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”.
Round 2 of the club competition last meeting and I shall link to the club website here where the winning entries will be posted in due course. Club thanks to our returning judge Roger Mallinson who got though 21 prints and 58 Digital entries in a prompt and informative fashion.
This week we are going to return to the studio as it were, and start to investigate light modifiers as previously promised. So, starting with the obvious, just what is a light modifier? Yeah, ok, it’s something that modifies light, a true but otherwise unenlightening answer which we need to look at in a little more detail. If we take the word modify we can use it in two senses:
- To change in form or character; alter.
- To make less extreme, severe, or strong.
With light the second meaning is a consequence of the first, it is also an inescapable consequence and though a tad obvious to some the conclusion is the same as the one that Mark and Rob gave us a couple of weeks back, that if you are going to do a lot of this then it is best to buy yourself a light meter. The reasoning is thus, every time you make an adjustment in intensity or distance (one and the same thing often times) then you are going to effect the elements of the exposure triangle and using the old saying: two measures to one cut as a guide, okay two measures to one slick in this case, means a lot of time effort and battery can be spared. For the occasional user then it is a case of trial and error. Eventually you will get to know your kit well enough to be reasonably accurate in your estimations.
There are basically two kinds of light modifiers which we can divide into soft light and hard light. Flash is the most likely entry point for a hobbyist into controlled off camera lighting. With flash we tend to use more of the hard modifiers, that is we use them more of the time, but both categories need considering.
The thing to remember, that is the thing not to get carried away with, is we modify light to enhance the subject. It is always about the subject, he, she or it, not about the modifier. Unless you are writing about modifiers I suppose. Still, that false conundrum aside we choose the modifier to light the subject, not the subject to show off the mod as a general rule. The subject is the thing. Always.
So this week we will start with soft modifiers. Another term for light diffuser, because diffused light gives soft shadows, that is the differences between light and dark look more a gentle grey than a stark black. Make no mistake we are using the light to create shadow. Shadow is the form of the statement we are making and without light there is no shadow.
So a soft modifier spreads the available light over a larger surface, that is, larger than the source itself . Smoothing the transition from light to dark on your subject the main use of soft modifiers is for key lighting in portraiture. The key light is usually the primary light source, the brightest and most important.
The two most frequently used soft modifiers are softboxes and umbrellas. Softboxes are normally vaguely pyramidal and lined with a silver, highly reflective material. They come in a variety of sizes and those sizes relate to how soft the light is, not how wide spread the light is. Yes, you are right, those two things are directly related. Most softboxes and umbrellas are used at a distance of two meters or less from the subject. Though there will be differences in the areas lit between any two given sizes, at these sort of distances they are minimal and really, really not the point. The point is how diffuse the light is, how soft the shadows are.
Softboxes are a studio staple but they can be very bulky, heavy, require more than one stand and generally take up a lot of space even when not being used and can take quite a time to set up. They are good for using with other modifiers though and also good at controlling light spill (basically light coming through at unintended angles which may or may not intrude on your desired effect).
A subdivision of the softbox is known as an Octa, octabox, octadome or octa softbox/dome . Octas, as we will call them, come either as an octagonal shaped softbox or as a hybrid softbox and umbrella. The angle and amount of light fall off is different to a softbox, but they do tend to be a lot more expensive and as bulky as softboxes.
There are further modifiers than can be fitted to a softbox or and octa. You can add grids (to give direction), flags (put shadows in), filters (control colour and intensity) to give you a greater control.
In case you are thinking, “Hey, I can make my own softbox” then I have to say, yes you can. The difference is in the quality control and the length of time that it is likely to last, but there is no reason why you can’t use tin foil and a cardboard box to put over your light source (flash gun rather than bare bulb, depending on the quality and exclusions of your house insurance and fire damage claims) and a plain shower curtain works wonders (make sure it doesn’t have blue tinge if made of plastic and yes it will melt over a hot bulb). Go ask YouTube, there are many different videos covering this.
Essentially umbrellas for modifying light as, opposed to keeping the rain off, come in two varieties: Shoot through and reflective. They are a little more untidy in the way that they deal with light, it will spill round the open edges. They are also prone to having a hot spot which may or may not prove a small problem. They are usually a lot cheaper than softboxes or Octas.
A shoot through acts like a lampshade, softening the light simply by putting a semi transparent material between light source and subject. A reflective umbrella is opaque, black on the outside with a highly reflective, usually silver, sometimes gold or maybe white interior. These are pointed at the subject so that the open side of the brolly is facing the subject and the flash unit faces the inside, away from the subject, to bounce light from all round the internal reflective surface from every attainable angle.
Umbrellas come in a range of sizes from small to huge (10 feet or more) and they are a low price, effective, portable light modifier. This makes them very popular. As already mentioned their biggest disadvantage is their tendency to spill light around the sides. Not a huge problem, normally, but one which does need to be attended to. Unlike softboxes there really aren’t any effective DIY options, but they can be bought pretty cheaply and so even if there was a DIY alternative the cost advantage would probably be very low.
Next week we will be looking at hard light modifiers and it is the club social, see website and or Facebook for details and Rob is doing a Bokeh session to boot.
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.
A happy new year to you all. We kicked off 2016 with the Chair’s evening and this year Maurice brought in a tutor to help us with our portraiture. So a good start with cameras and tripods to hand we welcomed Ruth Bennett, photography lecturer at St Brendan’s College, who led us in an informative, practical, evening.
The portrait, of course, predates the invention of photography by a long way, well about 2,500 years, which qualifies for me. Within the history of photography the invention of the Daguerreotype broadly signifies not only the start of the process as we know it, but also a gradual democratisation of the art form. It was still prohibitively expensive. The posing times came down though, as we have noted before, that probably troubled the dead subjects rather less than the living ones, as did the costs but it wasn’t until the 1860’s that the momentum really started to grow. And that required a change in technology. Shorter but by no means fast by modern standards exposure times, simpler processes, better image fixing to more widely available materials, such as paper, overall combining to bring the costs down and speeding up the production.
As the technology changed so did the scope of the imaginations of the photographers. Classical art initially was the ruler of taste and composition, especially the Neo-classical and the Rococo, but as the interest in and accessibility of art grew, styles changed, Romanticism and Realism developed as movements and it’s hard not to see that photography as a technology has an influence in this, at least as a provocateur – the French poet and critic, Charles Baudelaire, thought it the “Enemy of Art” and was often rude about the medium at some length. The middle classes took up the form as it was more affordable than portraiture in oils, the number of professional photographers and the subjects they captured, grew. So did the uses of photographs. In the late 1850’s Carte-de-visite (visiting cards featuring portraits) became popular in France, then across Europe.
The first “Celebrity” photographer was Felix Nadar (1820-1910), who used optical and lighting, including artificial lighting, experiments to bring new qualities to his portraits of people such as Sarah Bernhardt, Victor Hugo, Franz List and Claude Debussy. Nadar (real name Gaspard-Félix Tournachon) managed to fit in the photography around drawing caricatures, writing novels, journalism and ballooning and used his interest in the latter to bring the mail into a besieged Paris during the Franco-Prussian War. Photography continues to borrow from art, Rembrandt (1606-1698) lighting taken from the artists use of a single high window to give a distinctive light and shadow, Renoir‘s distinct diffuse lighting is practiced through the use of reflectors. The medium moved on but truly became democratised by the Box Brownie in 1900. Arguably this is the point where photography as art and photography as pass time part company and the whole question of photography as art takes a class based twist.
The interpretation/record debate takes on a mass dimension, but family, friends, occasions people in different circumstances still remain the important subjects but with less artifice. That, however, is a different topic and one we have touched on before. The other great photographic expansion at this time is also film based, but one where the images move and after 1927, talk. But the key to promoting them was the still picture of the stars, possibly as an art form at its height in the 1930’s and 40’s. Butterfly lighting came from the cinema, it is also known as Paramount lighting after the studio, sometimes Glamour Lighting. Loop lighting, open and closed (closed see Rembrandt link above) and Split Lighting come from the same base makes for dramatic effects in quite subtle ways using shadows on the facial features (an overview of some of these techniques can be found here).
The style started to shift in the 1950’s with the impact of photojournalism on the portrait style, though movie stars were still the people setting the pace – rather the studios’ publicity departments were the people setting the pace. The style was more raw, more like today’s street and environmental styles, but the output was still strictly controlled by the studios. That control thing is still pertinent if harder to control today, if only because cameras are pretty much universal. As the 50’s became the 60’s this more casual style of portrait became the norm as the conventions of traditional art were thrown down. Andy Warhol fused the fine art and photography in his silk screen paintings of Marilyn Monroe based on a publicity still for the film Niagara. Bert Stern, Richard Avedon and Irving Penn picked up the baton laid down by the likes of Bob Willoughby, Phil Stern, Sid Avery, Peter Basch, Andre de Diene who had taken up where and others had lead in the 50’s. The movement towards a more candid approach to portraiture continued. On this side of the pond Snowden, Bailey, Donovan, Jane Brown and others.
Robert Mapplethorpe, is probably best known for his homoerotic images taken in the 1970’s and 1980’s, but that was only a part of his oeuvre and he was, in a sort of full circle, influenced by classical styles in his portraits. Yes he was often sexually explicit, yes his subjects could include Sadomasochism but pushing boundaries was part of who Mapplethorpe was. Well not so much pushing as driving a truck at, but that does not fundamentally undermine his technical abilities or his vision, regardless of your views on his distaste for convention, ironically using conventional, classical, ideas of beauty to deliver his art. The sensationalism of this part of his work often overshadows the portraiture of many well known artists and he was never short of sitters. Patti Smith, Marianne Faithful, Bruce Chatwin, Philip Glass, David Hockney among many others.
The late 80’s and 90’s also saw the likes of Annie Leibovitz, Mario Testino and Bruce Weber rise to prominence among many others, technology changes, the spread of affordable video for instance and the growth of and acceptance of installation art – we have touched on this before so I’ll skip it here – and with them the shared mission of portraiture to go beyond just the image of the sitter to some other truth of character and moment. And it starts with lighting, which is where we came in.
N E X T M E E T I N G
John Chamberlain – “Images from around the World”.
DEADLINE! Entries for the CREATIVE ROUND
Three club events to celebrate in this post. First up thanks go to club member Gerry Painter for the evening of how to make a people picture a portrait through posing. Our thanks to Gerry for the introduction and practical sessions after the break, a very enjoyable evening. The night before some of us visited Hanham Photographic Society and there were presentations there by our club members Chris Harvey, Alison Davies, Myk Garton, and Ian Coombs. This was an agreeable evening and we look forward to Hanham’s return visit on 12th November. Finally a welcome return to Marko Nurminen and his brief tour around just a few aspects of the revised Adobe Lightroom/Photoshop using some images supplied by club members, including Gerry Painter, which is where we came in.
The portrait is not just restricted to photography, of course, it’s an art form that predates it, drawing, painting and engraving were long the ways of committing the likeness of a person or prized animal to a two dimensional surface and still are. There is, however, a difference in our minds between what we would generally call a picture and a portrait and the difference comes with degree of anticipated artifice and convention involved. That’s how we know one when we see one. Of course, that doesn’t mean that they can only be taken in a studio, but the conventions that set out a formal portrait were the ones that meant that the subject was not moving anywhere anytime soon as the initial sketches and or being painted from life demanded that (though body doubles weren’t unheard of with the principal standing in for the face only in full length portraits).
That applied even more to the early days of photography where photographers studios were equipped with neck braces of varying heights to keep their subjects immobile whilst sufficient light was collected. Well, that and prop up the dead ones as, apparently, nearly a third of all Victorian photographs, especially early in the period, the subjects had actually pre-deceased the photograph. It wasn’t unusual for surviving relatives to be in the frame too, though they would usually be the ones standing up, I assume. Photographs were luxury items, and painting was held in higher esteem, at least by those who could afford it, though, possibly, as a mark of distinction from those who could not. Those conventions can still be seen in the rigidly narrow set of poses seen in corporate and other types of formal portraits. Gerry was after creating something a little more relaxed too. The materials are available to club members on his website www.ttassist.com (See Gerry for the Reflex password) and he particularly recommended Lindsay Adler’s materials (also blog and Facebook and check out this short video on creativity, spinning out a complete shoot from a single idea).
Light, camera, angles, props, location, environment, subjects, framing, moment. Pretty much sums up the mechanics of photography before the electronics take over. What it doesn’t cover is the relationship between photographer and subject. Posing is about creating a connection so that subject goes beyond just being that and becomes part of a conversation, part of a story, with the viewer, be that subject animal vegetable or mineral, though for our purposes, principally animal. As has been said frequently before, it doesn’t matter that that story differs between photographer, subject and viewers, but the connect is important to an image’s success. We are hard wired to react to body language, though there are cultural variations, especially over things like the acceptable degree of the body exposed and direct eye contact. About 55% of what we take from a conversation is through body language (but that’s a reassuringly round number and as such we should be sceptical of it). When the medium takes away the other 45%, as a photograph will, those aspects become more important. But light also speaks. Light and shadow affect mood, set a tone. We are all affected by colour, more often the combining of colours. These remain considerations, but it is the attitude of the body that we will take the bulk of our clues from.
And it’s quite a range of expressions that can be nonverbally expressed. The palate we get to work with is a broad one. This does not necessarily help, because there is a very important aspect yet to be considered, and that is the relationship between photographer and model. Though there are many other elements to a specific photoshoot get this basic wrong and everything else will fall apart, regardless. Concentrating on getting the basics right is a form of insurance. The pose conveys the essence of the story, the light, as we have said, the tone. There are gender differences between females and males, and again these are culturally driven and also between full length and heads and hands portraits. That doesn’t mean that the rules are rigid and unbreakable, but as with all rules, best know them and know how to work them before you go out and break them. We had a good second part of the session putting these things into practice and club thanks to the models.
Marko Nurminem showed his combination of know-how and wit to take us through another evening of post production skills. Being a professional he is a Lightroom and Photoshop expert and he took us through a couple of the tools in the updated versions (LR 6/LR CC). In particular he showed us the refined dehaze tool, which he used on more than just misty backgrounds to affect colour and tone. His mini tutorial on colour muting and boosting was also cleverly done. The things he was doing were pretty straightforward but it proves the point that to make things look easy you have to first have a degree of mastery over them and Marko comes with the added bonus that he is a good public speaker. In a second language at that.
This week we follow that up with editing in software that isn’t Photoshop……
The year’s tradition of interesting and passionate speakers moved on and up with an evening with Damien Lovegrove last meeting, which was very well attended. Our thanks to Damien and a feather in the cap of the committee. Special thanks to Damien for his generous donation to the air show ticket draw.
Damien comes across as a life-long passionate and enthusiastic photographer who – and this does not automatically follow – can communicate with an audience. Once a clubman himself, he knows this audience and that ability certainly comes across in his photography. First rule of marketing: Know your audience. Second rule of marketing: Talk to them, not at it. It is all about communication. The story, the relationship between photographer and model, lens sensor and light, lines and shade, viewer and image, is key to the first impression, the impact. Damien does things big. That isn’t just about the size of the projected image, but the way the subject fills the frame. The intensity of the story being told is often ruled by it.
Trained in television at the BBC, Damien retains many of the traits of TV composition in his still image work and, of course, is quite happy to break them when the story demands. His first step out of TV was to bring those techniques to wedding photography. His guiding rule has remained the same. Keep it simple. He also made the point that there are sometimes several steps to go through, which could, of course, relate to a series of images. When you think of a wedding album, which is how most wedding photographs are viewed, there is a chronological order to the viewing. This idea of chronology can also take place in a single frame: think, if you will, of the use of dead space for example. Whatever else balance is something that needs to be maintained.
Damien is most insistent that his photographs are a journey just as he is a Get-It-Right-In-the-Camera-ista. These two propositions aren’t very far apart. That isn’t to say that he has no use for Lightroom but his style of work, grounded in Television which, of course has its need to get things right first time in live broadcasts. The visual grammar then boils to certain tropes (themes): Eyes are always off level unless intensity is being communicated, the brightest part of the scene is always the furthest away (aka the “Bright Horizon”), if there is a lamp in shot turn it on. Knowing these sort of effects and operating them means less time in Lightroom because they are part of Damien’s workflow. The outcome is part of his initial planning and the biggest factor in any final result is the initial set of circumstances pertinent to that particular action (Chaos theory if you’re interested). So if you know what your end result will be you don’t hit and hope, you get it right in the camera first. That doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t shoot for Photoshop, but if getting it right first time is in practice then there isn’t the need to spend a lot of time on post processing. As discussed last week, time is money. Because the marginal cost of another frame is low – and there are occasions a-plenty when that is something to be grateful for – doesn’t mean that it is more effective to take it.
On the matter of cameras Damien championed the SLT (Single Lens Translucent) or mirror-less, he using Fuji and prime lenses both for their compactness and, most importantly, because what you see is what you get. He likened the DSLR process to feedback, where you frame-take-stop-check the frame and the Mirrorless systems as feedforward, (when the result of earlier step is fed into a step occurring later in the workflow – and NO, that isn’t just something that you do post processing, it involves everything in any production process ) in this case frame-take. Time saving, he offered, is quite considerable. Similarly his approach to lens choice is how does it render the background? Is it what you want? There is a range of responses from bokeh to soft focus. His prescription is to use the tools that get the job done. Ken Rockwell wrote: “…Because it’s entirely an artist’s eye, patience and skill that makes an image and not his tools”. Which is true. A poorly skilled photographer is not any better behind a £5,000 camera than they would be behind a £50 one. Damien is referring to the workflow, his workflow.
In the matter of composition Damien looks for lines, curves, triangles, shapes to give depth to his images. Curves, shapes, circles, in particular that which has a roundness to it works for figures, especially when contrasted against rigid lines in structures. He readily admits that what would get you marked down in a club competition, such as burned out highlights, might actually be a feature he is looking for. Shooting into the light and using flash or continuous light to fill in can mean control over texture and tones. He professes himself undisturbed by such concerns if the overall effect is what he is after. Hard light isn’t something he necessarily avoids, it makes faces look wider and reduces the prominence of structural elements. He is most insistent that the light in his photographs have a pleasing balance because, again, it means less messing around in Lightroom. Know your light.
Damien expressed a preference for continuous light, because of the control that it yields. There are things that you just can’t do with flash, he maintains. It lets you set your lighting then move your camera angle to explore what alternative shots present themselves. You can structure the symmetry in your images by changing your angles in different ways, but, he insists, you must never ignore it, even when the effect you are after is asymmetrical. If that sounds complex he keeps to the mantra of less is more, you frame the detail, including how much detail, it is up to you to choose how and why and what. Damien favours working with a backlight and a key light.
The most important thing though, the thing that all the mastery of all the technicalities in photography will not compensate for, is the relationship with your subject. It is the essential that the photographer connect with the person, it’s a working relationship that exists outside of that fraction of a second recorded in an image. It is too easy for the camera to become a cycloptic barrier, to get in the way of the result and in this instance it is worth reflecting on the difference between getting a shot and getting the shot. You can’t share the private moment you are recording with the viewer if you do not privilege that moment you are recording by getting your damned camera out of the way. I said above that the First Rule of Marketing is know your audience and the Second Rule of Marketing is to talk to them not at it. Pretty much the same thing. First rule, know your shot, second rule make your subject part of the process. Then you can go about the technicalities, moving your model, moving your position (eye level rarely is the best level). Shooting from below eye level lends your subject a sense of power. Shooting from above makes the relationship softer.
When summing up his approach Damien made the point that in a competition between perfection and soul that souls works better. Go with what works, it makes for better art. In a link into the next meeting, more of which in a second, Damien advised to look and critique as many photographs as you can make time to look at. deconstructing others work, incorporating elements into your own, is a great way to keep learning and keep improving as a photographer.
And the next meeting is about critiquing. If you look back on the blog at the WCPF nights (two entries) I go into some depth about how to. They are not hard and fast rules and Dan Ellis, who is running the event, says that we are going to look at the basic elements such as exposure, focus, framing and give feedback about those sort of things.
So that we have something to critique, please Drop Box mark by Tuesday a couple of your images so we have something to work with. The instructions how to are on the club website and 2Gb of Dropbox is free with your account. It is also one of those things that you wonder how you got on without once you start to work with it.
See you Thursday