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”.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Portraiture and the Photographer’s Use of Light

Monica aDemetra 3aMollyStephanie b6. BaileaStephanie a7. MonicaDemetraMonica  a

 

 

Photographer and author Frank Criccho states, “ 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.”

In an opposing remark during a recent conversation, a photographer told me that he didn’t have to worry about getting a flash for portrait photography and doubted he ever would, because he could just use a higher ISO, shoot multiple bursts, and fix everything in PhotoShop.

I don’t think that he is totally wrong, but his statement certainly demonstrates a lack of the basic understanding of how light impacts a subject’s face and how light can make the subject look younger, or older, or more glamorous, or down right unappealing.

I think in the race to purchase the latest hi-tech photographic marvel many photographers tend to forget about how lighting affects their subjects.

In my opinion, the goal for portrait photographers should always be to make the subject look his or her best, and provide an image that is flattering, and allows the person you are photographing to have a photo that impresses viewers.

One could say the responsibility lies with photographers, and not the subject, as to how good they look. Yes, I know in reality that isn’t the truth, but in my experience when one makes a bad photo of someone they will blame you, not themselves, if one makes a good photo they will thank you for capturing reality.

Many photographers just excitedly snap away without examining their subject, or posing them. Relying on luck and their subject’s talent to make that pleasing portrait, and pay little attention to how the light is making that person look.

Light and how a photographer uses it is very important. Too much contrast or side lighting shows lines and blemishes, whereas, on-camera flash, or bright, direct sunlight gives a flat, dimensionless, uninspired look.

To use the words of world-renowned photographer and writer, Joe Marvullo, “It is your ultimate decision, however, to determine what is “real” about that person and how to portray it in the photograph. You must successfully translate a distinct human personality in three-dimensional form into a two dimensional representation. This recorded image must come to life on it’s own. You, as an artist, must capture the “essence” of your subjects – their persona.”

Modern on-camera flashes are excellent if used correctly and creatively. Photographers can diffuse, bounce, and move the light off to the right or left, higher or lower, and modify that light using umbrellas, reflectors or softboxes to soften and control the direction and intensity.

I believe photography is all about the light. The lazy photographer just worries about exposure, where as the imaginative photographer pays attention, experiments, and practices creating portraits using light that are more than just documents of some person.  And as Marvullo suggests it is up to you, the artist, to capture the “essence” of your subject’s personality.

 

 

 

 

 

10 Suggestions for Successful People Photography.

 

Constable Mike Moyer

Constable Mike Moyer.

Actor

Professional Actor

Actor 2

Professional Actor

 

I had an interesting discussion with another photographer over coffee this morning. He had brought his memory card with several different pictures and as we talked about his shots he asked, “What is your favorite photography subject?”

Like many other photographers, what I like best changes with whatever I’m currently photographing, and I enjoy photographing just about everything. But in truth most of my subjects in the past 40 years have been people. My reply was, “I enjoy photographing people.”

I’ve been employed doing many types of photography since I began earning my living as a photographer in the 1970’s. And I have worked as a photographer for all types of organizations photographing all types of subjects. However, most of the time I have photographed people.  I think most photography is of people.  We take pictures of our family, of friends, and of people at celebrations and other events.

His next question was, “how do you make a photograph that is more than just the usual snap shot?”

Here are my 10 suggestions that contribute to successful people photographs.

  1. When you take pictures of people look at them and pay attention to their appearance to ensure they look their best.  Don’t just rapidly take a photo and realize later that you should have had your subject adjust something, e.g., a necklace, glasses, a collar, or especially, that tie.
  2. Do three-quarter poses of single subjects. By that I mean turn their body so that they view the camera from over their shoulder.  Choose interesting and flattering angles or points of view. Avoid straight on or “up the nose” headshots.
  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.  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. Select an appropriate lens. Avoid short focal length lenses. On a full frame camera my favorite is 105mm. However, with crop-frame cameras I don’t mind 70mm. Longer focal length lenses create a flattering perspective.
  5. For portraits, 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 zone of focus (depth of field).
  6. Look at the background behind your subject especially when doing outdoor portraitures.  You don’t want the photo to appear to have something growing out of your subject’s head or to have objects in your photograph that are distracting.
  7. Pay attention to 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 your subject and loose the moment is to make them wait.
  9. Tighten up the shot. 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.
  10. Talk to your subjects. The most successful portrait photographers are those who talk to and relate to 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.

I appreciate comments. Thanks, John

My website is at http://www.enmanscamera.com

Studio Portraiture Workshop

Class Portrait 1  Class 2

This past Sunday I lead the first day of a two-day workshop discussing posing and lighting. I hadn’t planned on undertaking any workshops this early in the year, but I had been getting requests from several excited photographers who are out there getting ready for spring and summer portrait sessions.

I finally made the decision to proceed when my friend Dave Monsees, owner of the Versatile Photography Studio near Kamloops, mentioned that photographers renting his studio told him they needed help in lighting couples. They lamented that most tutorials available were only about photographing one person.

I am sure if they browsed the internet they would have found what they were looking for, but working with live models is a lot more fun than reading articles and looking at pictures, so I hired two up-and-coming local models that fit that request perfectly.

In previous posts I have stated how I enjoy the enlivened interaction that happens when students of photography participate in active learning. So when I started getting requests that I offer  another session I crossed my fingers and hoped for an early spring, booked that large local studio, and hired two models.

During a workshop my job is to present information on the subject, and keep things going. I don’t like to be a demonstrator on stage and I rarely pick up a camera during the workshops I lead, unless it is to take a snapshot or two of photographers in action. And besides, when I finally let the workshop participants apply what we had discussed, there wasn’t room for me anyway.

The workshop dealt with modifying and placing light. We employed one, then two, and then three lights; and modified the light first with umbrellas, then changed to a softbox and reflector to create shadow, and, of course, that classic and compelling “Rembrandt lighting” effect.

This was an advanced workshop and I limited participation to seven photographers. As with all my workshops, my main goal is to help participants gain an understanding of how to use light. I want them to consider the “quality” of light instead of the “quantity” of light. I lecture to them that they should use light to “flatter” their subjects as opposed to only “illuminating” them.

I think that studying the mechanics of lighting includes two additional aspects, which are (1) experience, and (2) the willingness to step beyond lazily pointing a camera in a light filled room or out in the sunshine. Posing a model, or in our case, two models, seems to me to be more about engaging with the subject and being comfortable with telling someone how you want them to look. I once heard a photographer say that he never posed people because he thought is was rude to tell adults what to do. I can’t comment on that fellow’s work, maybe he was really lucky, but I expect there were lots of missed shots. I suppose he would disagree, or just plain ignore the words of award winning Dallas, Texas photographer, Caroline Mueller when she says, “What I look for in pictures (that) I take: eyes, hands, head tilt, body language, background, and use of space.”

I believe those photographers that are successful at portrait photography don’t hide behind their camera, but they start with a plan and are good at engaging, explaining, and demonstrating what their vision for the session is.

Now I am really looking forward to next Sunday. The few images I have seen so far are great and I am certain spending another day (this time with speedlights out-of-doors in the failing afternoon light) helping and watching each photographer’s progress is going to be a lot of fun.

class 3  class 4

 

Thanks in advance for your comments, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

An Enjoyable Group Photography Process

Demetra 1a  Monica 7a

When I write my blog each week,  my goal is to educate, to be entertaining, and to have a new topic each week. My topics are usually the result of something I have been involved in (like this week’s post), or my thoughts on discussions I have had with other photographers. Sometimes, my wife refers to my discussions as rants about whatever issue has hit my “hot” button the previous week. It could be about joining other photographers to do scenics or wildlife photography, however, this week I am going to discuss a great time I had on the previous weekend.

Last Sunday I got together with friends Demetra, Monica, Dave, and Nancy in a photographic modeling session that was different than what I had been used to.  Demetra and Monica worked in front of the camera as models, while Dave, Nancy, and I were behind the cameras.

Monica 10a Demetra 3a

I usually write about photographers, but this time I wanted to include the models who were just as much a part of a fun and interesting photography process as the photographers. I don’t know what it would be like to put on a play that included input from actors, directors, producers, etc., but on this day five friends collaborated in a photo studio to see what we all could come up with and I likened it to a theatrical experience.

Normally I come prepared with ideas that I have creatively worked through before I start directing my subject. I rarely show the subject the images on my camera’s LCD; and, usually they must be content with my approval of what we shot as we move to the next pose. However, we were game for a new experience, and the thought of working together as a group to produce photographs seemed like a good time.

Dave and I began by searching for some sample pictures with different poses and lighting that we thought would be fun to emulate and presented them to the group before starting our day at the studio. Then we all joined forces and laid the pictures out so every one, models and photographers alike, could see them, as we worked out camera angles, lighting and posing.

Monica and Demetra took turns posing as Dave and I adjusted studio lights. Nancy kept making test exposures that we would all look at, and then we would compare with the sample pictures to see if the effect was what we were seeking.  We weren’t trying to copy the original sample, inasmuch as we were using the poses and the lighting as guides. Then once the poses and lighting were set each photographer would choose a way to personally interpret the original in a way that seemed best.

Demetra and Monica are both new to this, but were willing to work, I expect, as hard as any professional, and being involved in the decision of how they would appear in a final image appealed to them.

Nancy is familiar with posing subjects and the lighting process, but her subjects are usually students, or beauty pageant portraits, so working with models and other photographers was unique and entertaining. Dave is the newcomer to photographing models, however, after years of scenic and personal work he had decided to try something new. He converted a vacant building on his rural property to a full functioning studio filled with all types of lighting, light manipulators, and several choices of backdrops. The studio includes a full functioning kitchen, which we made full use of during this session.

We had all previously participated in the “shoot-what-ya-can” whirlwind Stobist meets, so this group style of working was familiar. As stated earlier, photographers and models interpreted the pose in their own way and then chose respectively slightly different perspective camera angles and physical stances.  I am sure the photographers will finish their images slightly differently in PhotoShop.

I have not talked to, or seen, Dave or Nancy’s pictures yet, but in the next week they’ll drop by my shop with their final image files and I will make CDs for Monica and Demetra.  I like to hang out with other photographers, and enjoy watching them work, but I prefer being the prime photographer when I do portrait work; however, I must admit I enjoyed this group process and hope we can get together again sometime in the future.

I appreciate any comments. Thanks, John

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com

Photography on the Ferry

 

    

My wife and I boarded the BC ferry Coastal Celebration to Victoria, BC. We parked our car, picked up our cameras, and proceeded up to the sundeck. The day was clear blue and the ferry’s sundeck was packed with people with their cameras, all searching for joyful memories of the one-and-a-half hour ocean crossing from Tsawassen to Swartz Bay.  The weather was pleasant and encouraging for those travelers who wanted to stay outdoors.  When the wind became too gusty the passengers would step behind glass partitions designed to provide protection yet allow for an unobstructed view.

I think, with maybe the rare exception, the photographs being taken were of friends or family posing against the rail. Another favourite photo was the group shot around a table, (arm extended style with camera pointing back at the shooter), and then another favourite, of course, was of other boats passing by. And finally, there were lots of shaky pictures of the luxury homes that were perched on the shores of small rocky islands.

One has to admit, after taking that picture of a spouse or friend standing in front of some scenic location, all the rest are just repetition. I took my wife, Linda’s picture holding her camera, a little tired with all the traveling, hair blowing in all directions, standing next to a white rail with blue water behind her. I’ll treasure that picture because it’s her, but she just smiled when I showed her that not so flattering image.

I had made the obligatory portrait and was about to be off when a guy and his family walked up and handed me his little digicam and asked me to take a group picture. I posed them, made one fellow remove his sunglasses and changed my angle a couple times as I took their family-on-the-ferry portrait. My wife later mentioned that the fellow had been watching and she was sure was waiting for a moment when he could ask me to take their picture.  I am sure he had just looked around for the guy with the biggest camera. I guess I won.

Although, unfamiliar with the large white, ocean going vessel vibrating under my feet, I was fascinated with all the unique doors and windows, wall mounted things like pipes, speakers, all the odd railings, long walkways and so much more. However, most interesting; it had people, lots of people from all types of places.  We heard many languages being spoken.

I wandered that windy deck photographing anything that caught my eye, and that included photographing the people. I had my 18-200mm lens on the camera, so it was easy to be inconspicuous. Those in front of my camera either thought I was, like them, interested in some feature beside or behind them in the ocean, or like a guitar-playing fellow I photographed, just didn’t care. Anyway, I wanted to photograph how they were standing, the play of light on them, the ship, and what was around them, I tried for unusual angles through stairs and made silhouettes. Almost all my images were side or back shots, after all I didn’t know them and wasn’t interested in their faces, just how they fit in with everything else on the ferry, or maybe I should be calling it a ship.

The hour-and-a-half trip gave me plenty of time to search the ferry for things to photograph, but I was enjoying myself so much that before I knew it the fun was over with the sound of the ship’s horn and an announcement to return to our cars.

I do like comments.

My website is at www.enmanscamera.com