Of the utmost importance is the treatment of the hands. The writer considers that they are almost of as great importance as the face itself; they are absolutely significant of the sitter, and they must be so treated as not to disturb but assist the general impression. This is not easy by any means. The weak feature in many an otherwise successful portrait is frequently the hands. Fortunately there is a way in which every beginner may overcome this difficulty, if he will use judgment and common-sense - by studying the Great Masters.
If there is any secret at all in the way to acquire success, it lies in the manner of the photographer; he must know or learn how to interest his sitter. A hint, which may be of some little use, is to take the sitter into confidence as to one's manner of working, and the idea which the photographer has for the treatment of the portrait in hand. The subject is bound to be an interesting one, but, of course, the photographer will never use any "arty" phrases, or such expressions as to "look pleasant."
The height of the camera has its influence in the result. For standing figures it is advisable to have the camera slightly under the height of the eyes; for sitting subjects, slightly tilted towards the figure. According as the camera is above or below the head level, so are the proportions of the head modified.
Stops should not be used unless absolutely necessary, and for a particular purpose. It is important that the exposure should take as short a space of time as possible, and it is certainly better to use the lens at full aperture for the purpose of throwing the background out of focus, and making it subservient to the matter of chief interest.
The background and the surroundings should have a decided bearing on the sitter. As we can only deal with colour in a very limited sense, the enlivenment of the background by well-graduated and unobtrusive shades of light is of great importance. Here again a careful study of good painting will prove most helpful. Great painters never choose dull and lifeless backgrounds for their models, and the camera worker should strive to impart life to his work by a proper choice of surroundings. In connection with this great attention should also be paid to the method of treatment of a particular portrait, the "key" as it is usually called, according to the peculiarities of each individual sitter. One must not find salvation merely in dark sombre notes (a "low key"), or in high scales of a few delicates tones (a "high key"); but our aim should be many-sided forms of expression. It will be hardly necessary to point out here that it is a very great mistake if the sitter puts on a "special" dress for the purpose of having his portrait taken. The more taste a sitter possesses, the less necessary will he find it to dress or adorn himself otherwise for a portrait than for any other ordinary event in his life. It is only where special garments and special ornaments are of peculiar importance and signification that there is any peculiar object in assuming them - they serve as theatrical accessories. One would, however, like to see these kept in their proper place, as pictures of a genre nature. Frequently such pictures are theatrical, in so far as the subjects are shown in more or less artificial attitudes and surroundings, which only too often have no relation whatever to their ordinary everyday life.
Modern portrait photography will still have to overcome a serious prejudice on the part of sitters - viz. that the eyes, when not fixed directly on the spectator, must be wide open and fixed on a certain point not far from the camera right or left. The eye is the mirror of the soul. But how is this soul to be expressed if the photographic reproduction insists on the exact direction in which this eye is to look, by means of which eyelashes and eyelids are cramped in their play? Once in the family circle of the Maeterlinck, Yvette Guilbert posed absolutely still, without moving a muscle of face or body except the eyes, and through these she expressed hatred, love, contempt, pain, indifference, despair, and madness. How could that be possible if the pupil, lashes, and lids do not change their position with regard to each other, and alter the appearance of the eye? Without this constant living change, the eye would be deprived of its best power of expression. If the photographer works in such a way that he prescribes a special direction for the eye he only has regard to the aspect which appears most favourably to him and not to characteristic expression. It is a cause of thankfulness that lately some photographers have learnt to pay attention to the expression of the eye and permit greater freedom in the choice of the direction of the glance. Even the completely shadowed or apparently almost closed eye, when the head is bent, serves as a useful means at times for giving expression.
Professor Hans Von Bartels.
E. O. Hoppe, F.R.P.S.
A good portrait must be not only a good likeness; it must reveal something of the character and temperament of the sitter, his surroundings, the depth of his mind and feeling, the manner in which his intelligence works, his social customs, and his way of regarding and passing through life.
Of course, it is true that many people do not want what occupies and influences them in their lives to appear and be fixed in their portraits - on the contrary, they wish to hide all that moves them under a mask of indifference or a dissembling smile. They prefer to be conventional, and are better satisfied when the photographer produces as flattering a portrait as possible, and effaces by retouching everything from the face which may express a distinctive passing feeling. But they overlook the fact that these momentary glimpses of feeling give the intellectual expression, and that when they are smoothed over and made to disappear the result leaves only a soulless mask.