Monday, July 26, 2010

Photo Shoot: Physiotherapy Practice

As part of the blogs accompanying my photo course I want to highlight other major photographic projects that I undertake, but which do not necessarily form part of the course.  This is one!

Recently a neighbor asked if I could take some photo's of her new physiotherapy practice.  She and her sister were setting up a new business and being very short of working capital, asked if I could help out.  She essentially wanted images that could be used to build her web site.  The brief was to take interior shots of the therapy rooms, waiting room and some of the equipment, plus some photo's of her working with a patient.  This was a great opportunity for me to test my skills and with the theme of working portraits and creating images of a building to illustrate its use; fitted very well to the current OCA course.

So one Saturday Heidi and I turned up outside her offices with rather more kit than she was expecting.  I knew the lighting would be difficult and so I brought a tripod, but also a combination of studio and on camera flash.  The interior of her offices was quite dark, but the day outside was a 30 degree summer scorcher, so managing shadows would be impossible without adding my own light.  For this I used 2 400J monoblocks inside softboxes - my standard kit.  I must admit that when I went out on a limb and invested in these lights I had no idea how useful they would be.  Most people seem to worry about lenses, these lights have proved, to me at least, that modest investment (600 Euros) in a pair of entry level studio lights can have a far greater impact than a new lens.  That said I am a victim to lens addiction.  In this case I used an unusual lens, a 24mm tilt-shift,  The advantage of the wide 24mm coupled with the ability to move the focal plane up and down, allowed me to ensure that interior verticals were straight.  Another advantage was the request to shoot a corridor with a large mirror at one end.  Placing the camera in a doorway and shifting the lens meant I could make the shot without a lot of post processing.  Other than that I used a 24-105mm f/4 zoom for the portraiture and the more creative shots.

The photo's have been placed on the web site:

I have also created two screen grabs from the web site, showing the cover page and the "Photo's" page.  All of the imagery is mine, however, I had nothing to do with the web design.

The biggest challenge throughout was trying to maintain consistency in the colours, white balance was difficult as every image had some mixture of natural and artificial light.  Since then I have bought a colour checker from Xrite, simply a standard pallet of colours in a plastic surround.  A photo of this can be imported into Lightroom and used to ensure standard colour calibration. All that is needed is to take a shot of the target in the current lighting and make sure that if the lighting changes a new calibration shot is made.  So far I have limited use, but I plan to take advantage to manage the colours in my forthcoming Assignment 1.

This was a great exercise in working on a brief with a finite deadline and with a client expecting high quality results.  I gained a lot from doing this and it has helped me understand some of the demands that a professional photographer faces, but has also built my confidence that I can do this type of work.

8. Varying the pose

As I had my home studio set up for the images in exercise 6, I carried on and completed the photographs for Exercise 8, varying the pose.  Heidi wanted a red (pink) background, so I draped a red mesh sheet over the existing white background.  I cannot say I was very thrilled with the background, however, having this very monotone background meant that we could focus on the subject.

Lights, were 4 monoblocks, set up with a main, fill, background and hair light.  Other equipment was my full frame Canon 5D2 and 24-70mm lens.  As this was going to be full body I wanted to ensure that I had good depth of field and so set the lights to deliver f/11 at 1/125s.  I have a flash meter and remote triggers so this is a fairly straightforward process.

The rest is posing and props.  We had been taking shots for a couple of hours at this stage and so modeling fatigue was beginning to set in, therefore we tried to have some fun and I think it shows in the images.  As there were quite a few I have created contact sheets in the sequence that I took the photo's.

We started the session with Heidi standing and me asking her to shift from foot to foot and slowly rotate.  The first image is the best in this sequence and is the only one in which we strictly followed the guide for standing in a photo - weight on back foot, body angled to the camera, head looking slightly over the shoulder, with the shoulder closest to the camera slightly raised.  Seems that the traditional poses are still the best.

The next step was to introduce a chair to act as a prop, the colour of the chair being one reason for the red background.  Leaning against the chair made the pose more dynamic and allowed Heidi to feel more comfortable, the best image again being one of the first where her legs are crossed and her body is more upright.  As she leaned forwards the pose became more casual, but less open or friendly.

Next step was to use the chair for its intended purpose and to ask Heidi to take a seated position.  In the first 6 images I asked her to do different things with her hands but otherwise sit comfortably -it is clear in one that she got a little exasperated with me, however, this created the best image in this sequence!

Finally, we moved the chair around and worked with a more casual relaxed pose that allowed her to lean her head on her hands, which I personally find attractive and interesting.

There are an infinite variety of poses and I found it difficult to suggest what would work or not.  The method that worked was to use the chair as a prop and explore different ways of posing with it and then allow Heidi to be creative.  The key was to have fun and ensure that we laughed while doing this to create a relaxed body language.  Clearly, relaxed is not always going to be the correct pose, but for us this time this worked.

Friday, July 23, 2010

7. Focal length and character

This exercise brought another model into the course, Niall my next door neighbour and friend of many years.  This exercise needed space so we used the communal gardens at the back of my house offering plenty of space and an interesting background.  Camera is my full frame Canon EOS 5D2.  For lenses I have selected two zooms and a telephoto, primarily to minimize the amount of time Niall had to spend posing for me.  The zooms are a 24-70mm f/2.8 and a 70-200mm f/2.8.  The telephoto is a 300mm f/4.  This combination gave me a good range from 24-300mm, or in modern terms a 12x zoom, although without the convenience of simply hitting a button to go from one end to the other.

In all of the images in this sequence I have tried to maintain the same framing in terms of how Niall's head and shoulders fill the frame and the same direction of shooting.  The only variable is my having to progressively move backwards to manage the framing.  In all of the shots I have also maintained an aperture of f/4 to eliminate the influence of variation in the aperture.  Setting the camera on aperture priority and an ISO of 100, all of the shots were either 1/60s or 1/90s.  Finally I selected spot metering to ensure that Niall's face is properly exposed and that the background brightness did not influence the exposure of his face.

The first image starts at the wide end with 24mm


Not the most flattering image, the wide angle has forced me to get in very close and has accentuated the size of his nose and almost hidden his ears.  Moving to 50mm the image is far more acceptable, apart from his eyes being shut (did not use a flash)


However, even at 50mm his head is still too large compared to his shoulders. 50mm is more appropriate for a full body shot. Stepping up to 70mm and switching to my telephoto zoom brings a great improvement


At this point the image is far more natural and Niall was feeling more comfortable as I was further away.  With the shorter focal lengths I was very much invading his personal space.  From this point I start to enter telephoto focal lengths, starting with 100mm




In this sequence the quality of the foreground portrait is not greatly changing, however, there is significant and progressive change in the background.  The longest focal length offers the smoothest Bokeh and eliminates the distraction of the tree trunk to the right of the head.

My preference from the images is that provided by the 300mm, however, this is a difficult lens to sue for portraiture as it pushes me too far away and I loose rapport with the subject.  200mm is a good focal length, but is in my view still too long, although very good for shooting candid portraits at events. from a practical standpoint 100mm or thereabouts provides a good compromise between isolating the subject from the background, but being close enough to engage.

 My favorite and most used lens for occasions when I want to take a portrait with a willing subject is my 135mm f/2.  This very fast lens gives me great creative control and excellent image quality.  Alternatively my 85mm f/1.8 is also very good and on a crop sensor camera behaves much like the 135mm.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

6. The best of a sequence

For this exercise my sister in law, Irene, stood in as the model, giving Heidi a rest.  Irene was also keen to get a few formal portrait shots  made up and so this was a win win for both of us.  In all I took over 250 frames, but this was over a couple of hours on the afternoon and involved a few different set ups.  The shots that I am chronicling here were the first sequence, before Irene decided she wanted to try different clothes.

For these shots I am using a pair of studio strobes to light Irene and a further strobe for the background.  Irene wanted a plain white background, not the easiest to work with.  I have a long sheet, but it is a little wrinkled and so I am not happy with the background here, paper would have been better.  However, this does not affect the sequence.  The camera used is my full frame Canon EOS 5D2

The sequence of 70 shots here were taken during a 10 minute period, with me providing a little guidance on pose, but not being overly bossy.  I let Irene try to relax into the photo's .  Initially I used a 24-70mm zoom which put me a little too close to Irene for head and shoulders shots, this clearly made her uncomfortable.  Switching to a 135mm Prime made her very much more comfortable as I had to back away.  The time taken switching lenses also gave us a chance to review the images on the camera and provided Irene with confidence that the shots were working out.  Later I switched to an 85mm prime, partly to test a variety of different lenses in a studio shoot.  Towards the end of the sequence the images leveled off in quality and it was clear that we had achieved what we could with the situation and my skills.  The best images were taken in the middle sequence using the 135mm.

Following the shoot I have loaded all images into Lightroom and rated them out of 5, 5 being the best. Only one photo was given a 5.  I then printed contacts to file from the software together with the ratings a focal length of the shots

When I looked at the rating I found that I rated images higher when there was eye contact and when the face/shoulders filled the frame.  The longer focal lengths really deliver a better looking image.  The best in my judgement is the following

This works for me because Irene is not trying to smile, she simply looks happy.

Monday, July 5, 2010

5. Eye-contact and expression

Once again, Heidi acted as my willing subject.  For this shoot I chose a very simple setting in the shade of a tree in our back garden.  I simply briefed Heidi to move her head around and adopt a range of expression and angle to or away from the camera.  The camera is my Canon 5D MkII paired with a 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom lens.  Each of the following images used the same aperture, f/2.8 and ISO 100, with the shutter speed floating between 1/125s and 1/250s depending on the cloud cover.  I have chosen a very shallow DoF to emphasize the portrait and minimize background distraction.  Overall I am happy with the sequence as a learning experience, however, the very bright background is a little too much.  I could have selected a better environment in which to shoot.

This first image is a very straight onto the camera pose and whilst it works well for a statement of confidence and strength is not very feminine.  When I shoot men this pose works very well.  Asking Heidi to tilt her head a little but still look at the camera created a much softer friendlier image

Sticking with a fairly straight on viewpoint Heidi then tilted her head towards the camera, firstly by a little amount then much more

The two images are barely different, however, they convey very different emotion.  By looking upwards with a downward tilted face Heidi seems to look a little impish, like a naughty child, whereas the forward looking pose is again open and honest.  Perhaps we inherit this view of the posture from how children look down when guilty and yet try to turn their eyes upwards to see what is going on.

In the next image Heidi again faces the camera but her eyes do not engage:

This creates a look of boredom and disengagement - the fact that she is facing the camera implies she needs to be there, but the eyes say that she does not want to be there.  Moving on the next 3 images show different degrees of turning away from the camera:

The final image works best, if only because her eyes are open.  They also look more candid.