Camera Position 25 : Pick a Pair of Portraits

For the last 16 years, I’ve been photographing structures and the landscape in Italy. Over the last two years, though, I’ve tried my hand at portraits and have learned some things about photography, my interests and the power of the large-format camera. This podcast features two versions of a portrait of a 97-year-old Italian man. Which do you think best portrays him? Post a comment with your opinion.

16 thoughts on “Camera Position 25 : Pick a Pair of Portraits”

  1. I actually like both photos for different reasons. They both capture a different aspect of this person. However, I prefer the no hat version for several reasons.

    I’m guessing that the shot order was with the hat first and then without the hat. He just seems more relaxed in the version without the hat. There is also just a slight tilt up of his chin that reduces the glare in his glasses and also gives him a more welcoming feel.

    Some people may see the addition of a dark suited person in the background as a distraction. I actually think it adds to the composition and gives the photo more balance with the vine in the background. I also think the lightness of his hair and scalp also provide more contrast with the background vine as well. All of these elements allow me to see more of the depth between the fore, middle, and background elements.

    I’m really enjoying the podcast and your work. Thanks for taking the time to share your vision.

  2. Thank you for your time in presenting your work so clearly. I watch your podcast regularly and enjoy it very much.
    Mark’s comments are right on, as I observe the two photos. I also prefer the version without the hat because there seems to be a bit more contrast in that image, more defined character in his face, as well as a more relaxed posture and expression.
    I do find the black dressed individual distracting, though.

  3. I, too, prefer the hat off version, for several reasons. First, I agree with Mark that the dark figure adds to the visual interest. Without having the benefit of knowing the particulars of the scene, I find the addition of another human figure gives a more positive feel to the image. It’s not about an old lonely man, which is a bit of what comes across for me in the hat on version, in spite of the wonderful smile he has. And actually, I tend to find the small black window on the edge of the photo pulls my eye away more than the large black shape. But I’m sure Gertrude will not be alone in feeling just the opposite. Such is art and our reactions to it.

    I also feel as Mark said, that his white hair does a wonderful job of separating his face from the background, more so than the hat, which casts a distinct shadow on his face.

    Mark and Gertrude both remarked on the more relaxed look of the hat off version, which, after reading their comments I agree with, but for me, the hat off photo also gives his face a longer, and more pleasing shape. The hat makes his face look much more rounded which I don’t find matches the shape of his body as well.

    And finally, on a personal note, the hat off version looks remarkably like my Grandfather, who lived into his late 80’s. I realize that’s a very personal reason for picking one over the other, but isn’t that what connecting with art is all about?

    Thanks again for a very interesting pod cast.

  4. It’s a hard choice, but I find myself leaning toward the image without that hat because I get a great sense of openess. Besides that I think both images are winners. Nice images and great podcast as usual.

    Take care.

  5. I prefer the photo of the gentleman with his hat on. There are a couple of reasons the first that struck me is that the man appears to be smiling with his hat on and frowning with his hat off. It looks like he’s squinting with his hat off and his eyes are in full view with his hat on. The second reason I like the version with the hat is the waiter in the background is somewhat distracting to me. The sharp change in contrast because of his dark clothing takes my eye away from the main subject and I start to wonder about the waiter.

    Thanks for another great podcast and can’t wait until the next one.


  6. I enjoyed the very thoughtful comments of others. I agree with previous comments that the hat-off separation is better, but I wish the hat-on version had the head against the blank part of the wall, partially framed by the hanging plant rather than intersecting it. I like the environmental contribution of the waiter, but perhaps reducing the contrast there would help.

    I think the two images say different things. The hat-on version, probably shot first, in any case seems to be a more accurate documentary image of an interesting man at one of his favorite spots, watching people go by and ready to engage a visitor with a frank regard. The hat-off version, as noted, reflects more of an opening to the camera/photographer. Yet it also seems to have a more posed feel, to which the raised chin contributes. That seems to convey something Jeff hinted at, namely the sense that this might be the last portrait that will be taken of him. The head and eyes seem to be looking higher and maybe beyond, less directly focused on the camera. That could even suggest a symbolic re-interpretation of the black figure in the background pushing something off-stage…

  7. Jeff! Thank you so much for your podcast. I was lucky enough to stumble across it today while surching the web.
    For me, the protrait on the right is more striking. He seems more relaxed and natural with his hat on. He is even smiling a little more. The portrait on the left seems more set up. Even though they both are, the one on the right has a better sense of flow. The hat on the lap seems as though it stops the natural flow that the umbrella is creating. The one on the right seems to lead up to the hat, which takes away from the tension that I feel in the left BECAUSE of the hat.
    Anyways, thanks again and I will keep listening.

  8. I like pieces of both photographs. Overall my preference is the photo of the gentleman wearing his hat. The glare on his glasses is a little distracting, as is the darkness of the creases in his pants that are hidden by his hat in the other photograph. In contrast to some of the other posters, I don’t particulary care for the way his white hair “pops” against the background in the photo on the left. Also, his facial expression doesn’t touch me as much as the one on the right does. Don’t take these opinions as criticisms, I am a big fan of your work and enjoy listening to the podcasts and seeing your photographs as well as those of others on this site.

    Keep up the great work.

  9. Thanks, all, for the comments you’ve made on this image. Personally, I prefer the photograph of the man wearing the hat. I think it may have to do with the way he looked when I first saw him, which was with the hat on his head. I agree with those who commented that he looks more “natural” and comfortable with his hat on his head. He’s the sort of guy who looks as though he keeps his hat on a peg near the door and never leaves the house without it.


  10. Catching up on old episodes… This and #23 were very good. Too little is said about preconceptions when approaching a subject. And the presence of a LF camera is indeed magical, thanks for reaffirming once more. Do more portraits.

  11. I like the image on the right. Seems to me, compositionally, that the hat kind of puts a cap or a top on the whole image. It seems to keep to point of interest in the photograph and not veer off the top.
    I think portraits are great, its a window to a huge world. A face can be so expressive; it says a lot things…
    Its a way to give back the image of the person you are photographing. I do that with friends. The biggest joy comes from them seeing them see themselves in a different light and that makes it all worth while.

  12. Though there seems to be so little difference in his posture between the two, I like the picture with the hat on because I feel that makes him seem the slightest bit more natural and relaxed. The very act of removing a hat seems like an interruption in the daily life captured, and I like that I’m ‘meeting’ him as I would if I was really there.

    Thanks for the generosity and commitment you exhibit in sharing your work and ideas with the world!

  13. Brad;

    That’s basically what I ended up deciding on this… he looked more like “himself” with the hat. Also, the tonal values of the image were a bit more balanced with less of his white hair showing.

    Thanks for listening and posting!


  14. Jeff,

    I know you have decided on these two pics, you should know you were there to take them. I find that chatting with people is sometimes the most enjoyable part of taking their picture. However, I like the one without the hat on simply because it draws attention to the man’s face, & it helps create that ‘triangle’ I hear about so often (the umbrella-hat-face action). He seems a very distinguished fellow, so I agree that he would most often be wearing his hat. I also think he would be proud showing off that beautiful head of hair at his age! Would love to hear what he has to say about; well, anything .

    They’re both super! Thanks for sharing them.

  15. I like the one without a hat! looks more natural. Great shot! This picture gave me inspiration. Thanks. And i liked the idea to hear your podcast and see your pictures

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