On the left is a screen grab of the Rembrandt painting, "The Man With the Golden Helmet." On the right is a portrait of my dad.
My friend, Steve Inglima, pointed out a similarity (of sorts): Yes, the faces are important, but other elements – the helmet and the hands – are strong and obviously important elements in the painting/photograph.
Rembrandt wanted the viewer to notice the exquisite detail in the helmet - truly a work of art.
I want viewers of my photography to notice my dad's hands - which were at one time very strong and powerful - weak and frail at the time I took the picture. I remember many times when he leaned over my shoulder to help me with my homework – at the desk at which I am sitting in the picture below. (Yes, that's me! My dad took the picture with a 4x5-inch Linhof camera.)
When composing a portrait, consider elements in the scene – other than the face – that can help you to tell a story. You might be surprised at how many different stories you can tell in a single sitting.
Explore the light,
P.S. If you like photo philosophies like this, as well as tech info on photographing people, check out my book, Face to Face.