After studying some amazing portraits, I began seeing a similarity that was a bit shocking. The shot above has some of the portraits that I have looked at. Do you see the common theme? Lets walk through these and see what obvious similarities we can see...
The majority are in B&W. There are some color images but few. The majority seem to want to strip away the distractions that color can introduce.
The backgrounds are bland. Most do not have a background at all, a white or grey background and nothing else. Those without a backdrop are simplified with a shallow depth of field.
The sitter is in the middle of the image. Each and every time....or are they....lets take a deeper dive. For this study I picked an image of Twiggy by Bert Stern. I kept away from my favorite photographers as I wanted a rather objective look. For comparison I have an image of Gaddafi shot by Platon.
Another interesting thing to note is the lens selections. While I do not know what lenses they chose, I see a typical 50mm type shot of Twiggy but with Gaddafi, I see a wider image. Platon got a bit lower than his subject, which emphasizes the subject's power. Twiggy was shot head on with perhaps a slight downward slant.
What I am getting from this deep dive is that these portraits are closer to head shots. Again lighting is perfect, soft with little shadows. The sitter's face fills the image. Expression is obviously critical and the selection of B&W and a neutral background allows the viewer to only focus on the portrait itself.
I need to practice a few of these techniques. Not sure if I like the wide angle view for a portrait but I do like the frame filling approach and the bland background. The challenge is the facial expression. This is where these masters really stand out.