Monday, August 2, 2010

Assignment 1: First Sample

In approaching this assignment my first task was to secure a victim/subject who would have the time and patience to work with me over a number of separate sessions.  My wife,Heidi, stoically volunteered and before moving on I want to register my internal thanks for her patience.  Being married to a photography nut is bad enough without also becoming the subject of the obsession.  Still, for better or worse!

There are very many forms of portrait photography, varying from stark realism to soft focus flattery.  Where a portrait sits on that continuum is a negotiation between the vision of the photographer and the desires of the subject. In this set of photographs I have tried to portray the women I love as I see her and to a lesser but important degree how she wants herself to be seen.  This meant that hair and makeup needed to considered before any photographs were taken, but the composition and shot selection rested with me.

Almost all of the images were created within a 10 day period spanning 2 weekends and represent the output of 6 separate sessions and around 10 different locations/lighting conditions.  In all I have shot around 500 separate photographs and from them have selected the following 15 as my short list for submission.

Session 1: Studio Lighting - 2 Lights

These two photographs were shot a couple of weeks before the others as part of my work on the exercises within Project 1. Both are taken with a 135mm prime at f/2.8.  In these images I tried to get in close and eliminate any influence of the background or hair style, simply using Heidi's hair to frame the image.  The images are still a little too saturated and need some adjustment.

Session 2: Natural Light - Locations

In the second session we took advantage of a cloudy but bright day and the soft even light that it created.  The following 3 images were also taken with my 135mm, but at f/2 to really try and isolate Heidi against the background.  The locations are all within a short walk of where we live and were chosen to provide an urban backdrop.  White balance was very much helped by Heidi wearing a light grey blouse.

The first image is one of the few without eye contact, I like the soft purple of the lavender.  The second is likely to make the final selection, the leading line of the rail and office buildings in the background provide a strong composition.

Session 3: Back in the Studio - 4 Lights

Back in my home studio (also know as the living room), I added two more studio flashes to my set up.  In the first image one of the lights is being used to light the bookcase background, whilst the other has been positioned as a hair light.  The second image retains the hair light but moves the background light to act as a kicker, adding some light to the shaded side of Heidi's face.  The black background is provided by a sheet of black felt, a great material for backgrounds as it is very light absorbent.  The first image was taken using a 70-200mm zoom at 200mm and f/8, the second with my 135 at f/8.  One challenge in a small studio space with powerful lights is that it can be difficult to reduce the light far enough to obtain shallow DoF.  One answer is to use an ND filter, however, these can add a colour caste.  Choices, choices, ...

Session 4 - Down Town

These two images are the only ones I have taken under artificial light.  I wanted a couple of images with busy backgrounds, where Heidi could stand out from the crowd, preferably in the street.  Unfortunately heavy rain forced us into a shopping arcade and a combination of natural light, strip lighting and fill flash has led to a strong colour caste in the two photo's I like the photo's, but at present my editing skills have not been good enough to balance the images.  Unfortunately I did not shoot a grey card during this session, a lesson learned. In varied light conditions it is always wise to get a reference shot with a grey card.  Worst of all I had one in my camera bag.Both images taken using a 70-200mm f/2.8 zoom at around 150mm and f/2.8.

Session 5 - Out the back

Another type of shot that I wanted was a portrait using a long telephoto, in this case a 300mm f/4.  This creates superb separation of subject and background, and a beautifully blurred background.  These combine to give a very 3D feel to the image.  The trick is finding the space in which to work and a suitable background.  In this case I used the communal back garden that we share with our row of houses and neighboring flats.  Both images are 300mm and f/4.

Shoot 6 - Cooking

During one of the exercises I shot Heidi whilst in the kitchen cooking.  For the assignment I decided to recreate those shots, but this time with eye contact.  The challenge in this case is a small kitchen coupled with very strong back lighting through the kitchen window and a desire not to use artificial lighting.  This required a shorter lens, a 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom at 70mm/f/2.8 and very careful metering.  I metered off Heidi's face and accepted that the background would blow out.  There was also a lot of stray light entering the lens which has resulted in a very soft gentle image, very different from the others.  I like this very much and expect to include it in my final submission.

Shoot 7 - Enough

Last night we agreed on one final shoot, taking advantage of a beautiful sunny evening and a good mix of sun and shade.  For this shoot I took along my 70-200 f/2.8 zoom and a camera mounted flash to add some fill light.  Although we walked a fair distance the most attractive images were taken just on our front door step, where we have a park bench for sitting out an enjoying the sun.  The still bright overhead sky would have created too much shadow in Heidi's so I chose to use supplemental flash, but at -1eV so that the flash did not dominate the images:

Now I need to spend some time and consider which images would combine to create a comprehensive portrait!

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