Portrait photography lighting, in its essence could be deemed successful if the person was shot completely in silhouette. Case in point, the portrait above of local painter, Paul Nabuurs was shot against a large window. No light illuminated him, but two flashes picked out features of his paintings. The window light backlit him, and helped to define his shape
People who know Paul, recognize him for his head shape and more specifically for his beard. (he has since moved into a much larger studio space)
Lighting techniques for illuminating a person, are so varied that entire books have been penned regarding them. Suffice it to say that you could try a different technique every week for your entire career and get a different result every time.
I for one am enamoured with the use of LED lights and motion as a way to bring about the feeling of spirit, energy, life. This image of Bruce in my tiny studio incorporates just that technique. We tried different types and speeds of motion with a second light (small flash) to pick out his neck tattoo each time. You will notice that even though his facial features are somewhat blurred, his tatt is relatively sharp. This is the action of the low-output flash with a tight cone mounted on it.
I use this technique quite often in my experimental work as I find it helps me express myself and my approach to recording people as they truly are. Living beings, not statues.
Further to that, being able to express that fact that my subjects are usually living (I hope), I sometimes feel the need to have them move during the exposure. Here, Samara humours me by rapidly flipping her head right to left and back again. A single flash hits the b/g while another flash with a purple gel shoots through an umbrella. Even more, I am holding an LED bulb over camera that is tinted with a mustard coloured gel. The resulting colour mix is beautiful, as you can see. The long exposure of 1/5th second gives me a bit of blur, while the flash freezes some of the image.
Experimenting with lighting is my way of metaphorically adding a new spice to the stew. Giving up and shooting like everybody else, is simply not an option. I encourage you to try it as well.
Send me a note and I'll share my list of resources for gels and lights.
Creating self portraits in your photography is not only healthy, but valuable as you learn to appreciate the experience from the other side of the camera.
One may be most comfortable as the shooter, but that tends to make a person complacent and less able to be understanding of what a portrait subject may be going through. Especially a subject who is rarely in front of the lens.
Self portraits give you the valuable gift of empathy.
I believe that every photographer who does people portraits should regularly spend time creating self portraits as part of their sensitivity training. I do it every month in my tiny studio. Luckily I can close and lock my door to keep the family out. Having repeated interruptions, whether shooting portraits or otherwise, is an annoying and stress inducing problem with having a home-based studio.
Self portraits can be achieved anywhere, really. Just look at all those folks doing "selfies" on the bus, next to a cliff, on a balcony (just inches from death). Making a studied and controlled self portrait is just one step further. It's a "serious selfie". One that matters. It may never see the light of day beyond your camera's LCD or your monitor, but that doesn't matter. You could of course, have your best examples printed and filed in a monthly labeled file folder. At the end of the year, pull them out and analyze and compare the images from month to month. Have you grown as a photographer? How did you change your lighting style or your angle of view? Maybe you will see that you tend to favour a high angle over a low approach to your subject.
Making notes of what you are doing is a way of keeping track and seeing first hand how you have grown as an artist. Hopefully you have grown. And that's the point of self portraits. Knowing what the experience is like for the sitter. Giving you a first hand appreciation of having a camera pointed at your face, having lights in your eyes, flashes popping every second or so.
One could also go one step further and have a seasoned pro make photos of you too. You could completely give into the situation and not have to think about the photographer's role. Become a true portrait subject. Take direction. Interact with the photographer, who is not yourself.
This approach is the ultimate in learning empathy for your portrait subjects.
I would highly advise every people photographer to indulge your curiosity and become the subject at least once a month if possible.
Photographers in my opinion, who stop #experimenting and playing with lighting, subject matter and different approaches, will probably at some point feel stagnant and lacking motivation. From many sources I've heard that lack of creativity is a big problem amongst photographers who have been at it for a considerable time. The solution, or perhaps one solution, is to constantly be trying new things.
I like to grab a subject that I normally wouldn't be photographing and put it to the test. I think of a scenario or problem, and figure out a way to shoot the subject so that it stands out from how we would normally see it.
Picking the appropriate lighting, the angle, the background and all that sort of thing comes next. Usually after researching 30 to 100 images of this sort of subject matter, I will see a similarity amongst the images and how they were approached. From there, I will look at a potential opposite approach.
Take for example, this guitar pick. For the most part they (picks) are photographed with a broad open light while laying on a flat surface. The camera is either straight over head or at a 45 degree angle. There are no props, no styling, not colour influence or creative lighting. The shots are boring and repetitive.
In my approach I wanted the pick to be revered and respected. So I put it on a pedestal and lit it in a dramatic fashion. I also dropped the camera down low, to show the pick as something unique and worthy of notice. The goal is to set the image apart from the status quo and make people stop and appreciate it. After all, for a commercial picture, isn't that the ultimate goal? To be noticed?
The point of the project is to use your brain and all your experience in a different way. Doing so will keep you from falling into a creative rut, and will ultimately serve you well in all of your photography work.
Don't be afraid to dedicate some time to stretching your creative brain cells. They need exercise just as much as your belly. I know mine does.
So have at it. Go find a subject that you wouldn't normally work with and build a scenario that forces you to use different skills, equipment, approaches etc. Make images just for yourself. It will always benefit you in the end.
In photography, and I'm sure in other art forms, there are times when the artist has for lack of a better term, down time. The photographer might be between assignments, or the painter might be taking a break from a major project. Whatever it is, it's a time when the artist has the opportunity to go and sit and contemplate their next move, or if they/we are smart about it, will delve into a work that generates results that are completely unknown to them thus far.
This sort of mini-project is what I indulge in now and then, as a way to explore techniques I've until this point not had experience with. Maybe, I had seen samples of this technique or subject matter being presented in a book, magazine, gallery show etc. Perhaps it's a technique that hasn't been popular for over 100 years and is being explored by a niche group overseas.
The important part is that I need to take the time to bring these new subject matter and new techniques to the forefront of my experience every now and then in order to freshen up my creativity. To add some visual spice to my repertoire.
The image above was shot in a wooded area in town, along a slow moving creek. I like the simplicity of the overall composition, but I revel in the details of the fern leaves. While it is commonplace to see a photograph of a fern, all lush and green, it is completely unique to see a plant in this colour. The experiment part, came with the post processing.
I wanted to show the plant in a new way. A way that takes your attention away from the colour and brings forth the texture and shapes. I've also made similar images of ferns, but with a treatment of copper colour. Very much like a shiny new penny. Those proved popular enough to generate a few sales through online channels.
Experimenting, for me, means that I have no limits. I can go out into the world and do whatever strikes me as interesting and worthy of my attention.
I encourage every creative to go out and do something that is completely outside of the norm for you. Work with subjects that you don't normally work with. Find a project that will generate new and exciting work for you. Don't listen to your inner critic. Listen to your inner child. Sometimes the kids are spot on.
Creating a more interesting image using the digital tools available can sometimes be a daunting task. Once you've pressed the shutter button and committed the light to pixels, ones and zeros you've only just begun the creative process.
Lately I've been taking a pared-down approach to creating images of everyday objects. My philosophy is to simplify the image down to the most basic of elements and avoid anything which might subtract from the image or dilute its impact.
To that end, I've been utilizing a second bit of software that you might be familiar with. Adobe Lightroom. When I shoot in my home studio space, I connect my camera directly to my computer and open Lightroom. Using Lightroom (LR) as my capture, storage and manipulation tool has sped up my workflow immensely.
The image above and indeed a few of the others I have been working on over the past week have all been created this way. Shoot into LR, add a filter using the LR library of filters, then finish making adjustments in Adobe Photoshop.
I then make a copy, reduce the size and resolution, post the image to my website and other galleries. The original is a 16 bit raw file that is saved both in a cloud based storage and on disk. I could save it in a third place, but considering that this is personal, not for a client, I don't feel that amount of redundancy is necessary.
Here's a quick tip for faster workflow in a studio environment.... if at all possible use a tethering cable to connect your camera to your computer and use LR or another dedicated piece of software to capture, preview and manipulate images. Doing this sort of work in this fashion is a major time saver.
Don't have LR or Nikon' tethering software? Try out Sofortbild for Nikon/Mac and any of the other well known tethering tools. Some are free or low cost, while others with more features will cost a few dollars more. Either way, a good investment.
The image above is of my grandfather's shoes. I shot them on a blue fabric, using one flash on either side. On camera left is a Nikon flash popping through a 24x24" softbox. On camera right is a Vivitar 285 flash bouncing off a large white card. At the bottom of the frame is a tiny white reflector. That's it.
The camera is on a tripod. The lens is a 28-70 Nikkor AF 3.5 lens. I trip the shutter using either the button in LR or using a timer. I never touch the camera at time of exposure if I can help it.
The image was shot at f 16 60 sec, iso 200, and run through one after market filter via LR.
Any questions? Please ask.
Use social media channels to achieve a goal.
We've all been hearing and reading about how this wonderful new concept/reality called "social media" is changing the world.
Well, I'm going to take it upon myself to challenge myself to use social media to do one simple task.
I'm going to spend some time researching the various techniques that a handful of social brainiacs recommend and then I will set up a plan. A plan designed to bring about one successful sale of a print or digital file of my own creation.
That's my goal. Sell an image I create using social media. To give it a bit more meaning, I'm going to set a price of this image at $225 for a 11x17 print, and if I sell the digital rights to an image I'll set that at a starting fee of $400 (depending on usage).
I will keep a running blog describing my status and my techniques. Should be interesting to see how this works. Watch for future posts right here, on Twitter, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn. If I can find more media outlets, I'll use those too. Wish me luck.
Photo-Artist working a personal vision.
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