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When you think of a portrait, you no doubt get a mental image of a person’s face. And while faces are worthy subjects for portraits, they aren’t your only option.
In fact, you can create visually stunning portraits without having your subject’s face in the frame at all. These “faceless portraits” focus instead on things like hands, elbows, knees, and toes, and tell a much different story than photos of faces.
Consider these three tips for creating unique faceless portraits.
Find a Prop
Props have a reputation for being cliche and gimmicky, so the secret to using props effectively is to do so purposefully. Rather than being something over the top, try finding props that fit in with the environment in which you’re shooting.
For example, a portrait of a grandmother and granddaughter working in the garden takes on a much more meaningful tone when framed like the photo above, with the focus drawn to each person’s hands as they exchange the flower.
Not only does this image capture a sweet moment between loved ones, but it also has tons of texture and visual interest, namely in the grandmother’s worn and wrinkled skin and in the petals of the flower.
When used like this, props can give more meaning to a photograph, and help you create a more compelling visual story.
Resist the Urge to Zoom or Crop
When composing portraits that don’t include faces, it’s difficult to resist the urge to get in close and fill the frame with hands, feet, or other body parts. Though this can yield some excellent photographs, so too can keeping your distance and keeping that zoom lens on the wide-angle side.
Much like including props from the surrounding environment allows you to tell a more complete story, so too does including some of that environment in the frame. Including the environment doesn’t require a background that’s all that compelling or fantastic either, so long as it complements the story you’re trying to tell.
The image above is an ideal example of this concept.
The portrait of a baby’s chubby legs clearly documents his burgeoning standing and walking skills. But by holding back a bit and including the surrounding environment, the photographer is able to tell a more complete story about this phase of the baby’s life.
We see his home where he will take his first steps. For his parents, it will be a photograph to cherish for a lifetime.
And for those of us viewing it, it will undoubtedly conjure up memories of the first steps of our own loved ones. That’s what photography is all about - telling stories that engage viewers and elicit fond memories of their own lives.
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Look for Details
In traditional portraits, the eyes are the focus of the shot. But when taking portraits that don’t include a person’s face, what are you to make the subject of the image?
As noted above, hands, legs, fingers, and feet make excellent portrait subjects. Why? They are full of details. Hands, in particular, have great character because of the wrinkles found on people’s knuckles and palms. But for as much detail as various body parts inherently have, finding other details to add to the shot will help boost its visual appeal.
The image above is a great example of this. The texture of the denim, the splashes of mud on the jeans, and even the mud itself have great color and dimension.
What would be a bit of a messy, awkward portrait had it been a full shot becomes a sweet reminder of a fun afternoon playing in the mud simply by focusing on the details of a specific part of the child’s body.
Simply put, creating unique portraits that have a lot of visual appeal is a matter of finding the right details.
If details are lacking, add a prop, being careful to choose something that fits in well with the environment of the photo.
Do these things, and resist the urge to take nothing but closeups, and you have a recipe for creating the type of portraits that have strong storytelling power that engages viewers in a much more meaningful way.