Lounging in bed today (I had just finished reading A Room with a View) I admired for the hundredth time the beautiful natural light that flows through my bedroom in the afternoons. A west-facing picture window is the source and its white shade works nicely as a diffuser. I was inspired to experiment with the light in a portrait setting, something I had not done before. My husband hates being photographed and refused to sit for me, so I had only myself as a model. I changed out of my t-shirt and shorts, slapped on some lipstick, and set up my Mamiya 645 with a Polaroid back on a tripod.
There are several shortcomings of using myself to practice portraiture. First, framing is not precise. For example, I cannot see if I am cutting off my hands - major pet peeve. Second, focusing is difficult. Instead of looking through the lens and zeroing in on my own eyes, I used a teddy bear stand-in to approximate focus. Third, when evaluating a portrait, I cannot help but be critical of my looks, shifting my attention from the technical merits or demerits. Finally, and most importantly, I cannot practice connecting with the sitter, which is the most exciting and challenging part of making portraits. If I manage to capture a certain look in someone's eye or a certain smile, I flatter myself that I drew it out; such is never the case when I know that the result is from my own self-conscious preening in front of the lens.
Despite these shortcomings, the experience is valuable. Always better to try something than merely think about it. Now that I have an idea of how the light in this room looks on film, I can move to the next level and ask a friend or two to sit for me in the afternoons. (Maybe I could even rig up some backgrounds?) Portraits interest me greatly and my friends seem always to appreciate well-taken pictures of themselves. :)