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SHOOT WIDE OPEN: Pete Coco's Unconventional Approach to Portrait Photography

2/22/2023 Matt 0 Comments

Pete Coco is a portrait and headshot photographer based in New York, known for his unconventional approach to portrait photography. He believes that while there are tried and true techniques that photographers should familiarize themselves with, these concepts can become stifling to creativity if taken as dogma that shouldn't be challenged.

Convention Is BORING

Creativity begs artists to explore and attempt new things, and this is really the best reason why you should shoot portraits wide open or use a lens that you're not supposed to use for a certain subject or position your subject so that you violate the rule of thirds or whatever else. If you just do what everyone else has already done, you might create images that are solid and maybe technically well made, but they will lack any genuine creative spark and interest.

One Sharp Eye

The more portraits Coco creates, the more he is convinced that the only thing that matters when it comes to sharpness is the eye. Coco doesn't necessarily mean the eyes themselves, but just one eye. He believes that the eyes are the window to the soul, and by looking into someone's eyes, you can get a very solid sense about them immediately. 

When you look at a portrait, the first place your eye will go is towards the subject's eye. In Coco's opinion, everything else is secondary or tertiary to that eye. This means that when Coco takes a portrait, shooting wide open, his main concern is that the eye that is closest to the camera is in focus. Even if the opposite eye is slightly out of focus, it really doesn't matter because the impact of the image will remain.

If the nose is soft and the ears are soft, it doesn't matter because you are automatically drawn towards that one sharp eye, which makes the rest of the image work and, in Coco's opinion, makes a much more effective portrait in most cases than if everything was all in sharp focus.

Wide Open Creates A Dreamy Quality

One of Coco's favorite reasons for shooting portraits wide open is that by doing so, the images take on a dreamy, almost painted effect

This isn't something that you create in post either. The shallow depth of field combined with the hard light automatically gives the portrait a painted look and a three-dimensional depth, and it looks awesome. Coco doesn't need to use a ton of complicated lighting setups either.

No One Cares About "Sharpness"

According to Coco, one of the most common pieces of conventional wisdom in portrait photography is that you should never shoot wide open. This is one of those accepted truths that has been said over and over for so long that people automatically believe it. However, in Coco's opinion, no one cares about "sharpness." Some people are worried that if part of the face is not in focus or if the body is not in focus or perhaps because some lenses are not their sharpest wide open, this will be a problem. But, whatever the reasons are that people promote this view, Coco believes that shooting wide open creates a more interesting and effective portrait.

People Tell Me Not To Do It

Coco acknowledges that he has heard over and over again that he should never shoot wide open for portraits. He believes that this is one of those pieces of conventional wisdom that has been repeated so many times that people take it for granted. But, in today's video, Coco shows why he shoots portraits wide open all the time and why you should too. 

Image and video via Pete Coco Photography | Website Instagram | If you are looking to become a pro headshot photographer, check out the Headshot Crew .