The Mona Lisa is famous for its enigmatic smile which continues to be appreciated even today. There’s also much to be learned from the painting and why people are so in awe of it. What’s more, this can translate to some great portrait photography. So, here are some lessons to be taken:
- Placement is everything. Painter Leonardo Da Vinci employed many tools to attract the viewer towards the subject alone. The composition of his Mona Lisa portrait is pyramidal. The base of this pyramid is wide and forms the subject’s arms and hands. The tip of the pyramid is her face and most importantly, her eyes. The viewer tends to focus on her eyes that are placed at the top of the hierarchy.
Eye level photography works for portraits like no other. Notice that Mona Lisa’s eyes are positioned at the level of the viewer.
- Remove any distractions. The blurry background behind Mona Lisa adds emphasis on the subject, with the surroundings being faded. Therefore, even though the background has features to put the subject in context, the artist manages to highlight the subject’s features by fading it.
- The play of light and shadow can accentuate the subject’s features. In Mona Lisa’s portrait, light has been used to highlight a few features of the subject like her eyes, smile and hands. These happen to be the most popular features in the painting. Shadows can also be created with light to show depth and dimension or emphasize other details (like the frills on her clothes) in the portrait.
- Color coordination and type of clothing also goes a long way in capturing striking portraits. The color of clothes in the Mona Lisa painting were chosen to create a contrast with the skin color and bring more focus to the face. Details of lace, folds and ripples are present, but in a subtle way. Clothing, minus accessories, has been kept simple to avoid distractions.
- Framing is everything in portrait photography. It can either be used to add context to the picture or to draw the viewer’s attention towards the subject. According to speculation, the original, larger version of the Mona Lisa painting had pillars painted on either side. This way, framing performs both these functions. It invites the viewer’s attention towards the subject and gives the idea of Mona Lisa standing on a balcony.
To sum up, manipulate all the above said factors and allow a tinge of mystery surrounding your subject. Emotions need not be black or white. Capturing shades of grey is what made Mona Lisa’s smile so enigmatic throughout the years.
~Zahid H Javali