This portrait of my granddaughter Maddy and her uncle Brian was taken on Thanksgiving after the dinner dishes had been cleared away. At first I was disappointed. I wanted to include Maddy’s face but I couldn’t because of where I was and the angle I had to use. The moment was too important to miss.
Serendipity? When I saw the result after I developed and scanned the film, I knew instinctively that I had a keeper. It wasn’t until yesterday that I understood why.
It’s the hands John! I was reading Tom Ang’s book, “The Tao of Photography” yesterday when I finally got it. There’s a short chapter in the book called “Working with Hands,” illustrated with four wonderful images that brought the lesson home to me.
Maddy’s posture and her hands resting lightly on Brian”s hand are sensual and evoke powerful emotions. I published this B&W version of the portrait a few days after Thanksgiving. It’s good, but I was using an unfamiliar film and the whites were too strong. After reading Tom’s book, I thought of this photo and decided to see if I could make the portrait better with sepia toning.
Not every image will benefit from sepia toning, but when it works it can be special. Toning this photo made two important differences: 1) It introduced a warmth and softness that matched the emotional content of the image. Portraits like this one are prime candidates for sepia toning. 2) Sepia tinting compresses the tonal scale and can enhance an image without losing contrast. Less can be more. The lighter sepia tones tamed the stark, too white, gray tones and put visible texture back into the tablecloth and Maddy’s sweater. The sepia tones also brought out the subtle tonal variations in Maddy’s and Brian’s skin.
I love B&W but I’m beginning to use toning selectively to enhance certain images. Most but not all of my recent toning experiments have been sepia. I snuck a bit of blue into my December Snowstorm images to cool them down (just a little). I think the key to success with toning is to match the color and the degree of your tint to the image.
I’m pleased with the results of the experiment with the portrait of Maddy and Brian. I discovered a lot of new things in the past few days and I’m open to new discoveries every day. Creative experiments are what make life a joy. You never know when, where or how the next idea will jump out at you. Listen to your dragon and if you get the chance, check Tom Ang’s book out of the library — it’s filled with wonderful images and terrific advice.