Light the Portrait workshop        

 

 

This past weekend I lead the first day of a workshop titled “Light the Portrait”. My goal during the two sessions was to help photographers understand how to use light, indoors or out, when they photograph people.

Fear-of-Flash has always been a topic of discussion for photographers photographing weddings, and portraits both indoors and out.

American photographer and author of the Strobist.com blog David Hobby said,  “…You hear a photographer say, “I’m a strictly available light photographer, I’m a purist.”  He continues, ” What I hear is, I’m scared of using light so I’m going to do this instead. Well, for me lighting was a way to start to create interesting pictures in a way that I could do it.”

It’s with those words that I began the workshop that would discuss using both studio lights and speed lights. Adding that personally, I always use a flash when I make a portrait of someone inside or outside. I don’t care if the ambient light is bright or dim.

My goal is to not only help photographers gain an understanding of off-camera lighting, but to also convince them that using flash will separate their photography from those that rely on natural or as I prefer calling it, “ambient light”.

The first session was about the big studio lights and accompanying light modifiers like, umbrellas, softboxes and reflectors, to name a few we employed during the day.

Those of us in Kamloops British Columbia are fortunate to have a local portrait studio that is not only large enough for a class, but also is packed with all sorts of lighting equipment, backdrops and change rooms for models. The portrait studio, Versatile Studio, also comes complete with a kitchen and dining area. And there are all sorts of props for posing.  All I needed to do was write up my lesson plan, print some handouts, book the studio, hire a model and show up in time to start leading participants into the exciting world of off-camera lighting.

I enjoy leading; I like that word better than “teaching”. I know to teach “is to show or explain to people how to do something”, but most of those that attend know a lot about photography and have already been shooting portraits for some time. All I need to do is build a bridge for them between what they already know and what I am presenting.  And as I stand with them in the studio/classroom I get watch that quick tightening of shoulders, widening of eyes and smiles when they suddenly get it. When that happens I can’t help but smile too.

Well, the first day is over and, as usual, they tired me out. However, I am already looking forward to next week with those enthusiastic photographers (and our energetic model). I wonder if I should begin next week’s session with the words of legendary filmmaker from the 1920s, D.W. Griffith. “Lights camera action”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Portrait   

The conversation – a Portrait.

For most photographers a portrait is an artistic representation of an individual or individuals, with the goal of capturing some likeness as to who they are.

Famous American photographer, Richard Avedon carried this further when he said, “A portrait is not a likeness. The moment an emotion or fact is transformed into a photograph it is no longer a fact but an opinion. There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth. ”

Popular American painter Jamie Wyeth wrote, “Everything I paint is a portrait, whatever the subject.”

For years most of the photography I did was portraiture, whether wedding pictures for a family, or private sessions. My opinion is that portraits are pretty narcissistic and because of that, can be much harder to do properly than many other photographic pastimes.

Make a bad landscape and no one will really care, capture a bird flying poorly and it’s no big deal; however if you give someone an unflattering photograph of themself and you have might make an enemy for life.

A portrait can be a representation of anything and doesn’t necessarily need to only be of people. Years ago my wife and I had show dogs and would regularly attend and participate in events in hopes of having the judges select our dog as best from some group; and when we did win, we would walk our dogs to a photography booth set up by a skilled dog portraitist to have a portraits taken that day when they looked so good and performed so well.

As I watched a TV show earlier this week I noticed framed pictures of the owner’s cat hanging on the wall, and I have seen all types of pet portraits in friends’ homes. I suppose a picture of a favourite or special car, motorcycle, boat or even treasured holiday snapshot, might be called a portrait.

I wonder if many photographers might agree with the painter Wyeth’s contention that, “Everything I paint (or photograph) is a portrait, whatever the subject.”

Some time ago I went for a slow drive along the winding roads high above my place in Pritchard hoping to find some cows, horses, or deer to photograph. I wanted head and shoulder compositions (or portraits), not animals in the landscape.

I leisurely drove around, passing lots of roadside deer; cows quietly chewing the cud, and finally stopped near two horses standing very close to a fence. My choice was to compose of portrait of them instead of just a pleasing documentary of two horses in a field. So I mounted a 24-85mm lens on my camera, walked through the wet grass to the fence to take their picture, and worked angle after angle for a portrait.

I suppose the words “artistic representation” and “goal of capturing some likeness” are appropriate when a photographer captures human-like qualities in animal portraits. I wanted a picture that included me, or at least inferred some conversation between the horses about me. My image is, as Avedon said, “….an opinion”.

Home Studio Lighting for Photographers      

Flash Kit 3

I have written about using off-camera flash several times. Nevertheless, with the conversations I had with two separate, aspiring portrait photographers this past week asking my recommendations for setting up a home portrait studio I have decided to revisit that conversation.

In each instance they were troubled by the kinds of lighting equipment other photographers were advising them to purchase.  Both were upset at how much it was going to cost to get large and expensive studio lights other people were suggesting, and complained that they would have to wait until they had the money before a home studio lighting situation could be set up.

With serious searching they might be able to find used studio lights listed on craigslist, or similar online sales, but that will include additional shipping costs. Further, they won’t have experience with the many brands of equipment available, and are taking a chance that the units will arrive in working condition. And, to confuse them even more they will be offered lots of those cheap, and inadequate, Constant Light kits that were purchased by other unsuspecting beginners.

I knew they were both new to portraiture and just want to learn about lighting. My opinion is they don’t really need to go to the bank just yet, and would be better off starting out with smaller, speedlight type flashes. With the money saved by not purchasing the big, studio type lights they can buy a couple of inexpensive light stands, umbrellas, and maybe even add a soft-box, and a backdrop.

Photographers intent on setting up small home studios for portraits and small groups don’t need to go to the expense of the brawny, studio type lights. They can easily, and without much initial cost, set up a studio with what I personally use, and call my “portrait kit”.

I use older hotshoe flashes for my portrait kit, each with it’s own wireless receiver and stand. I can choose a shoot-through umbrella, a reflector umbrella, or a softbox, and much of the time I include a reflector. It is an inexpensive and easily stored or transported “portrait kit” that I would recommend for home studio photographers.

Wireless sender/receivers come in all sorts of inexpensive incarnations, and it is the same with lightstands and flash-to-umbrella mounts. All of this is much less expensive, and a lot easier to store and/or move around than the big studio-type flash units.

I have been using multiple flashes off-camera since the 1980s, and I always choose inexpensive, used units that I can cheaply replace if they get knocked over, or if I wear them out.

Hotshoe type, off-camera speedlights are perfect for the educational process of learning to use flash effectively, and if they are no longer a good fit for one’s creative growth, the choices as to the next step in lighting equipment will be educated decisions instead of emotional.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Off-Camera Flash in Daylight  

Whatcha Got?

Perfect lighting

A little to the left

Teamwork

The right light

Ya gotta get wet

Who cares about the water

Lets see

Flash the Cadillac

 

This past weekend I lead another workshop for photographers about using off-camera flash when photographing portraits outside in bright light. As with past lighting workshops my goal was to help participants understand how to use flash in different environments during daylight, and gain techniques that I hoped would help them transform the harsh daylight of outdoor portraits into beautiful light.

I was fortunate to have a great rural location where participants began in the morning photographing our model using a speedlight and a diffusion panel in a bright meadow, then moved to a large, well lit, open barn with two-flash lighting using a shoot-through umbrella and softbox until lunchtime.

After a healthy lunch provided by Versatile Studio we set up by a small tree covered stream, getting both our feet and our model’s feet wet. We finally finished the day photographing the model posing beside an old 1970s Cadillac in a nearby field.

I enjoy guiding serious photographers through their first attempts to use flash as a tool to create better photos, I want them to think of the flash being more than an uncontrollable device perched on top of the camera when it’s too dark in a room to take the photo.

I have been offering off-camera flash courses since the early 1980’s, and still believe they are an important segment of a portrait photographer’s education.

So much has changed in photography, and yet here I am 35 years later, still helping photographers learn how to use off-camera flash. Modern cameras are amazing with sensors that are so much better at capturing light than film was. But just as 30 years ago, serious photographers realize how much more flattering off-camera flash is on someone’s face than just harsh daylight.

Off-camera flash gives a photographer the ability to choose the best direction of light.

There are times when I am forced to photograph a person without using a flash. I think “forced” is the best word, because I will always use flash if I can, and as those that have taken my advice have learned, in most instances using flash for portrait photography indoors or outdoors is better than not using a flash.

Those attending last weekend’s workshop began to get comfortable using flash.

David Hobby, lighting guru and founder of the blog, http://strobist.blogspot.ca, wrote,

“Learning how to light is incremental, creative and fun. There is almost no math involved, nor any difficult technical know-how. In fact, good lighting is less like math and more like cooking. It’s like, you taste the soup and if it needs more salt you add some salt. You’ll see that when we learn to balance a flash with the existing, ambient light.”

“Controlling harsh natural light – one of the most important things to know as a shooter is how to use bad light well. Taking hard, nasty daylight and turning it into beautiful light is actually pretty easy.”

Photography Studio Workshop   

Studio 1a

Studio 3a

Studio 2a

Photographing Autumn 1a

My latest photography workshop, Posing and Lighting, occurred just outside Kamloops this past weekend at a local studio owned by Dave Monsees of Cherry Creek.

I will begin with a perfect quote I have used before by photographer and author Frank Criccho that goes with what I was wanted the participants to think about. Criccho stated, “The success of a photographic portrait depends as much on the photographer’s artistic and creative use of lighting techniques as it does on his or her skill with the camera.”

Much of the time photographers either prefer to photograph people in the daylight or, if forced to shoot indoors, just increase their camera’s ISO. And there are too many that when they do decide to employ On or Off-camera flash go for the easiest method of just filling the space with lots of light.

During these sessions I lead my goal is to get participants thinking about not only posing our model, but also about the using the flash light as more than just a device to brighten up the environment.

I want them to begin making decisions as to how to apply light on their subject in the same way they might decide to use a long focal length lens rather than a short focal length lens.

As always, when I lead a full day session like this one, I feel my task is to present information and keep things going. And I always leave plenty of time for the participants to engage with the model and experiment with techniques. Watching workshop participants grasp and learn photographic lighting is a fun and satisfying activity for me.

I began the workshop with a quick slide show. Hmm…I guess we don’t have slide shows any more and instead connect a computer to a digital projector to provide a PowerPoint presentation. In any event we started the day off with a presentation that showed how different modifiers affected the light on a subject. So when our model Autumn arrived it was, “lights, camera, action.”

We spent the majority of the day (barely breaking for lunch) using many different light modifiers, changing the angle of the lights, applying light in creative ways, employing different backdrops, and of course, studying posing.

I will say these kinds of workshops are really demanding on a very patient and hard working model as she constantly and quickly alters her outlook and holds any pose the excited photographers request; all the while giving each photographer time to apply what I was continually introducing.

I can’t really say much regarding those enthusiastic photographers, I expect they were filled with the energy most photographers get when they are learning and creating, but by 4pm Autumn and I were ready to wind down. A good day well done.

“A portrait! What could be more simple and more complex, more obvious and more profound.” – Charles Baudelaire, Poet – 1859

 

 

 

 

 

Photographing People   

Michael

Dave Monsees

By John 001

Monica

Bailea

Kevin

 

This week a friend asked me what my favourite photography subject is. After our talk I decided to post this rewrite of an article I wrote some time ago.

I enjoy photographing just about anything. Nevertheless, I’d have to answer that I probably take pleasure in photographing people the most.

I’ve been employed doing many types of photography since I began earning my living as a photographer in the 1970’s. I have done different kinds of photographic work for all types of organizations; however, I have found myself photographing people most of the time.

That’s not that unique; I think most photography is really about people. We take pictures of our family, friends, and people at celebrations and other events.

When I taught photography in the 1980s I would ask the question about a favourite subject of my students and “people” was a rare response. However, since the introduction of digital cameras and the relaxed point and shoot style many employ today, I’ll bet people photography ranks near the top as a reply.

If indeed, as I confessed to my friend, my favourite subject is people, I suppose I might put together a few tips for him and my readers on my favourite subject.

I quickly jotted down 10 suggestions to help readers be successful when photographing people.

  1. When you take pictures of people look at them and pay attention to their appearance so you ensure they look their best for the photograph. Don’t just rapidly snap away and realize later that you should have had your subject adjust something, e.g., a necklace, glasses, or especially that tie.
  2. Choose interesting and flattering angles or points of view. Also try three-quarter poses of single subjects. By that I mean that the person turns their body so that they view the camera from over their shoulder.
  3. Focus on the subject’s eyes. When we talk to people we make eye contact. There is a greater chance of your subject liking the photo if their eyes are sharp and not closed or looking away. Ensure that subjects smile or at least have a pleasant look. In my experience when subjects say they want a serious photo without a smile they appear sour or unhappy in the final photo. Do one of each as a compromise.
  4. I don’t like lenses shorter than 85mm. My favourite is 105mm. (Although recently I have been choosing my 70-200mm.) Longer focal length lenses always create a flattering perspective.
  5. For photographing one or two people an aperture of f/4 or wider will soften the background and make your subject stand out, but for group photos use an aperture of at least f/8 or smaller to increase the depth of field.
  6. Pay attention to your subject’s background especially when doing outdoor portraitures. You don’t want the photo to appear to have something growing out of a person’s head (e.g. like a stop sign), or have objects in your photograph that are distracting.
  7. Watch out for uncomplimentary shadows created by the sun, your flash, or other light sources.
  8. Get things ready first. Contemplate the poses before you photograph your subject. The best way to bore people and loose the moment is to make them wait.
  9. Tighten up the shot. Again, get rid of unwanted elements in the photograph that do nothing for it. If there is more than one person make them get close together.
  1. Talk to your subjects. The most successful portrait photographers are those who talk to and interact with their subjects. We are dealing with people and we communicate by talking. Don’t hide behind the camera.

And as always be positive about the photograph you are about to make. Get excited. Your excitement will be contagious and affect those around you.

Open House Versatile Photography Studio

Guests arriveGuests 2Guests 3Guests 4AshleyAshley in Studio Horses at the creekHorse portraitsMonique on the horseThree with MoniqueMonique and dogOpen StudioFun on the HarleyAshley on HarleyMoniqueShy-lynRoasting hotdogs

I was invited to attend a photographer’s open house at a local studio last Sunday. The owners, Dave and Cynthia Monsees, hosted the event and invited photographers of all levels to attend. On their Facebook page they had posted “Versatile Studio took delivery of some new equipment this week. Two new 300-watt strobes arrived along with a 60-inch Octobox that is going to be interesting to use. We now have a 480-watt battery powered strobe complete with a 24-inch soft box for use anywhere on the site. More changes are happening outside of the Studio as we continue to grow.”

Versatile Studio is probably one of the best-equipped rental studios in the British Columbia interior, with a wide array of lighting equipment for use in the studio or on the studio grounds. As well as the indoor location, Versatile Studio facilities include a large open-sided barn equipped with backdrop and electricity for lighting equipment, a mowed meadow complete with an antique buggy and old farm implements, an old Cadillac resting in a field, and the real favourite, a tree lined stream with a sandy beach.

I joined several others to include a local photographer’s group called Coffee n’ Click, several members of the Kamloops Photo Arts Club, and other serious photographers, and I was pleased when Dave told me that twenty-five signed his guestbook. I wish I had thought to get a group photo.

The day started at 10am with refreshments. After a short welcome everyone split up and the excitement began. Several chose to use the studio and I decided to set up high key lighting for Ashley, one of the three models volunteering that day. The other models were Monica and Shy-lyn.

Several photographers walked to the meadow where a neighbor had brought over her horse and a donkey for models to pose on. Another group chose go down to the stream to take pictures.

I didn’t stay long in the studio. There were so many excited people competing for the model’s attention that after a couple quick portraits I moved on. A Harley Davidson motorcycle had also been loaned to the studio and I rolled it into position in front of a painted backdrop that hung in the open barn, where I tried out the new battery operated, wireless 480w studio light with a 60-inch Octabox, and added a large gold reflector I had brought from my store. The results were great.

The day was fun, most photographers barely stopped for lunch and before I knew it people were roasting hotdogs over an open fire and it was 4pm. I enjoy events like this where one can interact with other photographers are just having fun doing photography. Usually I use that studio as a place of work where I lead workshops on studio lighting, but on this day I didn’t have to be “on” and was able to relax and talk to other photographers.

This week the Kamloops Photographer’s Facebook page was filled with photographs from the open house. I am pretty confident that everyone had a great time at Versatile Studio’s event.

I always look forward to your comments. Thanks, John