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Friday, 03 August 2012


Random Excellence, indeed! A very worthwhile and interesting blog. However, I've been to Istanbul. I have no desire to return.

I have a theory about eye contact in portraits. When there's eye contact, our mind starts processing expression and body language, we're trying to read the person, because that's what we do. A huge amount of our brain is used to do this (cf. Asperger's Syndrome). A photograph without eye contact tickles completely different machinery, we're evaluating context (the rest of the frame) and we're spying on the person a little to make a flight-or-fight evaluation, we're reading the scene.

You'd think that with/without eye contact would be or could be a minor quibble, but I think our brain's social wiring makes us respond radically differently to the two variants.

Istanbul is, for certain kinds of people, like Paris for certain other kinds of people. I've been three times, and from some viewpoints, it looks like the cover of a science fiction novel. A genuinely amazing place.

Very nice article. Now the more difficult question is this: when does a snapshot that is destroyed by personal intimacy become a successful portrait?

One of your best, Mike. Mucho gracias.

Mike, that point about eye contact (from Peter Turnley, of course) was interesting.

If you look at Colin's previous post (listed on the right hand sidebar) there's some other good lessons from Peter on being a photographer and photographing with respect for humanity. You might also enjoy the discussion in the comments section to that entry about his m43 lens choice.

I enjoyed it all. Thank you for the link.

Interesting points in his essay but then one clicks on the link for Peter Turnley's workshop and the opening shot is of a girl looking directly into the camera

I've taken a class with Peter and see that Colin has followed Peter's key mantra... shoot wide and get in close. I think if you look at his shots you'll see that the most effective ones reflect this approach.

Like most rules in photography, I've always viewed "don't look at the camera" as a guideline. Often it's the right call, sometimes it isn't. I rather like the picture of the guy looking at the camera while he holds his drink. Do you want all your picture to look like that? Probably not. But it can, and does, work in the right situation.

Always nice seeing people living on another part of the Big Blue Marble!

I think the eye-contact issue the photographer (and Turnley) dwell on is way overblown. Personally I think the first image he shows (the old gentleman looking straight into the lens, with two other men in the background) is by far the strongest of the images shown. And I think Steve McCurry would also say that eye-contact is NOT a problem! :-)

Thanks Colin,

food for thought there.


Like everything there are guidelines but they don't always hold.

Steve McCurry's Afghan girl showed that in some situations the person themself tells you everything you need to know about the context.

Also, sometimes, the glance at the camera is unintentional, unposed. It has nothing to do with a relationship with the photographer, only the act of being photographed. That too can be quite enticing.

However in general for street photography I agree that the "presence of the photographer" is a distraction and the photograph should be more like a window into real life. That life goes unnoticed by those in the photograph makes it more authentic, more of a shared experience between the photographer and all those that view the photograph.

Excellent indeed. Perfect DOF and the red color of the table hold the composition together and direct the eye.

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