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Found Portraits

Not Street Photography. Not Documentary.
Certainly Not Formal Portraits.

In fact the subject doesn't even know that his or her portrait is being taken. These are what I call Found Portraits. On this page there are three examples. Two of them are photographs of strangers taken in public places. The third is of the newest member of the family, and displays another approach to producing found portraits.


Blue Portrait. Toronto — August, 2003
Canon 10D with 85mm f/1.2L @ ISO 200

My original career was as a photojournalist. I then segued into working in the film industry where I did what are called "production stills". These are the photographs used to illustrate movies for promotional purposes — billboards and other forms of publicity. Contrary to popular belief a movie set is a very boring place, with many hours of inactivity for most of the crew each day, except when their specialty is called upon. I used these hours to take candid portraits of both crew members and the talent, and it's from these roots that my found portraits are derived.

The concept is simple. People often can be found lost in thought or an intense activity. This causes them to become almost oblivious to everything else that's going on around them. Sometimes, if we're lucky (and observant) the light will be right and the background will either contribute to a strong composition, or at least not detract from it.

The best lens for this type of photography is a medium telephoto, something in the 70-135mm range. This allows you to be close enough to the subject that the perspective seems natural, yet not needing to be so close as to intimidate or attract undue attention.


Mauve Portrait. Toronto, August, 2003
Canon 10D with 85mm f/1.2L @ ISO 200

The two portraits above were taken at the CNE, a sort-of country fair that takes place in Toronto in late August each year. I usually go for an afternoon and do some street shooting, but this year I decided to go with just one lens (the Canon 85mm f/1.2L) and one camera body (a Canon 10D without battery grip), and to simply concentrate on found portraits. Over a three hour period I took about 100 frames. Six were worth printing, and the two above were the best of these.

Closer To Home

Some photographers are intimidated at the prospect of photographing people in public places. If this includes you, why not try this type of portraiture a bit closer to home — with family, for example. The photograph below was taken indoors mid-day with light streaming through a high window. Family members were sitting around chatting and I was captivated by my 6 month old nephew Luca's intense expression, and the lovely high-key lighting. My Contax 645 was sitting in the next room and I quietly got up, retrieved it, and started taking photographs. No one was distracted (I've been known to do this from time to time), and the result was this charming study. I doubt if I could have done better in a studio.


Luca. Muskoka — August, 2003
Contax 645 with 120mm f/4 Makro Planar and Kodak DCS Pro Back. ISO 400

Often photographers bemoan their lack time or other resources needed to travel to exotic places to do their photography. But there are wonderful photographic images to be found everywhere, from your hometown to your living room. You just have to look, and more importantly you have to see.


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Concepts: Photography, Camera, Kodak DCS, Contax, Portrait, Photographic lens, Photograph, Intimidation

Entities: Toronto, Canon, Kodak, ISO, CNE, Michael Reichmann, Luca

Tags: portraits, public places, photographs, lovely high-key lighting, old nephew luca, wonderful photographic images, candid portraits, intense activity, undue attention, medium telephoto, newest member, promotional purposes, strong composition, original career, sort-of country, popular belief, production stills, Makro Planar, battery grip, charming study, Canon 10D, best lens, film industry, 70-135mm range, intense expression, Kodak DCS, late august, boring place, street shooting, exotic places, high window, camera body, Contax, living room, movie, Family members, crew, photography, intimidate, intimidated