Yousuf Karsh is who I chose as my photographic hero. After spending some time in the dark room, it is a different experience looking at black and white photography. When observing Karsh's photography now, I recognize a difference in contrasts between his photos from a technical standpoint. I seem to understand how he made a photo look the way it did by not only his composition and lighting at the time of the photo, but the post processing in the dark room as well.A heavy contrast in this photo has emphasized the femininity of Hepburn. Her cheek bones are highlighted, and the crisp blacks and white provide for a clean prolific shot. Although the composition of the photo places the subject in the middle, putting Hepburn's head in the top third balances things, along with the the symmetrical placement of her upper body that form a shape reminiscent of a triangle.
As we all know, Karsh is a master of portraits. He adjusts his style, contrast, and cropping according to what type of person he is photographing, and this is a big part of why he has such success in his portraiture. Style and contrast and composition all go hand in hand. Karsh's style in portraiture is his ability to tell a story to the viewer and introduce whomever he is photographing to you very effectively. Therefore, when shooting a figure such as Audrey Hepburn as a pose to Winston Churchill, Karsh applies heavy or light contrast to tell his story effectively.
For Winston Churchill, Karsh used a low contrast. This low contrast provides for a gray, hazy background that makes Winston in his black suit a strong point of the photo, in the middle. The rule of thirds is also used in this photo - placing Winston's head in the top right corner. The low contrast emphasizes the shadows on his face, giving a sense of power and importance. Karsh also decided not to crop Winston too short - the stature of the man in his expensive suit allows the viewer to understand (even if they do not know who the subject is) a sense of how important this man is.
When photographing Albert Einstein, Karsh framed in pretty tight around the head and shoulders, because Einstein is a man of intelligence, therefore his head would quite naturally be the most important part of a portrait taken of him. A high level of contrast is used here to emphasize a sense of wisdom through all the lines on Einstein's face, especially around the eyes. If the contrast had been low, it would of given more of a mysterious and important effect like Churchill's photo. This would not have been effective at all - Karsh wanted to highlight the wisdom in Einstein's face, and the sharp contrast of the lines and shape of his face project a great sense of knowledge about the man, and the discoveries he made. Once again, a rule of thirds has been used.
These portraits, in my opinion, are extremely effective. In fact, all of the portraits I have viewed that have been photographed by Karsh are amazinh. I chose Hepburn, Churchill, and Einstein because they are some of the most powerful people that Karsh did photograph. They are also diverse, and Karsh was able to photograph them all in a unique way. With Hepburn her femininity and class had to be highlighted. Churchill's power and importance had to be highlighted. And Einstein's knowledge and intelligence had to be highlighted. All of these require different technique and composition, so it was interesting to further look at how this was achieved from a technical standpoint. For doing this assignment, I figured choosing three very diverse portraits would really give me a good idea of what goes behind the success Karsh has when photographing people.
- Laura Murdoch