Today I have a photo tip that really breaks the rules. I’m going to talk about including hats in portrait photography.
Hats can say a lot about a person’s personality and are good props to use – if they really do suit the personality of the subject.
But, be careful with the lighting. You don’t want your eyes to be shadowed so you need to lower the light. But if you lower it too far, you can get “horror movie” lighting and shadows. Watch Out.
If you’re doing a quick snapshot just for fun let your models go and wear whatever they want. If they want to wear a cute looking clown hat or a jester hat with jingling bells – or even a deerstalker for Sherlock Holmes fans … Go for it! (I have done it all.)
People and Portrait Photography Tips
In this article, I’m not talking about funny snapshots. I’m talking portrait photography telling the story of who this person is – and will stand the test of time.
If you are trying to make something special that will be on the wall (and be liked) 20 years from now, you need to be careful and plan every detail. You DO want to show the personality of the model and who they are – so hats sometimes come into play. Make sure you NEED it to tell the story.
BTW – if you’re not aware, the reason to be careful is that hats have the capacity to draw the viewer’s eye away from the face and that’s the worst thing.
If you shoot a professional baseball player – can you imagine telling their story without a baseball cap?
How about a rodeo cowboy? Can you really tell the story of who they are without the cowboy hat? They wear hats all the time.
As well as the hat’s ability to disguise the radical difference between tanned cheeks and the white forehead of a fish belly – that’s a natural part of this subject. They will look like something is missing if you shoot them without their hats.
Now I think about it that could become our rule. Do they look like something is missing without the hat?
I’ve written several articles where I constantly harp on the fact that you shouldn’t put something that would draw the viewer’s eye off the face … but a hat can be an exception to that rule.
What about the young girl who NEVER wears a hat, but has a bad hair day! You guessed it – no hat. Find ways to fix her hair or even postpone the shoot. No matter how “cute” she looked, the portrait wouldn’t make it onto the wall. It’s just not him.
There was a time when you HAD to shoot a model with a hat, even if it was the only hat they ever wore!
This is a mortar board that graduated seniors wear. That’s a must! (And that would make it to the wall – no question.) As I write it is graduation time – which is why I am thinking of what may be the only exception to the hat problem.
By the way, do you know how mortar boards come from? It’s kind of an interesting story.
Back in the days – (renaissance era), the only two ways for an artist to make money were to be assigned by a church or a very wealthy patron.
If they are doing a religious painting for the church, the most important and most holy people in the photo are emphasized by placing them in the center and placing a gold, circular shape behind their heads – indicating a hello. It’s a solid shape, not the ring shape we now associate with the halo.
This immediately separated them from the crowd and defined them as very important people.
When rich people come and want portraits. They want hello too! The ego of the rich man is every bit as above then (or even more so) as it is now. They want to be the center of attention and “important” too!
Unfortunately, placing hello on a non-holy subject is considered blasphemy. The rich have the cash and power to stay out of trouble, but starving artists have a way of being burned at the stake. (Or tortured and killed in other gruesome ways.)
What to do?
This problem was solved by using solid circular shapes for saints and solid squares for the rich and famous. If you look at one of the paintings, it looks like they are wearing gold mortarboard!
And so it happened. The mortar board is a symbol that shows importanceyes day and graduates!
In portrait photography, avoid hats unless absolutely necessary to “tell a story.” But if it’s part of their personality – put it there even though it might technically be against the rules. Just be careful setting your lighting and you’re good to go. Photo tips are a guide and should be broken from time to time.