The other end of the lens this week, with a presentation by Paul Walker, who has been a model at the club on several occasions, and his experiences as a model over the last five years. Paul has gathered about 20,000 images over that time from the photographers he has worked with, including present and former members of the club and his is an interesting perspective.
From the off Paul framed his presentation within the context of mutual collaboration, certainly within the idea put forward here before (it escapes my memory by whom, unfortunately) that we do not take someone’s photograph, they give us their photograph, or as Jean-Luc Godard put it “When you photograph a face …. you photograph the soul behind it”.
It may not be a scientific fact, but after a while of taking pictures of people, there are certainly those who the camera takes to more than others. In part that is to do with symmetry and features but it is mainly about the connection either side of the film plane. Paul talked about the photograph as a collaboration, having an idea and communicating it.
Certainly, there are two people in every photograph (at least) the subject and the viewer and it is the viewer that we work to engage. We, the photographers, are the unseen intermediaries, we are the mentors and the coaches as much as the producers and directors, we take and shape the light, we work with the subject to make the image.
“If a photographer cares about the people before the lens and is compassionate, much is given. It is the photographer, not the camera, that is the instrument.” – Eve Arnold.
But the emotion, the feelings, the communication all comes from the subject. It is their story, we merely light and frame and take the image, a little slice of time and circumstance that never happened before or since and being unique to that time, but we need to do it empathetically.
Of course, there are the techniques of lighting and posing and exposure to apply but Paul’s commentary on his favourite shots underlined photographer David Alan Harvey’s advice “Don’t shoot what it looks like. Shoot what it feels like,” and that has to come from both sides of the lens coming together.
Certainly, there are differences in posing men, posing women, posing children, and using natural or artificial light and any number of different styles (High Key, Low Key, Noir, to name but three). Small differences between shots are worth recording and studying. And discussing with our model. Let’s face it, an experienced model probably has more experience of doing these things than we do and though they may not be au fait with the technical side of the camera they know about how to work with light from their end.
And if it is all about communication then there needs to be a dialog of some sorts, allowing photographer and model to play to our strengths. To do that we need to be mindful of the atmosphere we are in and the one we are trying to create – pointless in being somber and funereal when trying to create a party atmosphere and vice versa, pointless not shooting what it feels like but shooting what we think it looks like. And always be polite. Be respectful.
And yes, it helps enormously if both sides have an idea of what point we are trying to get to, so time spent in reconnaissance, as Napoleon Bonaparte was apt to say, is never wasted. And it is better to stay positive when things aren’t going to plan, doom and gloom will kill the vibe and as the photographer, we are the key to keeping the momentum going.
It is a collaboration and our thanks to Paul for providing an informative and stimulating evening in giving the far side of the lense’s perspective.
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.
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……