|The Luminous Portrait by Elizabeth Messina with Jacqueline Tobin : Capture the beauty of natural light for glowing, flattering photographs.
If you’re a gadget freak and want to know what “gear” Elizabeth uses, here : Contax 645, 80mm Carl Zeiss lens. Her settings are usually f2 at 1/60th of a second. She uses natural light – sometimes with a reflector. She shoots film. Gear and technical details done.
Now go away. Shoo. There’s nothing else in this book for you.
On the other hand, if you are the sort who romances image-making and can tell when an image exudes love and want a peek into Elizabeth’s glorious image-making, stick around. The book is well-written and informative without being too technical. Apart from the fact that Elizabeth’s images are truly luminous, Jacqueline’s writing also makes this book what it is. Beautiful. What follows is some images from her book and some excerpts.
Elizabeth talks about making a connection with her subjects. Her subjects are mostly people. The camera should be an extension of the photographer. So much a part of you that you don’t have to look at it to check how you are doing.
One of my goals, personally as a photographer, is to produce images that look great SOOC [ Straight Out Of Camera ]. This is not because I want to prove something or mark it as an accomplishment but because I believe it will make me a better photographer. To this end, reading and looking at The Luminous Portrait was a treat. [ Disclaimer : I do love my post-production and I shoot digital. While I started with film and shot my first two commercial assignments on FujiFilm and a Fuji SLR, I now shoot completely in digital. ]
In Chapter 02 : Discovering the light around us : “Light is air to a photograph; it gives an image life. In a great portrait, the presentation of light – or lack of light, as manifested in shadows – emphasizes the subject’s features as well as mood. We cannot explore the wonder of photography and its power to transcend verbal language without fully embracing how the light works within our photographs. A poignant, luminous composition depends on a basic foundation of light and exposure – otherwise, none of the other qualities of a strong portrait can fully emerge.”
While I was reading the book, and came upon the section titled “The Importance of Seeing”, it struck me that most photographers today need to learn to see first. I think most of them are just into image making without developing an eye for “seeing”.
From the same chapter : “When it comes to creating photographs, the more we see beyond what is in front of us, the more we will become better image-makers. I realize the act of “seeing” may seem obvious, but in fact, it takes a thoughtful eye to evaluate the available light and options of your surroundings.”
A fitting anecdote for the book dedicated to “light”. Somewhere around Page 61, my husband turned on the second light in the room. I exclaimed with a loud “Ah!” He looked at me strangely. “The images look so much better now.” I explained.
The Luminous Portrait is a delicately feminine book. Not for you if you’re looking for numbers and gadgetry and gear details. The book implicitly tells Elizabeth’s story of her romance with light and image making. It forced me to reconnect with photography as art. As love.
From Chapter 05 : The Sweet Underneath. Boudoir & Maternity portraits : “Boudoir photography is the art of creating suggestive, sensual photographs, including maternity portraits. It’s an art form that is as old as the earliest photographic processes, distinct from overtly sexual photography in it’s emphasis on aesthetic qualities of the subject and the craftsmanship of the photographic process.”
In the same chapter in a section titled “Less is more”, “The woman’s body is not fully revealed or undressed, yet the image is brimming with desire and sensuality. With boudoir, there is so much your can say with lighting and composition,. You can create a dialogue between image and viewer without saying a word. If you show too much, you lose the power of having your viewer want to see more.” And, “Remember, a pregnant woman wants to see the photographs and feel that she looks beautiful at a time when she feels anything but.”
All of Elizabeth’s images might not be so-called technically brilliant / perfectly exposed / focused. But the emotions they evoke with their inherent beauty put them in a category so far above the level of a technically “correct” image that all the EXIF data and the camera model number and lens specifications just fall away into insignificance.
She says, “Being a good photographer begins long before (and long after) you are holding your camera and assessing the light. Good communication leads to great portraits.”
The above is one of the areas where I struggle with my wedding photography clients. One client even complained that I ask too many questions – when I was trying to find out details of the venue, the timings, where the couple were getting ready, what wedding wardrobe did she have, who I could ask for the rings, etc. Communication is minimal at best. I have tried in-person meetings, excel sheets, emails, phone conversations and everything in between but clients – especially those at Indian weddings – don’t seem to know too much about their own functions.
In the chapter on Celebrity Portraits, Elizabeth says, “Success inevitably comes from the quality of your work and how well you promote yourself. It is all about lighting, timing and opportunity.”
What she says in Chapter 08 : The Wedding Portrait, resonated with my wedding photography experiences as well. “Weddings are the heart and soul of any couple’s love story and as such I like to approach photographing their special day from a very thoughtful place. I don’t think of shooting wedding portraits as a job but rather an honor that has been bestowed upon me.”
With reference to planning, she also says, “My work on wedding portraits starts long before the actual wedding day. Every photographer should be involved with the creation and execution of a time line for the wedding day by communicating both with the couple and the wedding planner, if there is one. If you just show up as the wedding and expect to get everything done without preparation, you may be in trouble.”
With reference to shooting the details at a wedding : shoes, cake, rings, etc. “The portraits of these inanimate objects should be timeless, iconic images that help tell the couple’s love story.” Sigh. Swoon. Wow. Absolute romance.
Only in Chapter 10 – the last chapter in the book – does Elizabeth bring us to “The Art of Business”. Which is ok for this particular book – it did not start out saying it will give us business advice and so it doesn’t. But even this tiny chapter has a few golden nuggets. “You may have wanted to be a photographer since you were a child and are as creative as can be, but it is important to remember that this is still business and the business side of your art deserves as much attention as the creative side, if not more.”
Another thing I liked about the book is how it doesn’t have lists or tips or top ten ideas.
One of the most memorable quotes from the book is from “The Art of Business” where Elizabeth says, “I’ve lost many more [ photography ] jobs than I’ve booked but no one knows me for the images I did not create.”
All in all, the verdict is that if you are a fan of Elizabeth Messina’s images and want to get closer and find out more about her and her work, then The Luminous Portrait is recommended reading. Also, if you would like to rekindle your romance with photography and like the idea of beauty, romance, love and delicate imagery, then The Luminous Portrait is recommended reading. If you are a digital photographer that uses speed lights and in-studio lighting but want a break – even mentally – the book is definitely recommended reading.
And, to end the post, my most favorite wedding that Elizabeth has shot is this Jose Villa & Joel Serrato Wedding. Absolutely stunning. Perfect in every way.