French poet and art critic Charles Baudelaire once said, “A portrait! What could be more simple and more complex, more obvious and more profound?”
Last weekend I led an interactive studio session with students that covered off-camera lighting for portrait photography. My goal was to leave participants with enough knowledge and skills, that with additional practice and experimentation, they would be able to produce pleasing and creative portraits of friends, family, and clients.
Learning to take better portraits, or as I emphasized in my workshop, portraits that flatter the subject and which shouldn’t just be a flat documentary of a person, involves understanding lighting techniques and posing.
In this one-day course participants experienced several aspects of portraiture including directing both male and female subjects, as well as an introduction to light modifiers and their application.
My teaching experience has now expanded to over three decades. That experience has taught me (yep, I have learned lots too) that, rather than acting like a star or celebrity standing on a stage demonstrating what I know, I can be much more effective standing by their side leading photographers as a participant into new territory.
My job was to present information on the subject at hand and keeping things going. I’ll admit that wasn’t hard with last Sunday’s group. I stood back and could see what progressed from a spark to a wildfire as each photographer started getting the concepts and began excitedly making the kind of portraits future clients would definitely pay for.
Building bridges between what those photographers already knew and what had eluded them regarding portrait lighting was fun for them and, of course, for me and I enjoyed their enlivened interaction and creativity.
As with most of my current workshops this was held in a well-equipped studio filled with an assortment of lighting gear, complete with a drawer full of wireless senders for participants to use. There are soft boxes, umbrellas, diffusion screens, reflectors and a great selection of wall-mounted backdrops.
All equipment and setups I employed for this workshop could easily be added to any photographer’s kit without a large outlay of cash and could be used in a basement studio.
As the day progressed I included an assignment for participants to make a “business” style portrait of each other. That added to the fun and gave our overworked model some respite. My intention was to get photographers thinking about being creative and complimentary in their directing, posing and lighting.
Our model came made-up and ready to be photographed, whereas the rest of us, well, we intended to be behind the camera, not in front of it. So this was a perfect way to get photographers thinking about how that not so willing portrait client might feel.
By now regular readers know that I really like quotes. So I’ll end with this one by photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson that fits the mindset I hoped to impress on participants. He said, “Photography is not like painting. There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life offers itself to you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative.”
I always enjoy and respond to comments. Thanks, John
My website is at www.enmanscamera.com