Our thanks to Gerry Painter for a very informative evening, using his photography to show how to play light and dark using a basic home studio. Gerry showed us how to get great results using a sound grasp of how light and flash work, and the basics of posing your subjects for effect.
And it doesn’t have to demand a big budget. There are hacks you can take in order to get the look you want without, necessarily, spending a fortune. You certainly don’t need a full-time studio so you can use flash for portraiture, but a studio does present the peak of the idea of a controlled photographic space. We have touched on this before this season with club member Steve Dyer when we talked about a basic off camera flash set up, and I would suggest that post is worth a re-read from the point of view of building the hardware side. It also links back to two earlier posts, one covering hard and one covering soft light modifiers.
Photographing people is, quite possibly the major part of photography. Certainly, it makes up a large, perhaps the largest, sector of the professional market. What people are paying for is not, necessarily, a straightforward record, but a record of a connection, one that brings out their personality, a fraction of a life, something which speaks of them and of the moment. Even though we live in the age of the selfie there is still a perception that there is something else to be had from the viewpoint of another.
Even so, the motivations behind the selfie, which love it or loathe it are massively the largest by number photographs posted online, 24 billion 2016 according to Google, are not so simple. The motivations for those so bent on broadcasting their lives to the point of dying of it, more people were killed taking selfies than in shark attacks that year, are not just narcissistic.
Within this huge volume, the data for Instagram alone, and what can be derived from it, is far from trivial, there are, apparently, three categories of motivations : Communication – those who want to inititiate conversation; Autobiography – those who are recording key moments in their lives, not necessarily to bait a response, but as a record they can look back on in a handy format; and the smallest of the groups, the Self publicists – those with a personal or professional need to be “out there” and recognised. “It’s a different kind of photography than we’ve ever experienced before” (Steven Holiday, Brigham Young University) important because it is today’s social history for the future. It can also prove expensive, in more ways than one.
Even so, the basic human form hasn’t changed and that means there are more natural and flattering angles than others, and Gerry took us through some of the basics. First off there is not taking pictures square on, something you can sometimes get away with on male subjects, but almost never seem to work with female ones. And there is a big difference to be had through the simple expedient of shifting the by slightly putting one leg slightly forward, shifting your model’s weight and causing an S-curve. Shifting the weight onto the back leg Leaning forward from the waist and raising the chin smoothes lines around the neck and invites the viewer into the picture. For effect this doesn’t have to be exaggerated, indeed it can look slightly comical if it makes the model look overbalanced. This works for male and female models. As does crossing the arms, which with the other moves described, makes the body look more dynamic.
If the model is sitting then the relative height differences are going to become exaggerated and the crops tend to be much tighter. The leaning forward posture still applies otherwise the model looks like they are backing away. Elbows on knees will tilt someone forward and an accompanying tilt of the head makes things much more personable. In all cases, the eyes are the most important point of focus. If there is one other thing that is universal is the general advice that it is better to have the model angle one shoulder towards the camera.
Gerry packed a lot into one evening not least the need for a connection between the model and the photographer, especially with a model who might not be used to having his/her photograph taken. A lot of people don’t like having their photograph taken. A lot of people buy a camera to make sure they are the comfortable side of the lens. Our job is to put them at their ease. This can be easier said than done and the reasons are pretty hard-wired because the thing we as photographers are looking for is the thing we as individuals do not want to give away.
Experience in other fields leads me to believe that the single biggest factor is the attitude of the photographer towards the person being photographed. Put simply, the attitude you give dictates the attitude you get back. If you are wound up and edgy guess what your model is going to pick up on? Give out a “This is going to be a nightmare” and you get a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s as much to do with what we do before we start shooting as it is during the shoot. It’s about time spent introducing ourselves and what we have in store for our subject. It’s about promoting the shoot as a joint project either side of the lens. It’s about making being the model on a photo-shoot as something enjoyable. You only have to get part of the way to free things up.
On a slightly different note, regular club members will know that Myk Garton last year had a successful exhibition called AS I SEE IT at the Totterdown Canteen (141 Wells Rd Totterdown Bristol BS4 2BU). Myk has got the club a return gig which will be called AS WE SEE IT and photographers within the club have opted to show in the exhibition which will be in May June this year. This is a great opportunity to get and see the club in action. Opening times are 8 a.m. till 3 p.m. seven days a week, More on it as we get closer to the date.
Taking someone’s photograph. Simple enough concept. A person, a camera, a photographer, a photograph. We might hope that the exposure is correct, the focusing correct and the person in the photograph recognisable if not by name at least as a person, as opposed to a smudge in a frame, a blur, a blot on the landscape. The technicalities don’t cover that, the story, the connection between viewer and subject. It could be the technically inept smudge, barely recognisable in some anonymous background, means the world to someone, because the person it is, or was, the world to them, or a substantial part of it. The casual observer cannot tell, for each of us, regardless of connection are pulled in or gloss over the representation of the person/s in the frame according to our own lives.
So much so passport photograph. Easy enough to gloss over the stare-into-the-lens, remove-all-distractions, flat-light-hard-lit likeness used for identification, though there are simple reasons for that style in an identification document. Its value is embedded in its function. It is a statement of who we are, where we are from, rather than an expression of it. Yet it is only an issue when we lose it or use it. The photograph on our photo-id is probably far more important to us than any other in the practical sense, but among the least regarded.
Take that self same fixed-stare, clean-background, no-distractions and Rembrandt light it. In reality we are adding, rather adjusting, the full-on photo booth glare for an unequal amount of light and shadow to construct a more pleasing aesthetic (More accurately, if not so informatively, we are subtracting light, but we will let that pass). By moving the light up and to one side we get a very different story. By doing so we immediately break the rules of passport photography, we render it bureaucratically void, but we make another, aesthetic, case for that image. The strength and appeal of that case is dependent upon the viewer, their literal and psychological perspectives.
Pull back a bit. Step backwards, zoom out which ever takes your fancy. Create a little space around your subject. Yes I know what Robert Capa said, and we are still looking at a plain background and the Rembrandt light because that is where we more or less started. What can you do with that space? Space doesn’t sound very productive, but handled in the right way adds to the overall balance. Essentially the way we use space in a frame is to give the subject a focus when not looking directly to the camera, so that there is enough space in the rest of the frame for the subject to look into. This helps form the question within the viewers mind as to what we cannot see what it is that takes the subjects attention. It is a well of curiosity and viewers will tend to look into the area the subject is looking into.
Space used in this way (usually asymmetrically) divides into two. The active space is the one described above. Negative space, apart from being the rest, and also being known as dead space, is what makes the subject stand out from the background but it needs to be handled carefully or it detracts from the overall image. As such this is all part of the rules of composition and the visual balance, which we last visited last two weeks ago.
Now comes the but …. Robert Capa was right. At least he was also right. Different crop, different picture, same image. Take a look at the pictures you took of Ashleigh, Becki and Keith last meeting (and thanks to you three for being such patient models). Some great one’s posted by club members but not a single one that couldn’t be made into one, two or three other pictures. Cropping in post is one way of doing it for sure, but changing your position, up, down, left, right, nearer, further gives you six variations of that first framing. Seven different pictures. Have a go in post. Just the cropping – at least at first, then maybe light and shadow – you will get two or three useable, different pictures out of the exercise. Then go find someone to photograph, natural lighting will do, but using those six variations to get seven pictures.
So, following the above, we have a Rembrandt lit square on image of someone in too much space. Time to move the model. Now there are posing guides and techniques – Gerry Painter did a very informative evening based on Lindsay Adler last season and Mark O’Grady and Rob Heslop did a studio lighting presentation back in November that showed a lot into a short time – aplenty on the web.
It is important to establish exactly why whoever you are taking the pictures for wants them taken. Business, fashion, blog, CV, anniversary, all have different requirements in formality and style. That really is question number one when taking portraiture – why am I taking this? Even when we are taking them on a club night for pleasure, the question is what story am I telling here? Mystery? Mirth? Sadness? Loss? Happy times? Want? Wanton? When Damien Lovegrove took a session a couple of seasons back, he was happy to show how a story colours our perception of the picture. That is what we allow others to see, no matter that their story is different.
There are certain conventions attached to certain types of portraiture which is tied up with their use. Corporate head shots is the obvious one that springs to mind. They differ from actors head shots in some small ways. Then there is the whole baby/infant/toddler/child thing. For all those expectations, indeed to meet those expectations, it is still the contact with the subject that counts.
Rule, and I do mean rule, one. Talk to your subject. Do not talk at your subject. The point is the person in the picture, not the smart-arse button operator. For sure some people have a very strong opinion of how and what should be done on both sides of the camera, however, this whole interaction is a bargain. A bargain, in the most colloquial sense, is the receipt of something that represents more than the time, effort and most frequently hard cash that we have put into something. Effort takes time and time is money if you need that squared away. It is an agreement between two or more people based around give and take and when entered into proportionally can produce something more than either party bargained for – in a good way. Good rapport is at the centre of any successful portrait session.
N E X T M E E T I N G
9th Feb 2017 19:30 – Guest Speaker: Lyn James LRPS: “People and Places”.
Two propositions to start with this week. Firstly, light travels in straight lines in a single direction until it hits a surface that changes its direction or other properties. Secondly, there are, in nature, three basic shapes: the sphere; the cube and the cylinder. Simple as that. Everything, I am reliably informed, is made up of those three shapes, and light travels in straight lines.
So to become a studio photographer: (A) Point your light at one or all of the above shapes and (B) press the shutter. And off we go. Shortest blog post ever ….
Er, no. These are three dimensional shapes and we, nearly exclusively in photography, work in a two dimensional world we spend a lot of time and more or less conscious effort to make the third dimension appear. Also this is, as was pointed out at the beginning of the evening, as much about shadow as it is light.
Surely that doesn’t apply to people, though?
Yes it does. When learning lighting it is normal to start by learning to light these three basic shapes. Cones you can make out of a sheet of paper. For cubes a box will do (doesn’t need to be particularly cuboid just represent a square in three dimensions, so a cereal box will do). A ball or even an egg will do for the sphere.
When you understand those and how light and shadow work on them thoroughly (many, many, many hours later) the rest is a mixture of experience, knowledge and imagination. And lighting, of course.
Starting as ever, with the rule of KISS (polite version: Keep It Short and Simple), members Rob Heslop and Mark O’Grady took us through a basic use of lights and reflector in the pursuit of some classic look portraits, not forgetting our model for the evening, Summer. Summer, her working name, was rescued from redundancy from a closing Ann Summer’s shop late one Sunday evening, some seven or eight years ago and who has since been kept in a trunk by Mark. Summer, I should point out, is a mannequin. We don’t say shop window dummy any more, that would just be rude. However, it is still legal to keep her in a trunk. In two parts. If Burke and Hare, sorry, Mark and Rob, are to be believed.
Yes, well, we shall move on.
This is one of those areas of photography, and there are a few, where the general mantra of practice, practice, practice, is especially pertinent. It is also one of a very few where control is total (in a studio) and thus results easily replicated. So are mistakes. It is something worth taking a little time over (and recording, see below) because there is even less excuse than usual for saying “I’ll fix it in post”. If you have ever tried it and wondered why it never came out right it could be that you haven’t had enough practice yet. Or you’re not thinking in such a way as to develop your practice. Enter the sketchbook, a pre-photography art idea that really helps individual progression. The basics are fairly straight forward and this can be a process of getting to know your kit as much as it is getting to know the techniques. I really cannot overstate how useful a sketchbook is in purposeful development.
Mark and Rob produced a set of low key portraits (members see the club Facebook Page) using first one then two lights and a reflector. The key element to remember is that an image is a balance of light and dark. Light is what we control as an input, but dark is where the story is told, rather the interplay of light and dark is where the story gets told. There is nothing in the light without shadow. No depth and without depth a flat, unflattering, uninteresting picture.
One important thing that came across was that you have to remain aware that there are two elements in the setup that are or can be mobile. The model and the equipment. Most of a shoot can be taken up just changing the lighting positions, or adding light modifiers or changing the angle the photograph is taken from and it is quite surprising how relatively minor changes can make for quite large differences. Similarly slight changes in posture can radically alter the mood of a photograph – I refer you to Gerry Painter’s session last year on posing.
Ambient light is also an important factor, especially with flash. The first thing to note is that the shutter speed you are employing isn’t anywhere near as important in producing the look of your final shot up to the synch speed of your camera. Flash is of very short duration, thousandths of a second, the shutter has to be fully open so that the curtains do not make shadows across the frame. This is the synchronisation speed and is mechanically limited to around 1/250th of a second. Most cameras have a synch speed of either 1/160th or 1/250th. Some top end models have electronic synch where the shutter itself is part of the sensor and electronic. The problem with this can be that it affects the image by being too quick and hence the subject hasn’t been sufficiently bathed in light. The same end as with the mechanical shutter but a completely different reason – the shutter being too quick rather than too slow. Synch speed is about controlling the amount of ambient light the image contains. This is true for film or digital.
It is different with constant light, of course, where the shutter speed can be whatever is compatible with the constant provided by the exposure triangle and your processor. There are other considerations with constant light v flash, especially in a studio environment, which we don’t really have space for here. Most considerations evolve around compactness, other uses and intensity of light. Layout in terms of initial cost can also be a consideration, especially for the occasional user.
All in all a very informative evening and our thanks go out to Mark and Rob.
N E X T M E E T I N G
Light painting practical.
Blog has taken a bit of a break these last three weeks – what do you mean you haven’t noticed? – so this week is a little bit of a digest of things that have crossed my viewfinder. Over this period the club has been up to Gloucester for a very pleasant evening and a model photo-shoot around the docks, Bath for stroll around the Royal Crescent and Severn Beach for the sunset. Our thanks also to models Ashleigh Claire, Keith Bristow, Carl Hawkins and Alice Jordan for their endurance and patience at the Gloucester Docks shoot, which from Facebook seems to have generated some interesting shots. Not quite as billed (the theme was originally going to be Victorian) but it was an entertaining evening nonetheless and we had the space largely to ourselves and another photographer and model who were doing a shoot. There was also an American car meet going on and all in all it was an interesting, if slightly humid couple of hours.
But the humidity of Glos. docks was nothing compared to a windless evening in Bath, which seemed to pile heat upon heat. Severn Beach was a little more civilised even if the evening did end in rain. The fact is we don’t very often get extreme weather in this part of the UK, for which we should be grateful, but still half a dozen people have lost their lives on the coasts around the UK in the last ten days or so. In fact the climate and geology of the UK is particularly stable yet still manages a huge variety of land, sea and urban views. But it’s not without its dangers.
One of those is people taking exception to you taking photographs. In this country the level of paranoia around children and photography is on the increase. I met with this some years ago – taking photographs of my own children. Now I am a reasonable man but telling me (wrongly) what I can and can’t do vìz a vìs the photographing of my own children in public, does rather try my patience. It always pays to be polite though and I am sure I was a lot more polite than I seem to remember being.
Scare stories are will always generate interest, trouble is when people act erroneously on them. And, of course, different countries different rules – over the weekend it has emerged that the “Burkini Beach” photographs of the armed French Police enforcing the law have led to the former Mayor threatening the prosecution of social media users sharing pictures of them doing so. Now the reasons for doing so are complicated and the reason for the Burkini ban is tied up to do with the 84 deaths on Bastille Day in the City of Nice, where the photos were taken. The point is, whatever you may think of these rules (a) ignorance is no defence and (b) your opinion of them does not change the law.
So, simply put, find out what these rules are before you take the camera out of its bag and stick with them. This Facebook Page is a good place to start.
On a more cheerful note the 2016-2017 season starts at the club on 1st September and we are kicking off with an event called my summer, where members bring in photographs they have taken over the summer and present them. That’s a sort of hint.
There is a lot on the programme again this year and we urge all members to participate as widely and as often as possible – it’s sort of the whole reason for the club after all. One issue that has arisen and needs addressing. The evenings where we use models on the basis that they get the images we take in return for their time do require that we honour our side of the bargain, whether we as individual photographers, think they are good enough or not. It doesn’t take much time and it is only fair. We can now use the photo entry system so that can be covered among its many other attributes, I believe, as it can be set up relatively easily, so no excuses really. Give up your best three (at least) and let the model worry about whether they are good enough or not.
We are fortunate in having such an active club but we also recognise and welcome new members. There has always been someone around to answer questions and there is quite a breadth and depth across the club and members always seem happy to give freely of their time. Long may it remain so. The programme for September includes: Photo’s we have taken over the summer break; Q and A session; A talk that looks distinctly chilly; and a photo mini marathon, ever popular. That is all in the next five weeks (photo-marathon and photo-marathon judging taking place in consecutive weeks).
So, what is your goal for this season? It’s always a good idea to have and we learn more when we have an idea of what success looks like. It might be to get yourself off auto/programme, not actually sins in themselves but the tool is making decisions for you creatively and artistically. There will be plenty of opportunities within the club schedule to practice that and to ask people about how they do it and why they do it that way. You might want to set yourself a one a day project over 7, 28 or 365 or some other number of days. Or take on some macro or portrait projects, the point is there are lots of opportunities and there is a lot of experience in the club, you can call on. Essentially next season is what you make of it, and the club is what you make of it, the opportunities are there for the taking.
Aaaaand we’re back. A happy New Year to you all. Two things to write about from the club this week. The first was a model shoot at Leigh Woods with Paul Walker and Kelly Wolf Rogers, (and Allison’s dogs Otis and Basil) Sunday last (4th Jan) and the second was the session on club night on the process of mounting photographs.
If nothing else, then the great outdoors in January offers inspiration, even if that inspiration is to keep moving to keep warm! In fact the weather was relatively good to the two models and dozen or so club photographers who spent an interesting and fruitful day in which the rain – if not the mud – held off. Overcast meant a fairly flat light, but that is a more of a problem when taking landscapes than details in portraiture, though keeping the grey sky out of shot (unless dramatic – or plain grey is the desired effect) certainly applies and lighting from the side and shooting when the sun is low are both possibilities, of course. What can’t be escaped is that the light is both cooler and more diffuse. The former can be compensated for via the white balance control on the camera and the tonality doesn’t have to be “natural” – that’s an artistic decision. Of course the ideas of “warm” and “cool” are psychological responses, they have nothing to do with the physics of light, but there is no doubt that the feel of a photograph is effected by its white balance.
Diffuse light presents different challenges. There is no doubt that a controlled, soft light can be a tremendous influence in the composition and interpretation of an image, as can a harsh direct light. The key word is controlled. The chief problem, if problem it is, is the lack of shadow. Light from an undirected source (the sun) is bouncing about all over the place. On the other hand it tends to be a fairly even light, background and foreground, unmodified, tend to be bathed in the same light. This can lead to a lack of separation between foreground and background. This, in itself, suggests that there may be a fairly straightforward option available. Get in closer and open the aperture, either or both depending on the focal length of lens available and the desired composition. A 50mm prime at f5.6 close in (say 1.5 meters) gives the same depth of field as a 100mm at twice the distance (3 meters) or a 200mm from four times the distance (with an APS-C 1.5 crop censor the depth of field would be 0.16 meters from nearest to furthest and F5.6 is a reasonable-to-assume achievable aperture on lenses covering those focal lengths). You would capture an area 71 cm high by 46 cm wide in portrait mode, i.e. with the camera rotated 90 degrees so the controls are on the side rather than on the top (as it would be in landscape) and keeping the frame tight would let you concentrate on the details.
Before zoom lenses it was the photographer who moved, see last blog’s Cartier-Bresson quote, something we should keep in mind. It also makes communication with your model easier if you are not having to phone in your requests for a tilt of the head or a sweep of the hair. More practically the logistics of moving angle are quickly and precisely in the hands of the photographer, leaving the fine detail adjustment, a tilt of the head, a slight angling of the body, a sweep of the hair and so on, with the model.
Flash, on or off the camera and a reflector, you know the one you didn’t leave on the settee (mea culpa), can be a great boon in getting some of the light contrast back into the scene. The flash on the camera can be limited, but DSLR/SLT cameras mostly have ways of altering the power of the flash. Failing that you can diffuse the light using material in front of the on camera light source, being careful that it doesn’t give you an unwanted colour cast. A Speedlight or similar is more flexible, just remember that the needs of curtain synchronisation limit the shutter speeds you have available to you. A reflector, especially a 5-in-1, can be a cheap and easy (if you have someone to hold it for you whilst you take the photograph) way of concentrating the available light onto your subject.
Using Camera RAW and post processing is another way of giving yourself options. RAW leaves all the details in whereas JPEG makes a certain amount of processing options away by making decisions about light levels etc at the image processing stage i.e. the click. Contrast, the available dynamic range that can be manipulated using RAW, is greater than in JPEG and for these reasons many people choose to shoot in RAW as default. There are interminable arguments about this, as you may have experienced and I have voiced my opinion before and regardless of format if you don’t press the shutter the arguments are irrelevant and the shot is lost. Forever. There are options for editing in JPEG they just aren’t as wide or flexible as in RAW. Or you can use black and white either to shoot in or post production. There are lots of options, either singly or in combination to try. So try them! There are also the creative styles that cameras, even basic ones, increasingly have built in, especially the ones where you can exhibit some fine control like saturation to experiment with too.
So your masterpiece has been captured, processed and printed and it’s now ready to mount. Mounting itself can be something of an art and there are little preferences that people develop with practice. There are some choices to be made at a basic level. In terms of increasing ambition we have to decide whether our pictures are to be Card mounted (as we have to do for entering prints in the club competitions, indeed for any print competition), foam mounted or canvas mounted, aka Gallery Wraps. We can even use wood (as per canvas but with some sort of clear varnish to finish) but I prefer the more recycled approach, well we are living in the European Green Capital for 2015, after all. Card mounting is the more traditional way. For club competitions prints must be mounted on card exactly 50cms by 40cms AND a digital copy following the 1400 : 1050 width/height convention must be submitted too. Rules are to be found here. There is no doubt that the mounts have their own contribution to the aesthetic and if anyone tells you that your print has “A nice mount” and leaves it at that they are probably leaving out “Shame about the picture”. Ignore them. That said the mount must complement the image not compete with it, so the most effective colours are muted and white (in various shades) and black are the most frequently found – for a reason. They are not, however the only option.
The link for Bristol Framing Supplies is http://www.bristolframingsupplies.co.uk/
Wednesday 14th 19:30
Club Battle: Bristol Photographic Society
Where: Basement, 12 West Mall, Clifton, Bristol, BS8 4BH (Downstairs Door)
Description: The return match for our club battle against Bristol Photographic. This time its at their venue. Turn up and support us.
From Myk Garton:
WOODLAND PHOTOGRAPHY DAY 2
On Sunday 1st March we are holding another Woodland Photography Day.
We’ll be spending a day photographing models (both male and female) in woodland and other settings at Blaise Castle Estate.
We’ll meet up at 9:30am at the main car park and start shooting by 10am. The plan is to use one location up until 12:30pm, stop for lunch and then shoot at another location until 4pm or later depending on conditions.
There will be a minimum of 2 models. one male and one female.
There will be a small charge of £10 to take part. We’ll shoot for 5 hours minimum, so you’ll be paying just £2 per hour. All money raised will be split between the models.
I’ll be adding more info soon as well as mentioning it at club meetings. We’ll work on a first come, first serve basis. If you are interested in coming along please reply below.
The date is Sunday 1st March.
Any questions, please ask Myk.
And from Eddie and Roger:
“Roger and I have volunteered (for our sins) to oversee the Reflex Camera Club entry to the WCPF Kingswood Salver Competition 2015.
The competition rules are as follows:-
Entry is five prints – colour, mono, or a mixture of both, and must be from five different photographers. Mounts to be 50cm x 40cm as per usual WCPF Rules. All elements of the work must be no more than 2 years old and not previously entered into this competition.
The ideal is that all of the images are good in their own right but must fit together as a panel of five.
Follow the links below to see examples from the 2014 competition.
Our target is to make up 3 panels of 5 with different themes and then pick the best of these to enter the competition.
To start the ball rolling we would like to ask club members to suggest themes based on what we could achieve as a club, we will then choose 3 subjects to target.
We are considering using our evening on the 26th February as a practical night when we would like to set up various still life studios (with a little help) and attempt to create a panel or two based on a theme of collectables. For this we would ask members to bring along items to photograph, more details on this to follow”.