Portrait of Audrey

Audrey Hepburn by Michael Ochs Archives, copyright Getty Images
This is a great photo. No, I didn’t take, I only wish I had.

Besides the fact that the subject is Audrey Hepburn, and therefore it would be difficult to take a bad photo, this shot in particular is awesome. I came across it because my wife buys a fancy picture calendar every year, and for 2010 she chose to get one with portraits of Audrey Hepburn. So for the month of February I’ve had this gorgeous photo looking at me from the kitchen wall. With a quick flip through, I determined that none of the other photos in the calendar are as good as this one.

I don’t consider myself a very good portrait photographer. I prefer subjects that don’t move around, like buildings and trees and stuff. If I do take shots of people, they’re mostly candids of strangers, simply engaged in whatever they would be doing anyway, as part of an overall scene. I know good portrait photography when I see it, and appreciate seeing it, but I find it difficult doing it myself.

Focus on the eyes, capture an expression, don’t have the subject stare into the camera. Knowing the rules is the easy part. A portrait is a moment in time when you have to capture the essence of a person in a single still image. I don’t know what Audrey is looking at in this shot, but she’s happy and natural and her eyes are clear and bright. There’s a bit of a tilt to the image to give it some informality. The perspective is fairly flat, indicating a mild telephoto lens was used to avoid exaggerating depth features (producing a bulging nose, for example) – although this is standard practice for portraiture and any photographer should know this. The subject fills the frame, leaving no doubt that this is a photo of a person, not what the person is doing or where the person is. The lighting is soft and flattering, with no heavy shadows on any side, but there are sparkles in her eyes. This is difficult to achieve without a professional studio lighting rig. The background is nicely blurred and non-distracting.

Yes, it’s a beautiful photo of a beautiful woman, but technically it’s an absolutely drool-worthy piece of photography. I hope to make a portrait half as good as this one day.

(Photo by Michael Ochs Archive, copyright by Getty Images. Low resolution version included here for editorial and critical review purposes only.)

Tags: ,

Leave a Reply