, are dangerous, and best passed by. Fur is always useful, and often very helpful. Soft pliant clinging materials are more graceful in their folds than are stiff and hard things. Well-worn velvet often gives beautiful passages of light and shade.
If lace is worn it is better slightly tinted, and not quite white. The less jewellery visible the better for photography. Ladies may wear hats and bonnets and other head-gear, but it is seldom indeed that a man does not look better without than with his hat.
In arranging draperies the student should remember that its chief pictorial purpose is to give agreeable masses of light and shade, to show graceful and harmonious lines and forms, to suggest the general disposition of the form of the person wearing it, and never to draw attention to the qualities of texture or colour. Hence it is that fur with its soft outline has always been esteemed as one of the most useful aids in portrait draperies.
Due harmony and fitness should be observed between the tone value of the chief draperies and background. A figure in dark draperies is seldom satisfactory with a very light ground.
The Placing of the Figure in the Picture space is far more important than the beginner might suppose. We can only mention one or two of the more important matters, and refer him to this subject as illustrated by the masterpieces in our public picture galleries. The figure must not be so large or have so little free space round him that a slight movement would bring him in contact with the frame. The young photographer, in his desire to get a large head and shoulders on a quarter-plate, frequently makes the mistake of overcrowding his picture space. If the head comes too near the top of the picture a false idea of tallness may be conveyed. Conversely, if there be too much space above the head the impression may be equally false in conveying the notion of a short and stumpy figure. If there be a marked excess of space in front of the figure then this may easily give the notion of a figure backing out of the picture; and similarly, if there be too much side space behind the figure one may imagine the figure to be passing out of the picture on the face side.
Trimming the Print is a matter calling for great care on the part of the portraitist. In this matter one may often glean useful hints from the study of engravings and etchings by artists of eminence. The use of a large plate thus gives us choice as to how much shall be left here or there, while a small plate often gives an overcrowded effect, because we have not quite satisfactorily placed the figure, or the figure has moved slightly after the ground glass picture had been composed.