The Space Between Them

When I began photographing couples and families, I launched into all the usual research. I looked at innumerable paintings and photographs for inspiration. I found some great spur of the moment shots, but there was a significant dearth of interesting planned images. It was all clichés and stiff poses of people trying to look their best.

Color and composition are key. Achieving a good balance gets complicated when more than one subject is being photographed. I thought a great deal about where I would shoot, what people should wear and how I might position them in the shot, but that wasn’t enough. I knew I was missing something essential. The only way I could navigate this conceptual maze was to jump in and make some images. Afterwards I would sit with the pictures and analyze why I liked some but not others. This required shooting a lot of pictures that disappointed me, and for a while, I felt enormously frustrated.

Gradually, I began to realize how much I was looking at the space (or lack of space) between people and how important this space was as a psychological component in the photograph.

For example, separation creates tension that can be mitigated by eye contact or intensified by the absence of it. Our viewer’s eye dances around the photograph trying to read the unconscious signals we imagine the people in the picture are giving off.

Dahm Family B_0431 20x26

Playing with light and shadow creates spaces that impact our emotional perception of the relationship between the subjects. Interesting negative spaces become compositional elements in the photograph and add another dimension.


When figures are close or overlapping, the composition feels more familiar, but it’s also full of potential. For example, the overlap can morph the figures into a single unified being.

Karen Lefrak 1778_1798 20x26 less red

In the end, there’s still an enormous amount of chance involved. We all know that a single portrait subject can be full of surprises. As soon as two or more subjects are involved, all bets are off!  Some days we just get lucky.

About Carol Dragon

Carol Dragon is a New York City photographer who focuses on portraiture. Her dramatic approach to capturing the essence of her subjects is done in a style reminiscent of master painters and yet is very much her own. Carol is one of the featured photographers in the recently released 100 New York Photographers by Cynthia Dantzig. She has a BFA and a MFA from Rhode Island School of Design. Her client list includes CBS, Scholastic Publishing, AOL Time Warner and Anson Mills. She is available for commissioned work worldwide.
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