Lighting The Portrait Workshop

Class Participants

Bart&Sarah&wind Machine

Sarah

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

Street Style Photography at the Fall Fair

Royalty and Attendants

Country singers

Cowboy in slicker

Mobile staff

Wooden Horse listening

Waiting against the wall

Clydsdales

Umbrella guy

Your cartoon

First Aid

Monster Cones

“Every year when summer comes around

They stretch a banner ‘cross the main street in town

You can feel somethin’s happenin’ in the air…”

“County fair, county fair,

Everybody in town’ll be there

So come on, hey we’re goin’ down there…”

Bruce Springsteen – Country Fair

 

Where I live in British Columbia, the months of August and September see communities’ large and small hosting end of summer fairs. This year, same as last, I drove north to the small town of Barriere, parked my car, gave the smiling lady at the gate a couple bucks and strolled into the excitement of the Barriere Fall Fair packed with exhibits of local produce, poultry, livestock, all sorts of arts and crafts, lots of outdoor shows that included a rodeo, trick riders, several different horse competitions, an action packed midway with amusement rides, challenges for the children like wall climbing, and even a motorized bull that quickly dislodged even the most athletic of riders. There were all sorts of people selling cowboy hats, clothing, jewelry and too much more to list here. And one lady almost accosted me, demanding I try out her boot wax and leather preservative. (I will say my boots never looked better.)

Oh, and the food. The inviting and punishing, yep, that’s the word I am going to use for the smell of all kinds of mouthwatering foods that one confronts as far away as the entrance gate. Enticing everyone to make the next stop at one of the food venders.

The picture making possibilities immediately assaults those of us with cameras. What to photograph? Well, it’s all exciting.

Last year I spent most of my time photographing the rodeo, but after discussions and encouragement from the many photographers I have met online that excel in street photography, I decided to dedicate my time this year to photographing the people I saw wandering or performing in the midway.

I have written before about my admiration of those that are proficient at wandering city streets creating stories with the way they photograph the people. Readers will recall I discussed my frustration last summer in Anacortes, Washington when I tried using a DSLR with a big 24-70mm lens mounted on it. People saw me coming with that big package and when I got close enough to grab a picture they almost leaned towards me to see what I was photographing. No chance of being inconspicuous or assuming stealth mode.

This time I brought a cropped frame DSLR and 105mm lens and extended my camera strap so I could point and shoot from the hip as I released the shutter. I think I can hear the laughing coming from some of those more skilled and experienced at this type of photography than I. Yep, I had little control over what I was aiming at. I did get some viewable shots, but I also got lots of images that showed the top of people’s heads and a great quantity of sky. How did those gunslingers in the old west hit their target?

Maybe I need to put some beer cans on a fence rail and practice like I saw actor Alan Ladd do in a movie I watched last week. Or better yet, I have a friend with one of those exciting little Fuji 100 cameras. I wonder if I took beer cans (full) over to his house instead of putting them on the fence, I could convince, or bribe, him to lend that camera to me next time I want to try.

I searched online for some street photography tips. Here are a few I could find.

  1. Use a wide-angle lens.
  2. Get close.
  3. Look for juxtaposition.
  4. Focus on the essential.
  5. Look for the light and shadows
  6. Look at the foreground and the background.
  7. Tell a story.

Street photography, whether at an event like a country fair, in a bustling city, or on some quiet back lane, is about photographing society around us. Some photographers’ shoot for the challenge, and some wander the city as a release of stress from everyday existence, and others because of their need to make some statement about the world in which they live. I wonder at the “Decisive Moment” of prolific French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, or the journalistic style of Leica toting Robert Doisneau, or the harsh images of marginalized people by Diane Arbus. They, and many others have left us with their own styles of street photography that affect each viewer on an emotional level.

I look forward to any comments. Thanks, John

A photographer walks along the frozen riverside.

Ice & Pritchad bridge 1

  Oil can 2

Pier studs 3

Noisey Geese 4

Ice art 5

Clamshell 6

Goose down 7

Last breath 8

 Henri Cartier-Bresson wrote, “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 itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative.”

      Walking along the frozen riverside.

There is something mysterious about the end of winter when the weather climbs to just around freezing. The snow is only just there. We can’t see the whole story, but it is letting us know that something waits beneath.

The Thompson River meanders along the valley basin not far from my woodland home and it’s on days like I just described that call me to wander the ice-covered shore. I like the solitude and although I carry my camera and I suppose I should be searching for something important to photograph, I usually don’t have much of a plan. I look for, as Cartier-Bresson said, ”a composition or an expression” that is interests me at that moment.

I would like to say it’s a quiet walk along the river side, but there is the constant din from the Trans-Canada high way that runs along one side of the river. However, this time, as I walked across the snow-covered ice and slogged through the emerging mud, an urgent alarm went up from several (actually, a lot more than several) sentinels stationed along the river’s beach up where the sand had dried. I had been so intent on looking along the ice edge that I hadn’t noticed all the resting geese, but they saw me and weren’t very happy at my intrusion and their honking was so loud that I no longer could hear the road noise.

I have friends that would have quickly moved into action and captured image after image of the geese loudly taking off and flying overhead. They also would have photographed the splashing of those heavy feathered birds coming back down in smooth backwater under the bridge. I did raise my camera to release the shutter a couple times, but I enjoyed watching them and liked the honking sound, so I turned away so as not to disturb them more. Besides, I am sure they appreciated that warm sand on the cold winter’s day and there will always be another opportunity to photograph geese.

I regularly see people prowling the river shoreline during the summer in search of treasures and I guess that is what I sort of do too, although I rarely do it in summer. Unlike them, I don’t touch the treasures. I just point my camera at something I am curious about and take the picture. I don’t move or change anything. My camera and I do the moving instead, as I choose the appropriate angle for each subject poking out of the sand and ice.

I never have seen another camera-equipped person walking that shoreline in the winter. I guess most find the place boring. The traffic keeps larger animals away, the low angles aren’t that favorable for grand landscape shots, there are no bridge lights that would encourage anyone to plant a tripod after dark, the sand and river water aren’t that inviting and this time of year the river is lined with stark, leafless trees.

For me it is perfect. I’ve walked along the frozen sand many times and I am sure many of my photographs over the many years look a lot alike. I expect someday I’ll get a really unique picture of a neat boot, a carcass of a really big fish or even some broken and discarded boat. Who knows?

As always, I really appreciate your comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

What Does “Composition” Mean?

Cat & Rule of Thirds  White horse in field  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

“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 included that quote by famous French photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson, because he used the word “composition”, and it is that word and how it is currently being used that I have been recently thinking about.

The word composition gets thrown around a lot when discussing photographs.  I’ll read forums where responses to posted images might say something like, “great capture, good composition,” or sometimes, something as meaningless as “I love your composition”.

I know the posters don’t actually mean composition as a photographic technique. I think it has just become an alternative word that means “picture”.  Modern photographers seem to hesitate referring to a photograph someone has posted to an online site as a picture. They want a more modern word, and I guess using the word “composition” instead of “picture” has become that word.

That came to mind, when a young photographer said to me, “I don’t really know a lot about photography, but what I do know is that I am really good at is composition.”  That was one of the few times I have been left speechless.

Photographic composition is defined as, “the selection and arrangement of subjects within the picture area.”  And unlike those who replace the word picture with the word composition, I use composition and compositional guidelines to help me enhance a photograph’s impact.

Photographers are limited by the actual physical appearance of the subjects they are photographing, and depend on camera position, the perspective created by different lense’s focal lengths, and the elements that make up a picture to communicate to viewer’s what they saw when they made the photograph.

I think about what is important and how I want to arrange my composition, and I consciously subtract those elements that I think are unimportant or distracting. When setting up a composition I usually think about and apply the ‘Rule of Thirds’ wherein we divide the image into nine equal segments with two vertical and two horizontal lines. The Rule of Thirds says that you should position the most important elements in your scene along these lines, or at the points where they intersect, and by doing so, adding balance and interest to one’s picture.

I looked up composition online where there are page after page of composition tips. I decided I’d add my own, “apple technique to proper picture making and composition”.  Here goes!

While driving along and finding an inspiring scene.   Don’t just point the camera out the car window!

1. Stop the car.

2. Get out.

3. Leave the camera in the camera bag.

4. Get an apple and eat it as one looks at the inspiring scene. Think about what is likeable about it, and make some choices as to how compose, or arrange, the features within the picture area you photographing.  Photographers should ask; what would someone like to say about the scene to the viewer?

5. Finally, go back to the car, get the camera, and make the picture.

Elliott Erwitt, American, documentary photographer wrote, “To me, photography is an art of observation. It’s about finding something interesting in an ordinary place… I’ve found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.”

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com