I wanted to use these two photos to make a point about the importance of choosing a single theme and avoiding image "clutter."
Here's the problem: the world is an interesting place, full of interesting things, and there's a strong temptation to include it all ... in a single frame.
"And what's wrong with that?" you may ask. Well, it's annoying, for one, and confusing to boot, and it may just ruin a great portrait.
By choosing a single "theme," I mean that something--the eyes, the face, an activity, a relationship--should dominate the photo, and other bits of information that may compete for attention, no matter how interesting in their own right, should be eliminated or at least played down. Otherwise the viewer may get confused: What's this picture about, anyway?
Our lovely engagement photo here, taken by an extremely successful wedding and engagement photographer, provides the perfect illustration of what not to do. There are me and Becky on the right side of the frame, looking like we're about 14, with that giddy, happy just-about-to-be-married glow about us, and there, on the left hand side is an automotive classic--a perfectly restored 1948 Mercury Coupe, in all its chromed and shining glory. Can I tell you how many times some well-intentioned friend or family member has looked at that photo and remarked, "Nice car"?
Nice car, definitely. Nice engagement photo? I'm afraid not. It's a lovely engagement photo and a lovely photo of a classic car in the same frame, which means it serves neither purpose well.
So, back to the photo of my four neices (thanks, Jenny), where I think the theme is "sisters" or something like that, and, more importantly, these four sisters at a particular point in time. Notice the mountains. Lovely, eh? I think so too, or I wouldn't have put them there. I did try, however, to make the mountains a backdrop to the sisters, allowing the lens's depth of field to blur them out a bit, giving us an impression of snow covered mountains without (I hope) allowing the mountains to become the focus or even to compete for attention with the girls.
The final cautionary note I'd throw in here involves the use of props when taking child portraits--you know, hats, ribbons, pretty dresses, bats and balls, detailed backdrops. All these can be successfully incorporated into a child portrait, but I think the critical question is this: what does a viewer remember after seeing the photo? And if the answer is anything other than "the kid" or "the relationship" then I think that photo is a failure as a child portrait (unless, of course, you are in the business of selling dresses, ribbons, or photo backdrops). If the bow is bigger than the child's head, well ... Houston, we have a problem.
Please note: the original post did not include the totally awesome engagement photo, but Gretchen bullied me into it, so went ahead and added it. On the positive side, it does give me the chance to showcase my oh-so-stylishly huge eye-glasses, which were all the rage at the time. (I think the best 80's word to describe them would have to be "rad," as in "Dude: those are some rad eye glasses.")