Portraits: Slow Down for BEST Results

Written by: Glyn Dewis

Published: August 5, 2019

Category: Photography

Ok so before I explain what I mean by the title, let me just say that I am completely 100% aware that there are situations when we don’t have the luxury of time to take a portrait; at times the shoot can literally setting up, the subject sits down and 3 frames later they’re up and gone. I get that. I too have that occasionally. What this short post is about, is when we do have the luxury of more time to work with the person we’re photographing so that we can get way more than a picture.

Over the past few weeks I’ve started including close-up portraits when photographing World War 2 Veterans for my 3945 Portraits Project.

One thing that I noticed more and more when spending time with these great people was how much their eyes say about them and what they’re experienced. Sometimes I even find myself looking at the eyes when editing the picture and I’m sure I could guess what they served in during the War be it Parachute Regiment, Royal Marine and so on; there’s just something about the eyes.

Slow Down: Part 1

So getting to the point of this post…

I cannot stress enough how much slowing down has helped me over the past few years. There was a time when the kit and setting up dominated a photo shoot but through constant practice and continually shooting, this soon turned around to where it should be i.e. the subject / model, and the relationship with them being the number 1 priority.

In some recent posts on social media I’ve mentioned that when I take these close up portraits, they’re always done after I have done the subject’s 3/4 length portrait…

This I do for a couple of reasons…

  1. It gives us time to get to know each other a little more
  2. Helps the subject to relax into the photo shoot

If the first thing I did was to come in really close to the subject and ask them to stare straight down the lens, it just wouldn’t work; well, it certainly didn’t for me when I did it straight away anyway. It looked forced. It looked like they were uneasy.

Once we chatted for a while as we do when setting up and doing the 3/4 length picture, and also when I’ve shown them how that is looking, it makes a HUGE difference.

Slow Down: Part 2

Now that’s the first part of slowing down. The second part comes when you’re actually taking the close up portrait…

What I find works really well for me is that in conversation I ask them to stare straight down the lens. When they do I don’t take the shot. I pause and whilst they’re staring down the lens I talk but slower and softer …. “That’s it, straight down the lens; really concentrate on it” or whatever; anything, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that I talk slower and softer. It might sound odd but me slowing down causes them to slow down and relax so that when I do take some shots I think this means getting a much more intimate portrait where you find yourself drawn to the eyes.

Ultimately when people look at these portraits I don’t want it to necessarily be a ‘That’s really nice’ kind of comment (although of course that’s great); what I really want is for people looking at the portraits to be thinking ‘What has this person seen? What have they experienced? and to almost see the subject’s life and experience in their eyes; does this make sense?

Anyway, thought I’d share this with you because since posting these pictures I’ve had a fair share of questions about how they’re done. The technical side I’ve covered in an earlier post (LINK) but the most important part of all is … Slowing Down.

Catch you next time

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  1. Mark Leslie

    Hi Glyn, as you know i’m a huge fan of your work but this series really has crossed over the line from purely recording a photographic image, to encapsulating, feeling, love, sorrow, wisdom,and off course reflection, not to mention your own contribution of craftsmanship and character towards………for me, Fine Art of the very highest order…i do want to try and learn at least the principles of this style….you are a true gent for sharing as much information about all aspects of your encounters….

    • Glyn


      I am so grateful for you taking the time to write and to write such lovely words. That you see what I am doing in such a way means more than I am capable of explaining; and that I can’t I hope you understand how much you saying this means.

      Thank you seems such a weak word but I don’t know what else to say
      Very best to you

  2. Bill

    Well, Mark just said what I was going to, but far more eloquently.

    Thank you for being so humble that you are always so willing to share. Very much looking forward to the video! Happy to purchase it.

    • Glyn


      Thank you too; very kind that you should dive in here to comment


  3. Mary

    do you know who the first gentleman is?

    • Glyn Dewis

      Absolutely…I photographed him


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