Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Experimenting with Light


Using light in different ways can really lift a portrait or give it mood if there are deep cast shadows. Also it can ruin a portrait if the lighting is bad and makes the person sitting for the photo appear worse, you always want to make sure the light flatters their face unless you are specifically trying to put across a certain idea.

I used my mum and a work friend to try out some different ideas just to illustrate how lighting helps with portraits. I would really like to get more involved with studio lighting and gels etc to achieve more artistic results.

DSC_0008In this shot I liked the way the light from outside is over exposed and creates highlights down the sides of the face and body, I metered for the light inside so that it would create the over exposed area behind, it also creates an area of negative space so that the subject stands out clearer. There is a nice eye line between my mum and our budgie she is feeding.






This shot worked well in the position my friend was in because she was facing directly into the sun so it catches her hair and makes it look really vibrant. It may have been slightly over exposed but that makes the colours pop against the plain white walls.












The issues was that as soon as she turned her head 45 degrees to look at the camera, the sun was so bright for that time of day that it cast ugly shadows across the eyes and cheeks. Panda eyes is not a look most people will be grateful for! It’s a lesson in always checking where the lighting is falling on your subject and if it is flattering or not. The post would have worked well had we readjusted around to the right a little more to eliminate the shadows.










DSC_0038Again for this photo I metered for the light outside and made the subject inside under exposed as I wanted to try something a little darker. I like the contrast of the obvious blue sky outside and the moody expression, it looks as though my friend is either really depressed its so nice outside or wishing she could get through the bars to it.










DSC_0044I changed position slightly so that most of the sky was hidden as I wanted more even tones within the picture. This time I shot for the light inside the stairwell we were in, and what worked really well is the fact the glass diffused the light very softly over Monique’s face, illuminating it in all the right places and making her facial expression the centre of attention. I’m really pleased with this shot for how well the shadows and highlights are very well balanced. Even though the external part of the building is over exposed, the tones match well with the lighting inside and the slight blur over it really makes my subject stand out. A true portrait where the image is all about the person in the image and their expression and feeling.







I would really have liked to tried out a few more techniques with some professional lighting but currently have no space to set up my kit! I’m working on it though! I want to try some very shadowy work in low light conditions to see if I can over come the challenges that would throw at me such as having to use a very slow shutter speed and high ISO yet still keep noise in the image to a minimum.

I can also now really appreciate where the use of a diffuser is so important to professional looking portraits, but it doesn't have to be an expensive affair as you can see the window did a really great job! Light can be used in such a variety of ways, but you also have to be careful of its pitfalls, but once you see these its easy to adjust either yourself, the model or the lighting if you have control over it and can get some great shots.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Varying Pose

Pose is very important to an image, and how the subject will look in their portrait. I found a really useful book that i bought in light of the weddings I have been asked to shoot this year; Wedding Photograph: A Guide To Posing, by David Pearce. Even though it is tailored for weddings, the theory behind its lessons applies to all portraits. By adjusting the limbs even slightly, or getting your subject to place their weight on a different leg improves their overall appearance greatly. For example shooting slightly higher gets your model to left their face to you so that you end up with a slimmer looking neck line and no double chins, or if there is an arm dangling around the shoulder of someone, asking them to place it gently on a hip makes a much more dramatic connection rather than something out of place or left out. I took some photos for a group of friends how wanted to dress up and have a play around in there portraits. I found it much easier to think of more poses based on a 'character' they were playing as it opened up different ideas on what they should be doing with props and how to interact with the camera. It was a little easier than when they were standing alone together as they had a role to play!

To start with I got the subject sitting on a chair in a very basic pose, but with the legs and hands crossed so it looked a little less rigid. The direct eye contact in conjunction with the forward facing pose looked a little intimidating to me.

By twisting at an angle made the pose a little softer and placing the hands on the hat and the back of the chair creates a loop around the photos from the eyes and around the arms keeping you focused on the expression in the middle of the frame. By giving the hands something to hold it feels more relaxed.

Using the chair as a prop meant we could create something a little more dynamic than just a standard seated position. It makes the image more interesting by her unusual choice of pose, and the fact that she is not looking at the camera makes it appear quite dreamy.

After we had finished with the chair, my subject felt a little uncomfortable just standing to pose, so I got her to place her hand on her hips,and twist her should towards me to that her stomach was pulled in, chest out and the chin was raised. It made for a very flattering pose, and gave an impression of confidence. It even promotes the idea of slight movement as though she about to lean in towards you, so you are drawn into her portrait.

This image was one of my favourites of hers from the shoot. The curve of the chair back is echoed in her arms over the top of it, and the facial expression just looks so happy. The subtlety of her eyes looking off to someone to her right really highlights her expression giving it depth. I edited the image in Aperture and applied the black and white filter and played with contrast settings so that the facial features were emphasised.

Finally for a really fun image, and to practice my photoshop skills I chose one of the standing poses and put it against a 'Wild West' background! Again the positioning of her arms and legs creates a imaginary loop around the body so that she becomes the focus.

What i've learnt so far is that if something bends - bend it, if there is light, use it to emphasise the shape of your subject or features that are important. The pose is very important in showing how the person feels in the image - relaxed, thoughtful, happy, subdued, upset etc. Positioning hands in certain places gives focus to that object or leads the eye to other important parts of the image, and the way arms and legs are bent can be useful in framing the expression of the face or amplifying the emotion.

The Best of a Sequence

Its important to realise that at the time of shooting, what you thought worked might come back and look awful and yet shots you thought were terrible can actually be rescued and are sometimes even better than you first thought.

Taking a sequence of shots helps to unfold ideas as the more you progress with the shots, the further your ideas can go. As you can see in this series of photos the ideas grew between different poses, and the subjects became more relaxed and willing to try different things with each other as a group.

As I was taking the photos, the ones that I originally thought worked well were the very first ones, and the ones of all four of them sitting on the floor.

This is still true for the first three images, although I was at the time most keen on the very first one, yet when I reviewed them it was actually the 3rd image which seemed to have the best composition; there faces were less squashed into each others bodies and the fact you can see the hands clasped at the front between the mum and daughter link them all in nicely.

I liked this image while I was shooting and still do, but after examining it on the monitor have realised that some of the shadows on the faces are a little too dark and I could have adjust there positioning slightly better at the time to eliminate them.

This was one of the images that at the time of taking the photo I thought looked really naff! I had been to a personal photo shoot a few years ago and to get us all laughing together they had asked us to start a tickle fight and I thought I might try the idea and see what happened. Initially I thought the fact one subject was not facing the camera and one was pulling away had ruined the image, but when I viewed it again later the slight bit of action actually made the family appear like they really were having fun, rather than a very static image of them all smiling. It changes there expressions slightly too and it becomes a much more pronounced smile breaking into a laugh, which feels more believable.

At the time I thought the above two images had gone really well and the composition looked interesting, unfortunately the second one is too crowded and the 2 subjects furthest away are almost lost in the background, and to top it off my aperture was set far too wide to capture the very back subject clearly enough. I had set it to a small aperture to let enough light in as the even though I was using a flash head and softbox, and there was also the addition of a large window to the left of the shot, it was still a little dark at times. It was nice to experiment though, I think possibley with some more thought he pose could work well with other people in a slightly different setting with more space and a different vantage point.

So you can see that with a sequence, sometimes it helps to take all the shots home, even the ones you thought were not good enough as after you have reviewed them there may be some that have elements you had not seen to begin with. If I had deleted everything I thought at the time was not particularly brilliant, I may have been left with not many good shots at all!

Eye Contact and Expression

Eye contact in a portrait can really change the look and feel of an image. It can give it mood and depth if the person looks right at you through the lens, or if they look away it can be a more personal and intimate portrait that might capture an instance that you would not normally be able to see.

In this shot the couple are looking directly at the camera, which shows there features well but can look a little unnatural, even though they are happy and smiling.

By asking the couple to look away and chat with there friends standing close by you can see that there expression instantly changes and the photo looks more relaxed. it can also add more depth as you cant tell who or what they are looking at.

When eye contact is between two subjects it also creates a very strong bond between them, and in the case of this wedding photo it really emphasises how the couple were feeling on the day.

Eye contact is purely down to what the viewer feels is more atmospheric or enhances there image, depending on if the subject is one that you want to be discrete about or not. Eye contact between subject is always a strong visual aide, but when there is a hidden meaning behind eyes that are looking else where this can also be just as strong an image as it has a hidden amount of depth to the story behind the image.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Thinking about Location

When setting a portrait as discussed before, its important to find a balance between the subject and how much of the background is seen. Does it add or subtract from the idea of the portrait? Is it vital in describing what is happening or aiding the description of the person? Or does it just distract from them?

I went and took a few location photographs of places I thought would make good settings for portraits, taking care over details such as lighting and props etc. I then chose one backdrop and photographed my friend in the one i thought most suiting to her from her personality.

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This is the roof top where I work, and I've always love the industrial style bars and glass sky lights mixed in with the old style roof tops. I thought it would look great for a fashion portrait as the steps and bars can be used as props to sit on or lean against, and the white background is quite neutral. Also, the lighting on this area is great year round, especially when the sun is out, and in the evenings as the becomes lower the lighting really creates a striking mood, there are lovely long shadows and a warm orange glow that contrasts with the white walls. I'll definitely be coming back to this area later on for a proper shoot!














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This area of Guildford Castle gardens is a great place too shoot, the benches mean the person sitting th portrait can feel more relaxed and the setting is beautiful, with many open areas for clear lighting and trees if you want some shadows to make the image more dynamic.

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Just off from the castle grounds is a tunnel/underpass. through the seasons different plants are usually in the beds and the walls but being winter nothing has sprung up yet. I think it makes a very moody location for quite a sombre portrait and would probably work best in black and white. Going further into the tunnel would work best for darker images as light reaches just inside. If you shot facing out from the tunnel you could achieve some interesting back lit shots if the conditions were right.






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This is the door way to Basingstoke Registry Office, some friends of mine have asked me to shoot there wedding photos so I went over to take some test shoots and look for good vantage points. The symmetry of the building and the graceful curves of the steps will frame either a single person, couple or make for a very dynamic group shot havig to place people on different levels and depths. A more intimate portrait could be taken closer up to the door or even peering out, depending on how the person would like to be perceived in their portrait.






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This band stand is also part of the location I will be shooting at my friends wedding. It has some really interesting metal work in the supports and benefits from natural light all around, with some shade underneath if the weather is very bright on the day. My friend who was with me at the time kindly posed for me, and this is just her kind of place - a nice leisurely stroll through the park.

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This is her looking quite relaxed and using her surroundings to adjust her pose and make use of the features to enhance the composition. What we learnt from these test shots was what view points worked best and where lighting as best to bring out features. If you notice, the tree directly behind her looks like it is framing her head like a halo - probably not what the bride will want on the day! So we have found some poses that work well and also how important it is to recognise features in the fore ground and background that may detract from the image, in this case the lovely 'tree halo'. It's important to keep your eyes open through shooting to pick up on these details to make the images there best, and so that the location works well with the person being photographed, rather than working against them. Some times a contrast between location and person is useful in creating tension if you are trying to get a specific message across, but portraiture is more about the person, so the less friction there is between the two, the more likey the portrait will be successful.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Portrait Scale and Setting

First exercise was a short and sweet one; take a portrait with 4 different crops - face, head and shoulders, torso and full body including background. Then discuss how each one affects the over all feel of the portrait and where attention is drawn to. I took a shot of my friend from Australia on Bondi Beach and then using the different crops saw how the image changed:


The first crop of just the face is very intimate, it forces you to concentrate only on the expression.


When the shoulders are exposed in this crop it gives away a few hints as to body position to help show if the subject is relaxed or posed for movement etc. It's still closed in enough to direct attention to only the face.


when you pull back again some more, the back ground is revealed and in this case emphasises  the reason behind the subjects pose and expression. The inclusion of the background is supporting the subject who is still cropped in close enough to be the centre of the image. Being able to see ore of the body gives clues as to what is happening in the shot.


The last photo where the subject is surrounded full frame by her location pulls all the elements in together including expression, body language and scenery, which gives a greater impression over the reason behind the image. This works really well if you are trying to imply how the subject is interacting with there surroundings.


so as you can see there are different reasons why a certain distance or crop for  portrait can effect the feel of the image from a very intense close up to a far away shot that has many meanings. In the above photos the two I feel work best are the 2nd and 3rd images. The 2nd one works well showing the expression in my friends face and giving a tiny hint at the blue sea behind but the emphasis is all in her eyes, yet the drop is not so small that it becomes too imposing for this expression. The 3rd photo I feel is just the right balance between subject and background in this instance; there is enough of the beach showing so that the viewer knows where she is and why she is smiling and  she fills the frame well. I prefer this from the last one as I feel that there is too much space around her that doesn't really add to her pose.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Hi Ya!

So I'm back again, this time taking the course Photography 1:People and Place. I've decided this will be the best option for me this year as I've been asked to do a couple of wedding shoots this summer and friends and family have started asking me to take portraits, so this fitted in well with where my skills are taking me, I'm hoping I can learn much more to add to my craft and start producing much higher quality images. After looking back over my first course from my first to last assignment I can really see the difference in my shots!

I've already done a few portrait sittings at the end of last year, and I must say it's quite a challenge being creative with poses and making your subject feel at ease with you and the camera. It's also very important to pick a setting or background that compliments them too. Here are just a few examples of what I've been up to:

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There have been some great images so far just through trial and error but I’m really hoping to up my game by the end of this course! Wish me luck!