Focus on the Details, Part I


“Most people stand back and try to get most of the body. When you focus on what you don’t normally pay attention to—hands, feet, eyes—the details show different things.”

Miriam Lovell PhotographyMinna Dyer looks for the unexpected details in individuals when she shoots portrait photography. The challenge comes not only in seeing those details but in getting the person to open up and allow her in to capture them.

Her most photographed subject is her daughter, Hannah. She probably has 30,000 photos of her. “She is the person most used to having the camera in her face. I’ll take her out and get 100 photographs of her, easy.”

Hannah opens up. But one day she didn’t. She was hiding behind her hair. When Minna took some shots, she remembers thinking, “She didn’t want me to do that.”

She uncovered more than the detail of Hannah’s eye, it was the look in her eye—or even more importantly, the emotion it conveyed.

“We have so many different expressions and emotions, but they are not always noticeable. I can see something in someone that they might not regularly show. I find things to draw it out. Usually, when someone lets themselves shine, it unfolds. If I can capture that, then it’s there. Photography captures a moment in time and freezes it.”

Minna’s artistic eye developed in her childhood watching her own mother paint and draw, then copying her and “trying to do what she did.” Confident that art was to be a part of her life and her learning, she pursued several forms in high school and college and graduated with a degree in art education. Even though her only regularly-paid art job was as a chalkboard artist in the Seattle area, she continued developing her skills.

She later moved to New York with her husband. After her second daughter’s birth, she needed a creative outlet and started the business side of her photography, Miriam Lovell Photography.

Miriam Lovell Photography“The artist in me needs to create something. I love to create beautiful and interesting images. We all need something to accomplish and achieve. That’s what photography is for me.”

Her creative process doesn’t just begin or end with the photograph. For example, when she has a family photo session, she meets and talks with them first, developing a personal rapport and trying to understand their interests and desires. Then, she researches and plans the location and possible shots. Following the shoot itself is editing, proofing, and organizing. She sets up a web gallery for them to view and choose prints, and she may design a layout for a book of photographs.

But the photo shoot is the fun part, even when the unexpected happens. One of her best shoots was with a 5-year-old boy in Brooklyn Bridge Park—in the pouring rain. He played for the camera in way that he might not in a group. Minna invited his mother, who hadn’t planned to be photographed, to gather the leaves with him, and she shot a series of mother and son laughing and playing together in unplanned moments.

The wonderful moments of emotion may be fun, loving, tender, silly, touching, beautiful, or reflective, as the natural light of the window revealed during a session with a friend facing a difficult time. In all, the details express life, and “photographs capture the essence of life.”

Focus on Details, Part I is the first in a series of posts from an interview on portraiture with Minna Dyer of Miriam Lovell Photography. View photo cards and her gallery of photographs at her website. Learn from her regular photo assignments on her photography blog.

Part II will be published on Wednesday, May 28, at TJ Hirst.com. Her images are copyrighted by Miriam Lovell Dyer of Miriam Lovell Photography. Images cannot be used without express written permission.

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