by Essdras M Suarez, Pulitzer Prize Winning Photographer
definition: An attempt to achieve or acquire something especially artfully; reaching after
Portraits and Dandelion Moments
Just recently I gave a slideshow presentation to a Journalism class called: Through the Eyes of a Photojournalist.
This presentation is designed to show the many variety of photographic styles and genres that a photojournalist must be capable of producing at any given moment. Among these were spot news, features, fashion, product, documentary and portraits. The latter is a staple of most publications and in some cases it might count for as much as 60% of the workload a photographer must produce on a daily bases.
This reminded me of a never- ending debate I’ve had throughout the years with other photojournalists:
If an environmental portrait is one where you control the setting and pretty much every aspect of the shoot. Then what happens when you happen to capture your subject in a spontaneous action? At that point then are you still making a portrait or are you documenting reality? Therein lies the rub.
This polemic is what’s come to be known among photographers as the Dandelion Moment Controversy.
The classic example goes something like this.
You’ve set up a portrait of a family at sunset on a nearby field filled with wildflowers. And you’ve positioned the family, which happens to be made of two parents and a two children- so the setting sun comes from behind and slightly from one side while you use an artificial light from the front and the from the opposite side.
However at some point during your shoot, you stop to fiddle with your equipment. The children get bored- as children often do- and they turn their attention to their surroundings and each other. They notice there are dandelions among the wildflowers. They pick these up and start blowing on them. All of a sudden you look up and what you see is a beautifully backlight scene of children surrounded by flying dandelions and beaming parents watching their children play.
CLICK! You’ve got your picture.
Now the question is: Have you made a portrait or have you documented a moment?
The above situation refers to multiple subjects and it is indeed very specific. Nonetheless, it exemplifies a not-so uncommon situation we often might encounter during portrait sessions.
Look at these examples. For years, I used to photograph the Boston Globe’s 25 Most Stylish Bostonians. In this case, the subject was Robin Hauck, who at the time happened to be the editor of an online publication called Mistropolis.
However, I could’ve never predicted how much better this portrait was to become when I captured a bit of her ebullient personality as she threw her head back and laughed. Robin had gifted me with the best gift a subject can give a photographer, a glimpse into her personality. I had indeed captured a true moment within a contrived situation.
Remember: Images like this can only be achieved if you are ready for them. And somehow it still boils down to my shooting mantra:
“Keep shooting, keep moving, keep adjusting.”
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