Long Portraits

long portraits

The thing about the best portraits is how they capture the essence of a person.

Maybe the wrinkles on their hands, or the expression in their eyes, tell you about the life they’ve had.

So what if you had 30 seconds to capture that person, instead of a nanosecond shutter-click? And what if the person could talk? Whoa. Crazy, we know. We call it a long portrait.

Ask the person a question. Have them sing you their favorite song. Whatever. We 100 percent guarantee you’ll end up with a great living portrait.

To learn how to shoot your long portrait, and for great questions to ask, read on…

How To Create a Long Portrait
(we got the idea from Kottke)

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What Is It and Why’s It Cool?

It’s a 30-second (or less) portrait of a person, kind of like a video snapshot. It lets you capture the essence of a person: not just what they look like, but who they are right now.

The thing is, everybody thinks they don’t change that much from year to year. But what if we told you we had video of you singing your favorite song from 7th grade? See? You’ve changed. We all do. This is why home videos are so poignant: they capture a moment of time that inevitably goes by.

But home videos are boring. They’re long. And dull. And it really took Phil and Laverne three hours to get married? Really?

So you ask a question or two, get a little video, badda bing badda boom. Moment captured.

What You’ll Need

  • a digital camera with video capability (or an honest-to-goodness video camera!)
  • a tripod
  • a person

How To Set Up Your Long Portrait Shot

  • Numero Uno Importante: Put your camera on a tripod. You want your subject to be the only thing in the portrait that moves. Don’t touch the camera while you’re recording or you’ll have wobbly portraits.
  • Think about how you want to set up your shot. A plain background will put the focus on your subject, but an interesting environment might be more, well, interesting.
  • A small, quiet room will give your portrait a more intimate feeling. Shooting in a busy location like a street or a party will give you a feel for what’s going on around you, but background noise may be distracting. You’ll get the best audio in small, cozy spaces. Large or empty rooms can sound a bit echo-y.
  • You won’t be able to light your portrait with a flash, so good natural light is probably your best option. If you decide to use artificial light, make sure you adjust your camera’s white balance.

What Questions To Ask

  • It’s your portrait, ask ’em any question you want!
  • However, keeping your portraits under 30 seconds means asking questions that can be answered in a few sentences. Try short questions like, “What’s the most amazing thing you saw this week?” or “What was the last book you read? What was it about?”
  • Maybe you don’t want to ask questions at all. Try telling the person a joke and record their laugh. Or turn the camera on without telling them and capture what they look like when they’re not conscious of the camera.
  • Long portraits work especially well with kids. Unfortunately, no rugrats were available during our testing in the Photojojo labs, but if you’ve got a little goober, ask ’em who their three best friends are, or have them describe their favorite game. Record something they won’t remember two years from now- it’ll be really cool to look back on later.
  • You can also make a great time capsule this way. Record a message for your future self, burn a DVD of it, and put it in an envelope marked “open in 20 years.” What would you want your future self to know? What would you tell them to do?

How To Share Your Long Portraits

  • Both Vimeo and Flickr video are great ways to share your long portraits. If you create a long portrait, tag it with “longportrait” and we’ll link to some of our favorites next week.
  • If your mobile phone plays videos, you can carry your long portraits with you wherever you go.
  • There are also some great digital frames that can play videos. Try making long portraits of your family, and pass them around at the next big reunion.

More Resources