Portrait of an Artist at Her House

Here’s how I photographed one of the world’s best portrait painters, using just window-light and white walls for a relaxed, confident portrait in her home.

Lucy is a world-renowned portrait artist. I was asked to photograph her in her house for a magazine article, so I wanted create an image where she looks relaxed, confident and very much ‘at home’. Here’s how I approached it.

Picking a location

I chose to take this shot in Lucy’s beautiful kitchen. It’s painted nearly all white and has two large windows to the left (as we’re looking at it). This meant there was plenty of natural light available, and it would be bounced around sufficiently to soften any shadows.

I positioned Lucy with one of the windows to her right, with her body facing towards me but her face turned slightly towards the light. This gives the portrait dimensionality, as the shadows on the right side of her face and neck provide a sense of depth and shape.

Keeping it simple with the colour palette and pose

Although everything we can see behind Lucy is white, the varying light levels mean some of the surfaces are recorded as greys and gradients, adding interest and tonal variation. The open door immediately behind Lucy frames her, while the one in the background gives depth to the shot and a sense of place.

Lucy’s clothes, skin and hair are the only splashes of colour in an otherwise monotone image, helping her to stand out and drawing your eye to her.

I’ve kept the pose really simple; you can imagine Lucy standing here and laughing like this if she was chatting with a friend. It doesn’t feel staged or false in any way. The only thing I’ve tweaked is her hand position. Whenever asking a woman to fold her arms like this, request that her fingers come in front of each bicep. Asking your subject to spread the fingers apart and bending them a little will soften the pose further.

A lot of the success of this image comes down to the laughter. Getting on well with your subject is the only way to capture genuine reactions like this one, showing a subject completely at ease in a familiar space.

Location Diagram

Camera Settings

  • Focal length: 50mm
  • Aperture: f/4
  • Shutter speed: 1/180 sec
  • ISO: 1100