I've been thinking about this a lot lately. As I post more portraits I'm sure you can see that I love people with beautiful eyes. And I seem to love women with dark hair and dark complexions. Brassy blonds and curvy figures are photographically less inspiring to me. When I search for models to shoot I am attracted more to people who are uniquely interesting than classically beautiful. I think that interesting is beautiful.
And this will sound strange but I also think that smart is beautiful. You might ask how an intrinsic quality has anything to do with an extrinsic exercise of craft but I know that I can connect with smart a lot quicker and a lot better than I can connect with run of the mill sexy. So I guess I select people to photograph that are the same kind of people I'd want to have around as friends. I value interesting, smart and unique much more highly than perky and cute or "hot."
The subject in the photo above, Renee, was introduced to me by a woman who is an artist and a painter. She knew we would hit it off as artist and muse. And she was right. The first thing that attracted me, as a portraitist, to Rene was her quiet intensity and self assurance. Then her eyes. And finally the shape of her face.
I have several male friends who are art directors. They call me from time to time to tell me about a woman they've met that "you just have to photograph!!!!" Invariably, when I've agreed to do a test in the studio the woman shows up and we seem to have no rapport whatsoever. The energy is all wrong. The aesthetics skewed. What I've learned from the fashion photographers who gave us incredible photos in the 1980's and 1990's is that the "go see" is vital. The photographer and model have to have some good energy together or any future session is frustrating and fruitless.
My most intriguing and enduring subjects have always been people that I've found for myself. People I've met in coffee shops or restaurants. People on the street and even people at lectures. The process of making a good portrait of a beautiful person depends on each of you falling a little bit in love for just a little while. Nothing else will work. At least that's how it is for me.
And the strange secret is that it goes for both genders. You have to be interested, really interested in that person on the other side of the camera or you're just going through a workflow and none of the magic energy that we agree exists in great images shows up in your work if you really don't care about the subject other than the fact that you needed someone to sit there and they didn't have anything else to do with their time.
Pick some one you could fall in love with and make your images a poem to their attractiveness.
The spirit of collaboration works best when the laws of attraction work in your favor.
The process of making a beautiful portrait is much more about empathetic understanding than it will ever be about objective workflow. Leave the engineer brain at the door to the studio. Let the artist brain run the session.