A Softer Kind of Portrait

Brian Mattioli portrait
Brian, soft portrait

Photography styles change over time. Currently we’re in a period of chasing ever-higher resolution and greater sharpness in photography. Many photographers capture large numbers of images during a portrait session since there’s no incremental cost (other than time and energy) with digital imaging.

But there’s another way, one that harkens back to the turn of the twentieth century. I’m starting to experiment with a slower process, with an old-fashioned lens, and fewer clicks of the shutter. The result is a more meditative and contemplative portrait with a softer look. I’m processing these images to black and white or sepia tones, in keeping with the technology of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Becki Murphy portrait
Becki, soft portrait

The look of these portraits is soft, perhaps even dreamy. You won’t be able to count every pore or see every wrinkle. I’ll help you find a nice expression, but it probably won’t be a big smile.

Many of my clients have asked why their ancestors weren’t smiling in their portraits. Early photographic processes weren’t very sensitive to light, so exposures were necessarily long — several seconds to more than a minute. It’s just not possible to hold a natural smile that long.

Greg Chambers long-exposure portrait
Greg, long-exposure portrait

Today, digital photography gives us instant results with instantaneous exposures. But what if we slowed the process down? I’m experimenting with studio portrait exposures of a couple of seconds. That’s short enough not to be uncomfortable, but long enough that sitters have to compose themselves and hold still. The result looks and feels different.

The second part of this old/new way of working is to use a lens based on a very old design. It’s called the Daguerreotype Achromat 2.9/64 Art Lens. The design of this simple lens is inspired by the world’s first photographic optic lens — a 19th century invention created by Charles Chevalier for the Daguerreotype camera. While it’s capable of making very sharp photographs, I prefer to use it nearly wide open for a soft look.

If you’d like to sit for an old-is-new portrait, give me a call at 360-671-6851 or send me an e-mail. Even better if you’d like to dress up in period clothing.

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