Seen from behind

Posted on 2nd, July 2012

I have been really pleased by the number of comments and facebook “likes” for this photo of my granddaughter, Isla Rose, at my weddding photographer colleague and cousin Tim Harman‘s marriage to the lovely Rachael Lloyd in Wrexham.

The picture was a sudden grab: to be honest, I was supposed to be looking after Isla and not letting her run off, but as she moved quickly away from me and through the doorway into the bright conservatory I had to take this. What attracted me was actually her shadow on the floor. I dropped low and fast and took one exposure. The flash fired – bouncing – but I haven’t a clue where it was aimed! Surprisingly the general balance of the exposure in a fairly high contrast shot came out about right: there was no significant subsequent exposure tweaking in Photoshop. Frankly, the Nikon D700 came up trumps again!

This picture is an example of a kind of photograph that I like very much but which most people with a camera wouldn’t bother to take at all: the back view. We think we want faces, but actually may miss striking pictures if we only take faces.

I think that views from the back do two principal things.

First, they make the portrait less specific and more general. The picture is a little bit less “My Grandaughter”, and a little bit more “Essence of Little Girl”. Two photographs that my sister and brother in law have in their home show that, I think: their two children, each seen from behind. (John has even complained that I ONLY take pictures of his children from behind: this is NOT true!)


One of my favourite professional shots comes into the same category: taken at a Birmingham toddler group, this picture exudes “Essence of Little Boy” to me.

But the other thing that this kind of portrait does is to give a sense of worlds to explore. In photographs where the subject is looking at the camera, we feel we know where they are looking and what they are thinking, because the portrait operates in a closed world, the sight-line is exchanged between sitter and photographer. As soon as the subject is looking away a mystery comes in. If they are heading out of frame to left or right we have no clue where they are going and the sensation can be simply frustrating rather than mysterious, but if heading directly away from us we have enough information about what they are seeing to have an inkling, and yet we are left wanting to follow.

Add a doorway or a path, as in the photograph of Isla, and the effect is enhanced yet further. And add a second person and you add a kind of conspiratorial element, of togetherness on the journey, which is also attractive.





(Photography for a photographer’s wedding in Wrexham is no big problem: I drove up from Haywards Heath, West Sussex, the previous day, and returned via Stevenage, Hertfordshire on the Sunday and Monday.)