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Snapping the Perfect Portrait

Check your shutter speed. Adjust the aperture. Pose your subject. Inspect the lighting. Snap! Taking a photographic portrait is easy, right?

Not so fast.

Upper School students in the Photography I class were tasked by Photography teacher Donna Russo with taking two portraits of people on AFS’s campus — preferably one adult, and one student. But in their quest to take a stellar portrait, Donna instructs them to take it slowly and seriously, encouraging them to get to know their subject before snapping the photo.

“I always stress process to my students and this portrait project, more than any other photo project they do, requires a diverse skill set,” explains Donna. “Students need to step out of their comfort zones to do things they are scared of, intimidated by, or feel awkward about. Making a portrait of a person you don’t know can be challenging for a seasoned photographer, so asking students who are just learning how to control depth of field, create proper exposures and compose dynamic images can be rattling.”

“It’s really about getting to know our partners well enough to get a good portrait of them,” explained Landon Plourde ’24. “We asked them what they’re favorite things were, what they liked to do, and then came up with some ideas about where to put them and what to show them doing.”

But despite the challenge, the Upper School photographers found their stride. As part of the project, each photographer was partnered with 5th grade students who were excited to get involved and have their pictures taken. Getting to know their partners helped immensely to figure out what props would be needed, what type of lighting they wanted to use or where in the school it should be taken. For example, Naomi ’30, an avid reader, was captured with a book, while Courtney ’30 posed with a drawing pad and colored pencil, ready to capture the photographer right back.

In the end, the quality of the photos certainly impressed Donna, but what she was most pleased with was that their art captured the subjects so thoroughly—something that only really happens when a photographer really connects with their subject.

“What I observed time and again was students making genuine connections with 5th graders, adults, and peers,” says Donna. “Through their interviews and photo sessions they gained confidence not only in their skills as photographers but also in their personal growth—the portraits they made ‘speak’ for themselves.”

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