Readers Photo Challenge assignment: Face-off

“The face is the mirror of the mind, and eyes without speaking confess the secrets of the heart.” – St. Jerome

Portraits are all about the face. Looking at faces is the main way that we recognize others. We’ll often remember the face of someone we’ve met long ago even though we may not recall that person’s name. The next Readers Photo Challenge assignment is “faces.”

People and their faces are important in photography. We all want to see photos in print and online of people, whether famous or not, and what they look like. Some cameras even have face recognition software that enables the devices to seek out faces in a scene and focus on them.

Photographing people well is one of the hardest things for most budding photographers to master. Many people are shy and hesitant in approaching people to take their pictures, but part of photography is making a connection with your subject. When that is done the subject can relax and some of their personality can be captured in a picture. Spend time with them, take lots of photos so they can get used to you and the camera.

For most portraits the optimal focal length for a lens is in the 70mm to 135mm range. This tends to yield to most flattering results. Distortion from a wide-angle lens used too closely can give your subject oblong features and make them look comically cartoonish. However, used judiciously, a wide-angle lens can be used effectively to capture a person along with some of their surrounding environment.

It is said the eyes are the windows to the soul and with any portrait the photographer needs to carefully focus on the eyes. It sounds like a simple thing but it’s an important detail that many people miss. Some people prefer their subjects looking directly into the lens, which can help to create a sense of connection. Others have like to have their subjects looking off camera, which can create a feeling of candidness. Either is a valid technique.

A picture of a smiling face is what we think when we think of portraits. But other expressions, sadness, surprise, anger, etc., will work as well and can sometimes be more interesting than a simple smile.

Lighting is of utmost importance in photographing faces. Try to avoid the harsh light of a midday sun. The overhead light will create unflattering shadows and cause people to squint from the brightness. If you’re outdoors try for the open shade of a building or tree. Also the warm tones and low angle of early evening or early morning light can be appealing. If you’re indoors some soft window light is always good for portraits.

You can have your subjects sit for a formal pose, which is perfectly acceptable, or you can give them something to do. Another valid portrait technique is to have them engaged in an activity, which can make for interesting hand gestures and body language.

Lastly, this challenge is for human faces only. No pets or animals please. We’ll save those for another challenge. Your subjects can be young or old, male or female. They can be happy or sad, famous or commonplace. They can be friends, family members or even strangers just as long as you put their best face forward.


Here are the rules:

1. Entries can be emailed to Type in “Faces” in the subject line.

2. Photos have to be shot between July 2 and July 16. They can be of a single person or multiple people but they must include their faces.

3. Include your name (first and last), hometown, and the kind of camera/lens you used and where it was taken (eg: “John Doe of Stockton. Canon EOS Rebel Ti with 18-55mm lens”).

4. Please identify the person in the photo, (name, age, hometown), their relation to you, where they are and what they are doing (eg: My niece Jane Smith, 10, of Lodi, sits at Victory Park in Stockton).

5. Please feel free to include any interesting anecdotes or stories on how you took the picture.

6. The deadline for submission is Thursday, July 16. The top examples will be published on Thursday, July 23 with an online gallery of all the photos on the same day.

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