How I moved from still life to portrait photography

One way or another, everyone probably creates their own path of learning and exploring photography. I have to admit that, in the beginning, before I discovered portrait photography, I was more interested in the still life genre. I had a real penchant for dedicating my time to “mise-en-scène” activities.

I would pick up flowers and elements of decor that could be part of a still life (nature morte) composition. I would think of a colour theme, which I would then enhance with subtle touches of colour meant to highlight my composition in the most balanced form possible.


© Tatiana Volontir


Essentially, I was seeking chromatic balance alongside compositional balance, arranging the elements in the photographic frame in their right place, in carefully studied places.

Then, above all these, I was seeking to bring in light to help me render the image in the two-dimensional plane of the picture. I’m referring here to the two-dimensional plane only in view of the support on which photography is presented, specifically paper or screen, because otherwise the photographic image must show three-dimensional space.

One of the key roles of light is to sculpt shapes in the image so that the viewer can have an experience that is as real as possible.


© Tatiana Volontir


Thus, I took my first steps towards portrait photography, building on my experience with still life photography. I realised that everything I had studied up to that moment could be magnified proportionally to the size of a person. I applied the same chromatic and compositional rules and the same rules for the use of light, only this time on a larger scale.

Naturally, we shouldn’t ignore the complexity brought into the frame by the aesthetic and emotional factors which are intrinsically linked to portrait photography: body posture, gestures, facial expressions, expressiveness, mood and so forth.  But having already mastered, in both theory and practice, the subject of composition, light, and colour, I was finally able to devote myself to the emotional, symbolical, and conceptual study of photography in which the human being is the main focus.


© Tatiana Volontir


Returning to the idea of the study of image, I could say that the photographic equipment and its use do not represent the technical part of photography – the camera is merely an instrument which we learn to hold in our hands and bring it to our eyes so that we can then give the right commands in order to achieve correct exposure or the desired depth of field.

In my view, the technical part of an image actually consists in the presence of light in the frame, chromatics, and composition. Obviously, I am somewhat extrapolating the technical component towards the aesthetic one, but I am doing this on purpose so that we can get accustomed to use these aesthetic elements automatically and then be able to consciously follow 2 directions:

  • To reinvent ourselves in terms of colour, composition, geometry, message, and atmosphere, by creating frames that are increasingly original, complex, minimalistic, with style.
  • To focus on the emotional and symbolical dimension of the photography, regardless of the genre we choose to embrace.


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Author: Tatiana Volontir 
Copyright: Tatiana Volontir 


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