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Friday, July 9, 2010

A Winning Smile

When taking a portrait, try to identify and capture a subject's unique features and personality traits.

Candidate Elmer Bussey flashes a smile while displaying a bumper sticker with his campaign slogan advertising his 13th run for New Hampshire governor, in Pelham, N. H. (© Michael Maher, The Lowell (Ma.) Sun).

The Picture:
I was scheduled to photograph Elmer Bussey, who was in the midst of his 13th run for governor of New Hampshire. Before meeting him, I learned that the candidate was missing some teeth, and the moment I met Bussey, I saw that his unique smile would convey his personality and create a terrific photograph. I didn’t want to tell him my plan and make him self-conscious about smiling, so I lined up a portrait against a clean, simple background, as he held up his campaign bumper sticker (“No New Taxes”). We joked around -- he was a very friendly man -- causing him to laugh and break into a wide smile. I stood back with a medium-range lens, close enough to converse, but far enough back so his face stood out prominently from the background. His wide grin gave me the powerful, winning personality photo I was looking for. Bussey was a very nice man and most people would agree with his campaign slogan, but he didn’t win the election.
(It was a great shot, but I realized later that having him stand, arms folded, next to the Bussey sign, would have more clearly conveyed that HE was the candidate.)

3 Tips:
1) A broken smile or missing teeth creates a very strong picture of both adults and children.
2) Photos are much stronger when combining a strong expression with elements that depict the person’s occupation, significance, or accomplishments.
3) Frequently you need to interact with your subject in a way that coaxes an expressive reaction.


  1. Very nice Thats my grandfather.would like to know if you could send me that pic to just doing a little research on him and came across this thanks larry

  2. That is a great pic. My surname is Bussey, it is not a very common name. I was wondering if I can buy a large print, or poster of that picture? You can e-mail me at thanks. JB