Dawoud Bey’s portrait style comprises multiple elements. In most of his photos he frames his subject with their lower torso up. Bey never cuts off their heads, leaving a decent amount of headspace. The background is blurred indicating the use of a low aperture. This leaves the subject to stand out well from the background and become the main focus or the photo. The backgrounds are all different. All the students eyes are captivating. Bey’s subjects are always well lit with what I would think is front or butterfly artificial lighting. I interpret that all the students seem guarded in there photos. Their arms and hands suggest as they are in front and always seems to be “protecting” themselves from the photographer. Most of the students did not smile except for one girl.
Im not sure how I would approach portrait photography after looking at his photos. But these set of photos inspired me because they are the type of style I strive to create when I’m doing portraits. They evoke emotion and realism. You feel like you’ve met the students and I want my photos to feel that way. Often times I worry too much about backgrounds and not enough about my subject. Bey uses a variety of backgrounds in schools, a place I imagine most people wouldn’t find all that photogenic. I want to learn to pose people like Bey can. I want to learn how to create a unified style throughout multiple portraits that evoke the same emotions. Bey’s photos teaches me that subjects you wouldn’t find interesting you can make interesting by crafting masterful portraits.
I strongly believe you can make a great portrait of anyone. Everyone has an inner life and you can bring that out with expression and pose.
Sometimes Bey uses front light but most of the time I think he places the light close to 45 degrees from the camera creating a version of Rembrandt light. There is usually a good amount of fill so the contrast on the face is low.