Wednesday, 30 June 2010

One portrait a day...

OK, I have decided to step right out of my comfort zone and have challenged myself to a new project. I am still working on finishing up the last few bits of The Art of Photography, and am also working on People & Places, but personal projects have been lacking lately (apart from photographing my son which gets a lot of time dedicated to it!). I have decided to attempt to take one portrait every day. I won't limit myself to a new person every day, and don't know how long I'll do this project for, but one of my main challenges with people photography is having the guts to talk to people and pose them. The best way to overcome this is mileage, i.e. taking loads of photos of people. So my aim is to photograph one person every day and semi-regularly post them here on my blog.

Initially I'm starting close to home (very close...). Self-portraiture is a challenge because you can't look through the viewfinder and frame the shot, you can't see what the photo will look like and you need to do everything yourself. The easy bit is that you don't need to pose someone else and if you look like an idiot then it doesn't matter!! I am inspired by loads of female self-portraiture artists... particularly Francesca Woodman who is a favourite, and I quite like the work of Gabriela Herman, Heather Evans Smith, and also a fellow OCA students work I discovered recently, Penny Watson.

Self-portraits are introspective (or can be), and can be very honest and open – thus are a challenge to do well. I am starting with a simple shot using a handheld camera and large aperture and hope that my photos are vaguely focussed but not worrying about a bit of handheld induced blur. In fact, I have tried to blur a few of the photos on purpose (Woodman-inspired). Below I post the first attempt in this project, which is sure to be a massive challenge for me... Please comment to help me with my challenge!

From Portrait_Project

I think the lighting is not ideal, a catchlight in the eye would have been better, but the shallow DOF and bokeh outside of the main face area is effective. A good starting point?

Monday, 21 June 2010

Assignment 1: A comprehensive portrait

For the first assignment for People and Places, I have chosen to photograph my father who has been visiting us from Australia for two weeks. I have attempted to capture various aspects of his personality in each of the photos. In order to help this, I planned my shots loosely in advance and asked him to bring along a couple of props to help in the photo sessions.

Photo 1. Reading
From Assignment_1_PP

17-30mm f/2.8 lens, Canon 30D, f/6.7, 17mm, 1/125sec, ISO 200, mains flash light with shoot-through umbrella, photo cropped in photoshop.

Photo 2. Glasses
From Assignment_1_PP

24-70mm f/2.8 lens, Canon 30D, f/6.7, 70mm, 1/125sec, ISO 200, mains flash light with shoot-through umbrella.

Photo 3. X-Ray
From Assignment_1_PP

24-70mm f/2.8 lens, Canon 30D, f/9.5, 60mm, 1/250sec, ISO 200, mains flash light with shoot-through umbrella.

Photo 4. Bow-tie
From Assignment_1_PP

24-70mm f/2.8 lens, Canon 30D, f/4.5, 40mm, 1/60sec, ISO 400, 580EX Flash with diffuser, lights on in bathroom.

Photo 5. Gym Gear
From Assignment_1_PP

24-70mm f/2.8 lens, Canon 30D, f/4, 51mm, 1/250sec, ISO 100, natural light.

Photo 6. Pouring a beer
From Assignment_1_PP

24-70mm f/2.8 lens, Canon 30D, f/2.8, 24mm, 1/60sec, ISO 400, 580EX Flash with diffuser, lightened slightly in photoshop.

Photo 7. Binoculars
From Assignment_1_PP

24-70mm f/2.8 lens, Canon 30D, f/3.5, 70mm, 1/60sec, ISO 100, natural light plus fill flash using 580EX Flash with diffuser.

Overall this has been a challenging project. I chose to photograph my father knowing that we would only have two weeks to get all the photos taken. This turned out to be enough time and I am happy with the resulting portraits,which are all showing a different aspect of his character and are each quite different photographically also. I have tried to use different angles, lenses and light, as well as body positions and various poses. Dad helped a lot (he is an amateur photographer himself) by suggesting poses which was very useful and made me feel more confident during the shoots. My biggest challenge still is to feel confident and make my subjects feel comfortable in front of the camera, and knowing how to direct them. I plan to continue to take portraits of people in semi-organised settings when I am able in order to further improve on this deficiency.

Exercise 8: Varying Pose

I set up a photoshoot with the daughter of a friend who is a keen football player. We posed her standing, kneeling and lying down. We varied how she posed in each photograph, and adjusted where the ball was and how she used her hands. It was fun trying out different poses, but I still felt a bit strange suggesting poses, though it got a bit easier during the session.

Here is a screenshot showing the variety of poses which we tried.
From Exercise_8

My favourite photos are below:

Photo 1: Standing
Here my subject is standing with her arms crossed. I like the triangluar shape made by her arms and body.
From Exercise_8

42mm, f/4.5, 1/125s, ISO100

Photo 2: Kneeling
In this photo my subject is kneeling, holding the ball in her hand. I like the angles created in this image.
From Exercise_8

38mm, f/4.5, 1/90s, ISO100

Photo 3: Lying
This is my favourite photo, of my subject lying on the ground with her ball in front of her. I think she looks quite relaxed and happy and the background is nicely blurred due to the shallow DOF.
From Exercise_8

51mm, f/4.5, 1/90s, ISO100

Exercise 6: The best of a sequence

I set up a photoshoot with the daughter of a friend who is a keen football player. I photographed her sitting with her football in the garden (bright sunshine but we chose the shady part). I took about 20 photos of her, of which I deleted 6 (closed eyes etc) immediately. I thought as I was taking the photos that the best one/s were about 2/3 of the way through the sequence, when my subject was really laughing and smiling nicely at the camera.

I reviewed the photos later on the computer and still felt that this photo was the best one of the sequence, though I liked a couple of others also.

Here are the photos as displayed in my browser (digiKam) in sequence.
From Exercise_6

I then chose this photo as my favourite and have cropped it in photoshop.

From Exercise_6

42mm, f/4.5, 1/125s, ISO100, natural light

I found this project easier than some of the others because I set the camera on a tripod and could step away from it, thus enabling better eye-contact and interaction with my subject.

Monday, 14 June 2010


I recently visited the Photographers Gallery in London. We were lucky to see the exhibition 'fresh faced & wild eyed 2010', which is work by recent graduates - an incredible range and variety if images. Most were sets, from two or 3 works up to about a dozen photos. All were inspirational and thought provoking and some were particularly clever and original!

I was particularly taken by the work of Simone Koch ( Her piece 'But we must cultivate our Garden' was really excellent - quirky images, mixture of people and place, closeups and abstracts; it really made me think about what made a set of images clever. I hope to be able to do something vaguely similar with my final assignment for TAOP, not in terms of including people in so many images, but taking photos that are not obvious and making them interesting.

We also saw Briony Campbell talking at the Friday lunchtime talk. Her work 'The dad project' was moving and impressive, though I thought the photos didn't tell enough of the story - the captions were needed which I think is a bit unfortunate. I have seen similar works, both online and at a visit to FOAM gallery in Amsterdam. To take such a personal experience (a relative with a terminal illness) and photograph it takes some guts, and she said that it had helped her grieving experience. I'm not sure it's the most original piece of work however, though it certainly was very touching.

I think those students who chose just a few images to present often resulted in stronger impact for me - sometimes it's difficult to make a choice between 'favourite' images, and I think this is actually a very important part of the process of photography (something I myself struggle with at times). But it also distills down the piece of work into the key images and it you can't get your message across in those images then perhaps the work is not strong enough? Another photographer whos work was very impressive and memorable was Anna Linderstam, who had her subjects hypnotised and then photographed them in that state. The massive triptych that results is visually stunning and very effective.

Project 63: A narrative picture essay

I have chosen a subject close to home for this essay. My mother has been visiting recently and she is a wicked baker. I got her help with baking a family favourite; Oaty Chocolate Bars, and have photographed the process. This was a fun exercise and a challenge to get interesting viewpoints and make each photo different. I think it has worked fairly well, though the photos are not the best I have taken. I used my mains flash to provide additional lighting in the kitchen.

Here is the recipe, it's also on the photos:

1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups plain flour
3/4 cup castor sugar
3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
3/4 cup sultanas
3/4 cup choc bits
180g butter, melted
1/4 cup golden syrup, warmed

1. Grease 20 x 30cm tray, cover with greasproof paper
2. Combine oats, flour, sugar, nuts, sultanas and choc bits. Stir in butter and syrup.
3. Press mixture evenly into pan
4. Bake in a moderate oven for 25 mintues or until lightly browned
5. Cool slightly in pan before cutting


From Project_63

From Project_63

From Project_63

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Exercise 3: Experimenting with light

The brief for this exercise was to photograph a subject in different lighting situations to observe the differences the light has on the resulting portrait. I have used head & shoulders shots for all the photos.

Photo 1. Studio light setup (ie indoors, with mains flash and shoot-through umbrella).
This photo has nice even lighting over most of the face, though the right side is slightly darker than the left. The light is (relatively) easy to control indoors, and (due to the large diffuse light source) doesn't leave any harsh shadows on the face, and results in attractive catchlights in the eyes. Feature lines on the face are seen because the light is not coming directly from the camera and there are small shadows as a result. The angle of the light is quite important though, and I have not experimented with this in this case.

From Exercise_3

70mm, f/6.7, 1/125s, ISO200

Photo 2. Indoors, with 580EX flash with diffuser fitted.
I have used a simple setup with the 580EX mounted directly on the camera, shooting vertically towards the ceiling with a bulb-type diffuser fitted to create a pleasant lighting effect. In this case it has given a fairly even coverage of light over the face. Catchlights are present in the eyes but also on the nose and wine glass which is not so appealing.

From Exercise_3

24mm, f/2.8, 1/60s, ISO400

Photo 3. Full sunlight with strong reflection from nearby building
I noticed a very strong reflection in the early evening coming off the building, so I positioned my subject in the full sunlight but close to the building so his face is lit on both sides - his left by the sun directly and his right by the sun via the building. This actually makes for a nicely balanced portrait, though the sun is obviously quite bright in his eyes. The creases on his face are emphasised by the strong light, more so than the indoor lighting portraits.

From Exercise_3

62mm, f/16, 1/60s, ISO100

Photo 4. Full sunlight with no strong nearby reflections
This photo is taken in strong sunlight with no nearby strong reflections. The difference with Photo 3 is marked. Here the whole right side of the face is in shadow. This makes for a more dramatic portrait, which in the right setting could be quite useful.

From Exercise_3

60mm, f/8, 1/250s, ISO100

Photo 5. Shade with no strong light reflections
Instantly this photo is much more gentle and balanced than the previous two, much more like the indoors portraits. The light is diffuse and even across the subjects face, though the right side of the face is lighter (when looking around at the scene - there are a number of buildings reflecting sunlight at a distance in that direction). Shade is good for gentle balanced light with no harsh shadows.

From Exercise_3

70mm, f/2.8, 1/125s, ISO100

This was an interesting project. I also had a play around indoors with my husband using the flash bare and diffuse and the differences are marked. This project shows how important careful use of light is in portriature, but also how different effects can be used to advantage. I often get 'scared' of shooting in full sunlight, but I will try to do this more to create some strong shadows and more dramatic photos.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Exercise 4: An Active Portrait

Exercise 4: An Active Portrait

The aim of this exercise was to photograph someone engaged in an activity. We were time limited due to the constraints of having my baby with us, but I managed to get some good photos of my subject, our baby massage teacher Jane. She was demonstrating how to give a baby massage on her 'baby', Joe. I felt like the session went quite well but I am still not very good at relaxing my subject and helping her to feel at ease. This is something I need to practice, and possibly would be made easier by using a tripod for the camera so that I don't have to be looking through the camera while photographing.

Photo 1: Setting up Joe for his massage
From Exercise_4

Photo 2: A high angle photograph of Jane demonstrating a leg massage
From Exercise_4

Photo 3: Jane demonstrating an alternative position for a back massage for a baby
From Exercise_4

Photo 4: Jane demonstrating an alternative position for a back massage for a baby, making eye-contact with the camera helps to make the photograph more personable
From Exercise_4

Photo 5: As Photo 4, but from a slightly higher angle
From Exercise_4

Photo 6: A different pose, closer in with Joe over her shoulder getting a back massage. Some minor editing in PS to lighten.
From Exercise_4

Photo 7: A different pose, closer in with Joe over her shoulder getting a back massage. By the end of the session we were both feeling more comfortable, and I think this is probably the best shot. Some minor editing in PS to lighten.
From Exercise_4

More practice required, but it was fun to photograph Jane with Joe, and I think she was more relaxed having something to do while I was taking the photos.