"The proper study of Mankind is Man," wrote Alexander Pope in 1733. Bringing this thought into the context of a modern digital photographer, making portraits of men, women, and children is a passionate undertaking for many of us.

As a well-known proverb says, "the eyes are the window to the soul. "It's often believed that by looking into someone's eyes you can see into their core being; and that by observing a face, or a photo of a face, you can understand character. The issues common to all photography—composition, lighting, exposure, and camera technique—come into play when you make a portrait. In portraiture, the variables of character and physiognomy add assumptions about the relationship between reality and portrayal, as well as challenges in rendering character as you see it, and opportunities for creative photography.

To what extent is a photographic portrait "real"? Does the portrait represent the subject fairly and accurately? Put another way, do you know something that is true about the subject after looking at the portrait?

These are excellent questions. If you are not involved in the serious pursuit of making photographs, you're likely to assume that there is a correlation between the photo and the reality of the subject, and that you've learned something about someone by looking at their portrait. But as photographers, we know that many photographic portraits are superficial and plastic—and highly subject to manipulation.

The truth of a portrait depends upon ...

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