I loved this exercise. It starts with the following mood boards made from a variety of tear sheets. They have been grouped into standing, head & shoulders and sitting. Download the mood boards by clicking here…
The next step was to shoot a variety of images with where the subject was posed differently in either a sitting or standing position. Once again it was beth & Scott to the rescue.
Beth was sitting in the first sequence and, as you can see, the main difference from image to image was the position of her hands. I was surprised to find that all of the hand positions looked natural: I was not expecting that. Perhaps the most successful are the first and last images. In 2774 Beth's hands lead the eye along her arms. Her knees to not act as a barrier and I feel this impression is just too strong in 2770 & 2773. Conversely 2771 - where the knees become an effective barrier.
Beth is also sitting in the next sequence. In 2794 her back is straight. This looks good. The rounded spine in 2800 is less flattering. In 2781 the arrangement of Beth's arms and legs works well.
The standard 'over the shoulder' look below is not at all flattering. 2761 is a little better and even though it's reasonably well composed I find the results quite forced.
With Beth's arms raised the images take on a new life. The angles and triangles created in 2740 are very pleasing - and this is probably my favourite image of Beth in this exercise. I have included 2736 to show that, even though very similar to the last image, the results are different. We have a nice triangle formed; her shoulders are tilted to give a little movement and interest, but the feel is wrong. In 2733 I experimented with a candid 'this is me'. The implicitly is good and it forces emphasis on Beth & her expression/mood, rather than her pose or action.
The final sequence with Beth had her kneeling at a table. This gave her the opportunity of trying something different with her hands. The key here is to ensure the hands do not distort the face.
Scott starred in the next sequence of images. In the fist sequence he is posed leaning against a wall. The only difference from image to image is the placement of his hands and arms. All are reasonably successful and all give the image a different meaning. In all cases I feel the tilt of his shoulders and the triangles formed by his arms, jaw and shoulders help. I think 2808 works best overall with the remaining images joint second.
In the first pair below the pose is the same; it's just the smile that differs. i have included these two to show how a look can transform an image. I don't particularly have a favourite - both have merit. It's just a question of what is wanted. In the final pair Scott is standing square to the camera but his arm position changes. Both work well but I tend to think 2809 is best in this instance: Scott is very square of shoulder and his crossed arms support the composition more than 2810.
Here's what I learnt from this exercise: - A small change, be it an hand, an arm or shoulder tilt, can make a big difference to the end result. - Considering the composition as shapes first, people second helps. How are the squares, oblongs, lines, curves or circles connected? This was an exercise covered in the Art of Photography module and well worth remembering here. - Implied lines and triangles helps to lead the eye. - Each subject will have physical characteristics that can help the pose. In Scott's case it is perhaps his square shoulders. With beth, her knees brought up to her chin when sitting provided a natural break or barrier to be used. Recognising these and using them is all part of the skill and technique to learn. - I like photographing & directing people!
Review a portrait sequence
Jordan: 1/125s f3.5 55mm ISO200mm
I took the opportunity of using a tripod for this exercise as I did not want any change in framing to influence the result; the object of the exercise was, after all, to review the portrait subject. Posing Jordan mid-way across our lounge i used a wide aperture and some reflected light from behind to help set him away from the background. Although I tried a variety of exposures to darken down the background I felt they looked un-natural so opted for an evenly illuminated backdrop for the sequence.
With the stage set, I took 35 frames of Jordan posed in a similar way throughout the entire sequence. Aside from some minor changes to his hands, the real difference from frame to frame is the position of his head and expression.
I directed Jordan throughout the exercise. In some cases I asked him to move his eyes or change gaze. At other times it was to direct the tilt of his head. I captured images after each move - sometimes by looking through the viewfinder and sometimes by looking along the barrel of the lens. I talked and joked with Jordan throughout and captured frames whenever I felt there was a worthwhile response. Occasionally I would stop for review (focus & exposure) whilst checking to see if the results to that point were acceptable. I determined when to stop by exhausting all obvious poses and expressions. Had I varied the pose, we would have shot for longer.
Results varied during the shoot. In some he blinked or looked unnatural. In some he looked OK but just 'not right' and in others he was fully engaged. I was left with the impression immediately after that the better shots were those where Jordan was actively engaged or 'in tune'.
Reviewing the image s after the shoot, I categorised them with 1, 2, 3 and 5 stars.
1 star = not good 2 star = acceptable 3 star = good 5 star = best singled shot.
The images above are marked and self explanatory. In the main my impression at the time matched the results - though it's worth adding that most of the 1 star images were either 'bilkers' or wooden stares.
My best single shot is this one:
Here's what I learnt from this exercise: - While it's easy to keep shooting, time and other pressures will often dictate the need to stop. tempting as it is to continue, it must be important to know when you've got the results you intended.
- An engaged look or expression i.e. a look with 'purpose' e.g. laughter is far stronger than a vacant or blank stare. Dialogue, brief and discussion can help this.
Scott: 1/30s f2.8 ISO640 17, 26, 32mm
Scott: 1/30s f2.8 ISO640 45, 55, 70mm
Scott: 1/30s f2.8 ISO640 100, 135, 185mm
Scott: 1/30s f2.8 ISO640 200mm Here we see Scott photographed several times using different focal lengths for each study. The first image was the widest - 17mm and the last the narrowest - 200mm. The purpose of this exercise was to see what effect focal length has on the image - in this case a portrait. It's a fairly similar exercise to one completed during the Art of Photography module.
The image shot at wide-angle (17mm) provides the 'roundest' result. Scott's face is stretched or elongated towards the camera and his features are somewhat exaggerated. Scott's shoulders seem less angled (and I know he has distinctly rectangular shoulders) and he is a little barrel chested. The sombrero is equally exaggerated, though here I think it adds a little to the portrait rather than detracts from it. The background is evident with some detail although perspectives have been pulled to give the impression of the distance 'falling away'. All-in-all the overall effect is somewhat cartoonish. These effects diminish as the series progresses.
Mid way through the series at around 70mm (dx format lens) - the right hand image on the second row - we have a far more realistic result. Scott - and his hat - appear far closer to reality. All angles, proportions and dimensions seem to be an accurate representation of the 'real world'. I expect that in normal circumstances this is something a portrait photographer strives for.
At 200mm Scott's face is arguably flatter and indeed flattening images is is one of the characteristics of a telephoto lens. They also shorten depths and this is evidenced by the background detail. The 2 picture frames hanging behind Scott appear much closer to him than they do in images found much earlier in the sequence. Yet I should add that the flatter face does not necessarily detract from it.
For me, the most flattering images of Scott appear in the range of 70-135mm using a cropped sensor camera. It's worth adding that at 200mm a little more distance between lens and subject would have given a result just as satisfactory as the 70mm image. Conversely, neither more or less distance would have helped at the wider end of the scale: too close and there's even greater distortion, too far and there's insufficient detail.
Eye contact & expression
Jordan: 1/125s f6.3 34mm ISO200
There are a lot of images in this series: I found the whole exercise so fascinating I couldn't help including so many of them.
Firstly, I'm getting much happier with my framing. Whilst in some respects it would have been nice to have a full-length portrait. I tried that initially but a) there was too much clutter on the floor around Jordan's feet and b) the wider shot detracted from Jordan's facial expressions and eyeliner - which was the entire point of the exercise.
I'm also much happier with the lighting. A soft box and flash high above the camera tilted down to Jordan keeps any shadow just under the nose and chin rather than obliquely across the face. It also provides some soft shadow around/below the head to give a little depth. Facial expressions are shown off naturally with light from above and there is interesting relief in the clothing detail. If I were to make any improvements next time - and I intend to - it will be to soften the shadows below the face (nose & throat) with either a secondary light source or more likely a reflector.
As for the images; these are grouped in batches - the first is direct to camera. Here the images seem to work best with a good smile (top row, 2nd from left). Others just seem 'ordinary'. Top right, where Jordan looks down, just doesn't seem to work.
Looking camera left includes a variety of eyelines (2nd & 3rd row). I don't remember what Jordan was able to see - I suspect his eyes were just roaming. However the better images seem to be the ones where he is either looking at something specific, thinking something specific or has a specific expression - such as a smile. In other words, the better images are where he is 'engaged'
In the 4th row, Jordan has a definite tilt to the head and looks up right. This was a specific instruction I gave. The tilt makes a big difference and makes the whole image look more interesting and lively.
In the 5th row, Jordan drops his chin, again at my direction. This adds a better profile to his face and with lighting emphasises his features. looking out of frame in the last image (in this row) seems to work well.
Key learnings: - Tilting the head gives the impression of engaging with the camera. - Dropping the chin helps lighting, profile and appearing thinner. - Subject needs to be engaged in a thought, action or event - even if that action is reflective: we need to see it happen.
An active portrait
(1) At the stables: 1/60s f2.8 18mm ISO200 I found this exercise quite difficult. The problem I had was this: what’s the difference between a candid ‘snap’ and an active portrait? Take the image above for example. It does exactly what was required from the exercise. Here Jo is in the midst of putting the horses in for the night - but is it a portrait? I took some other images to find out…
(2) Left: Dillon & Jo 1/60s f5 17mm ISO200. (3) Right: Buster & Jo 1/40s f2.8 17mm ISO200
(4) Left: Dillon & Jo 1/60s f2.8 17mm ISO200. (5) Right: Toby & Jo 1/60s f2.8 17mm ISO200
In all cases Jo is engaged in an activity but often stopped to pose. In at least one case (3, the image with Buster) she is engaged with camera too (by looking at it). This makes it the most successful portrait on the page - albeit with a posed rather than active feel to it.
However for the exercise in hand I feel image (1) is the most successful: Jo is fully engaged in what she is doing and is not aware of the camera. The image tells the story of the activity and adds a degree of context. However my need to include other images in this exercise to create a short series teaches me that the one image on its own was not enough to convey the message I was trying to get across. Image (2) provides as much context and perhaps more in the same way. Images 4 & 5 feel a little to posed to me with not enough activity taking place - though I love the expressions made by each of the horses.
So what I take away from this exercise is the need to have the subject fully engaged in the activity and to make sure the setting & surroundings - as well as the activity itself - tell the full story. There’s a lot to learn here...
Experimenting with light
Scott: 1/100s f5.6 70mm ISO200
An unfortunately busy weekend at home meant I was not able to use the same model throughout. However I was able to make good use of Beth & Scott for some of the time and stood in myself for the remainder.
The image above was shot directly into the setting sun. I needed to find a balance between working quickly before too much of the sun disappeared entirely with waiting for it to drop out of sight to prevent lens flare. There’s a nice about of rim lighting catching Scott’s hair and helping his body stand out from the background. I’m starting to find that lighting from behind provides a good ‘clean’ separation from the backdrop. There’s just enough detail in the countryside to provide some interest. A silhouette was avoided by using fill flash with 15 inch square soft box off camera. As can be seen from the shadow around Scott’s nose. The flash was placed high and right of Scott. The light is well balanced but what I have learned is that a) the light should have been aimed straight down his nose and b) some fill from below would have softened the shadow.
I tried a reflector instead of the fill light (below), but could not quite get the balance looking natural enough. There was also too much flare from the sun. In the short time available as the sun was setting I abandoned this in favour of the flash. Beth obliged for the next image and I used a shady spot (in fairly flat light) to pose her. As the light was even, no additional modifiers were needed or required. Ever the actress, Beth ‘threw some poses’ against some patio doors so I could make good use of her subtle reflection. This adds some symmetrical harmony to the image, helped by a fairly strong diagonal along her jaw lines. quite a pleasing image. Next time I’d like to work a little harder on making the composition even stronger - less of a distracting background and slightly more of Beth’s upper body in the frame.
Beth: 1/100s f4 70mm ISO200
By now the sun had put in an appearance. Beth and I found a tree she could pose next to. As with the image above I’d like to work harder on the composition. What I’m discovering about this part of people & Place is that getting the framing right is vital! I’d like to see all of Beth’s elbow here and maybe her hand too. I find it distracting that her sweater has been pulled down over her hand and that her (imagined) fingers are cropped out of the frame. There’s no doubt it’s all about the detail… Lighting was 100% natural with the sun providing some interest around Beth’s cheek and hair. This helps to define the shape of her face and also provides some separation from the tree: it adds depth. I exposed for Beth’s face to ensure there was sufficient detail and a narrow aperture ensured the far background was out of focus. Beth: 1/320s f4.5 70mm ISO400
The next image of Scott was taken in the late afternoon. Strong orange sunlight was hitting him directly from low in the sky from camera right. I used a large silver Lastolite trigrip reflector about 4 metres away to bounce light back into the left side. There’s just the right amount of fill from that distance - 4 metres! - to make the shot work. 4 metres! I’ve read up on the inverse square law and understand it too. I just did not realise that in the field a reflector could have so much power. No wonder it was hard to stop Scott squinting. Again a wide aperture keeps Scott nicely separate from the background - but note that without any light falling from behind the subject there appears to be less separation than some of the other images shown here.
Scott: 1/250s f4 170mm ISO200 School homework beckons so I took the opportunity to photograph Scott while he worked. One flash with snoot was placed high up to camera left aiming down at an oblique angle. There was no other lighting. The flash not only threw good light on Scott’s face but also meant shadows were fairly strong.The snoot kept the background dark - which I think helps to imply serious study time. As I’ve learnt from the lighting module AoP, it’s the absence of light - shadows - that can make all the difference. In the image below you can see good texture detail in the T-shirt. An amount of shadowing also provides some depth: Scott’s right hand has a good distinct shadow across his book, which - to me at least - reveals some depth. Shadow across Scott’s face provides some helpful ‘interest’ that was perhaps missing from some of the outdoor images of Scott shown earlier. And of course the bright light on part of Scott’s beanie emphasises the curve of his head.
I’m also happy with the composition here: Scott’s arms provide a wide triangular frame implying lines pointing towards his head and on to the orange pompom. This is emphasised by the reflection in the table in front of him. The pompom acts as a kind of exclamation mark for the whole composition.
Scott: 1/125s f13 38mm ISO200
My last image is a self portrait. Although using the same lighting setup as the sunset image of Scott, I wanted to try a 2/3rds length composition. Here the emphasis was in putting good colour into the sky, which I think worked. Here the lighting is straight down my nose which reduces any unpleasant ‘nose’ shadows. However I feel there is too much shadow under the nose and chin emphasised by both the high lighting angle and low camera position. The wide angle is not so flattering either I guess: this is one of the effects of the lens perspective leaving me with a large stomach and smallish head. Overall though, not bad.
Simon: 1/100s f8 24mm ISO200 What I’ve discovered in this exercise is how there is a variety of lighting choices or tools that can be brought in and added when shooting a portrait. Each technique adds a dimension tot he end result. Making the choice to select just the right lighting situation is part of the whole process. Do I want to include the background? Is it important to highlight a particular feature with light? Are there parts of the image or pose that would benefit from light or shadow? Each decision will have an effect on the meaning - the result. I’m looking forward to experimenting further...
Thinking about location
Scott: iPhone It took me a little while to get into this exercise: I’m still not sure why. I think it’s because I’ve been considering the setting in isolation to the subject. Whilst it’s always beneficial to select the perfect backdrop, view or setting for a portrait the location is only part of the whole. The subject, their pose, lighting movement and expression all play a part. When considering all of these aspects, putting undue emphasis on the setting may be wrong. With that (finally) clear in my mind, I was able to shoot these settings and ended up with many, many choices. I also started to get carried away with how the locations could be used - hence the inclusion of several ‘models’, many of whom are clip art.
Here's what I learnt from this exercise: - The location is only a component part of the total image. All factors need to play their part. - A ‘weak’ setting can be made stronger by the addition of model, lighting, props and so on, providing these elects are arranged and set to enhance the overall effect. Example, the filed image above will be made stronger by the addition of a farmer, dog, walker etc. - All settings have merit: it’s how you use them that’s important.
Portrait - scale & setting
Beth: 1/50s 135mm f2.8 ISO800 This exercise asks how a viewer will react to each of the portraits. The inference is that as more elements are added (more body, more setting etc.) the emphasis changes. Is this correct?
In the first, tightest image (above) the emphasis is drawn to an inverted triangle formed between the mouth & chin, along the jaw line to the eyes. There is a visual pull to the lower left of the image due to the dominant pink edge and lighter skin on this side of the face. Was that the intention? Should it have been? What I've discovered is that although the eyes are unfortunately a little too flat (a catch light and removal of the distracting reflections would help next time), they are engaging. It does not matter that they do not look into the camera’s lens. The mouth is also an interesting element that adds softness to an otherwise 'hard' jaw frame. Inclusion of the ear stud is a compromise. I wanted to stay tight to the jaw line and include the soft curve along the right side, but could not find a crop or composition that either included or excluded the stud appropriately. I'll clone it out.
In the second image of the series we see a little more of Beth & her surroundings. As it happens, this is my least favourite image because there just seems to be too much missing: there’s not enough background to define the environment, there’s not enough ‘emotion’ or ‘mood’ in the face to convey any real information. Is Beth happy, sad, pensive, bloated? We just can’t tell. It doesn’t help that the pose doesn’t flatter her either (face seems rounder and less sculpted from the first version). Would a smile or other definite ‘look’ help? A smile on the lips would be an enormous benefit here. Beth’s mouth is at the centre of three converging lines in their image (along each arm and down her nose) so a smile will certainly be noticed. It would bring her eyes to life too. I imagine all viewers are drawn to the eyes - it must be one of the first lessons babies learn. A slight drop to the head would emphasise her jawline and give a more angular look to her entire head. In this image Beth’s ear is even more distracting!
I find this image far more successful for a variety of reasons and I think viewers will too. Whilst the pose looks a little uncomfortable there is sufficient detail in this image that was missing in the last, notably context and emotion. In this image there is a hint of the environment and whilst there is not enough of the environment to impact on the story or interpretation of the image, it provides the viewer with a suitable anchor that allows him/her to place the image in space and time. Perhaps it’s because the pose and framing is somewhat traditional. I think views will ‘get this’ even if they did not get the last image. This image also incorporates some nicely flowing lines - up Beth’s arms and shoulders and down the sides of her face - all converging on a mouth which holds a hint of a smile (thank goodness I did Art of Photography first!). The tilt of Beth’s head is helpful - it adds a slight enquiry to Beth’s face and I think this works well with a viewer.
I chose for my setting a neutral background fading into black as I did not want too much distraction from my subject. An interesting pool of light has formed at Beth’s feet which, I think, helps ground her in place. The image works because we have before us the whole story. Beth is present in her entirety. She has a fully formed pose (we can see all of it in this image). From this we can learn or at least deduce certain things about Beth. This was not possible in the other images in quite the same way - we had to guess.
As a rule of thumb one could therefore speculate that the more a viewer can see in the image, the more detailed it is. As such he has to provide less context information himself to complete the story. All information is provided for the viewer to form an opinion. This could be regarded as satisfying for the viewer.
Conversely, the less a viewer can see in the image, the less detailed it is from a perspective of context. He has to provide more information to complete the story. Little information is provided for the viewer to form an opinion about the context. This could be regarded as eliciting a sense of curiosity in the viewer.
This rule seems to be true unless it is the specific intention to include all information in the image. Look at this picture of Terry Pratchett taken from the Times newspaper. Other than the subject’s face there is no other detail - yet there I have no curiosity to need more information or context. What I learn from this is that the intention is everything: it’s up to the photographer to specifically determine what he’s trying to achieve - and what message he wants to convey - from his image. With that he can be selective about what should and shouldn’t be included.
Just in closing it’s worth adding why the last image of Beth does not work: the chair forms the shape of an inverted triangle. This tends to focus the eye down the image to Beth’s feet. Not my intention!!