Daily Portfolio by Dierk Topp — The Art of Asking People for Their Portrait

By DIERK TOPP

In 1955 I took my first photographs with the Agfa Box of my mother during a vacation camp. Ever since then photography exited me. My grandpa had an old wooden camera and as I was very much interested how it works, I took it apart — and tried to put it together again. To be honest, I don’t recall if I was successful.

My father has been a teacher. He had the chance to use the school’s darkroom equipment at home during the weekends. I got very exited about the development of pictures in the darkroom. When I had my own family, I started enlarging photos in our bathroom on my own. How happy was I when I got two or three prints per night.

After all kinds of motives I started to shot portraits several years ago. OK, many years before I did portraits of my wife and our daughter, but that is what everybody does.

By making portraits I mean: asking somebody to make a portrait of him or her.

First I asked friends. After a while I started to ask people I just know or meet frequently. Finally I asked people I don’t even know. To my surprise it was no problem!

Why portraits?

Due to health problems in my family it became more and more difficult for me to leave home. So I started to do more stills and flowers and pictures in my garden. Finally I discovered “faces” and their unlimited potential.

Faces are an unlimited source of portraits. Faces are landscapes of lives lived — and black and white can extract most out of these “landscapes.”

I did portraits with all my cameras, and I have and had many of them. Here you find a small collection taken with the NEX-7.

Why the NEX-7?

As everybody knows, this NEX has a high resolution 24MP sensor, permanent live view on a good display and one of the best EVFs available today. And don’t forget AF with Sony E mount lenses. And the NEX-7 accepts all my lenses, be it Sony, Leica, Canon or Nikon.

Thing is, my eyes are very bad and autofocus is a big help when shooting at different angles and distances and when everything is not so static.

Therefore I often take a set of shots with the Sony 50mm F1.8, what a great lens for the money! Normally I hate automatic lenses and try to avoid them, but this one I often use even with face detection. And I can tell you I love my Leica glass…

BTW, I really don’t understand why professionals often shoot portraits from a tripod. I always try to focus on the closer eye, and that’s only possible with a flexible shooting position. This can be seen on the last two images.

A word about light:

I’m lucky to have the chance to use an empty flat in our building as my photo studio. As background I use black paper or different curtains. As light source two soft boxes are used — for women more from the front to avoid too too much skin detail. For men I try to arrange the light more dramatic from the side, often with only one soft box.

For shots wide open the pilot light of the soft box is ideal. On location I try to position the person next to a window and isolate from the background with an open aperture and soft bokeh.

The first series is made with the Sony 50/1.8. The first two models are very young. Their young faces are very clean, pure and aesthetic, but they’re lacking expression. The real life is missing.

The following two images are shot with the Leica APO Summicron 75mm.

Then there’s the “self” in color, made with the IR remote control of the NEX-7.

The last two images finally are made with the fantastic APO-Macro-Elmarit-R 100mm wide open at F2.8.

Have a look the last image as well...  | Dierk Topp
Have a look the last image as well… | Dierk Topp

Her friend told me she always was hoping somebody would take photographs of her. | Dierk Topp
Her friend told me she always was hoping somebody would take photographs of her. | Dierk Topp

With available light under a tree -- it took me more than 15 minutes until he agreed to have his photo taken. | Dierk Topp
With available light under a tree — it took me more than 15 minutes until he agreed to have his photo taken. | Dierk Topp

He agreed without hesitating. | Dierk Topp
He agreed without hesitating. | Dierk Topp

He told me he never had good photographs of himself. | Dierk Topp
He told me he never had good photographs of himself. | Dierk Topp

I always wanted to portrait a black man in B&W. One day I saw him repairing something in our house and he agreed, no problem. | Dierk Topp
I always wanted to portrait a black man in B&W. One day I saw him repairing something in our house and he agreed, no problem. | Dierk Topp

Moving on to the 75mm Summicron:

A friend of the family. | Dierk Topp
A friend of the family.

OK. only one in color -- self.
OK. only one in color — self. | Dierk Topp

Next the NEX-7 with the APO-Macro-Elmarit-R 100/2.8:

The man from above. | Dierk Topp
The man from above. | Dierk Topp

My 90-year-old mother-in-law. | Dierk Topp
My 90-year-old mother-in-law. | Dierk Topp

And here is the first image of this series overlayed with a structure. | Dierk Topp
And here is the first image of this series overlayed with a structure. | Dierk Topp



  • Pan

    Nice work Dierk. If the bearded man would only look straight into the lens!

    Like them all, especially your mother in law. Inspiring. I might have to talk to some neighbours……..

  • Helge

    Thank you for convincing them to be portrayed. Every single portrait is very special and I like them all.

    Perhaps I should try more B/W work as well.