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Novice monk, Bumthang Festival, Bhutan
Nikon D800E with Nikkor 200mm f2, f2 @ 1/200 second, ISO 1400

As humans, we react to expressions all the time. Most of us prefer a smile or a friendly nod, some of us receive a scowl or a frown. And we're pretty good at reading expressions too, even if what we understand from that expression is totally wrong!

How often have you misinterpreted someone? It's easy enough to do it when the communication is verbal, so I'd suggest it's even easier with facial expressions and body language. Not only do you need to understand the nuances of the expression, you often need to put a cultural filter across it as well. I remember being in a Bhutanese temple and asking permission from the head lama to take his photo. He moved his head sideways - which I took as a 'no'. However, with a little more experience, I now realise he was actually giving me permission - it was a 'yes'.

So, when it comes to presenting your portraits to the world, what does your subject's expression say to the people who view it? It might not be what you intended, but this may not always matter. In photography competitions, the judges are generally wanting to be told a story. They are not necessarily concerned about the story itself, as long as there is some form of communication. Perhaps the worst thing you can enter is a portrait where the expression is bland, blank and non-attentive. Of course, this might be exactly the expression you want to communicate, but generally when we're showing our work to others, the expression needs to be a little more obvious, even if it could be misinterpreted. 

So, how do you interpret the expression on the novice monk here? As I was there, watching the youngster in turn watching the older monks getting ready for a ceremony, I read the expression as one of intense interest and a desire to follow in their footsteps. However, I'm sure there are many other interpretations and stories - and that's okay!

And just a quiet reminder that the International Portrait Photographer of the Year Awards closes this Friday 30 April, so you still have time to enter - and just maybe one of your portraits will be featured in the very first International Portrait Photographer of the Year Awards book! To visit the awards website, click this link:

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