Portraiture, and an amateur model

This is going to be one of my longest posts in a long, long time, so prepare yourself.

Yesterday I did one of my first proper portraiture shoots with a friend of mine, and I thought I’d go through the process with you and give an insight into how I created some of the photos from the shoot.

I’m quite new to portraiture, I’ve always wanted to get into it but it’s just never something I’ve had experience with – posing people isn’t particularly a talent of mine, so I can’t offer advice in that department as I realise I have a long way to go until I could even think of doing portrait shoots like this for a paying model. The model seen below was one of my close friends, so it was easy to work together as we already had good chemistry, but although she was the one who wanted to do the shoot, she was extremely anxious about it and wouldn’t stop laughing and shying away from the camera. My solution to this was to sit her on a sofa comfortably, and just chat together – casually integrating a photo or two into the mix so she’d start to feel comfortable with the shoot.

All of these photos were shot on a Canon 1D Mark IIN, which a 50mm F/1.8 (yes, the dirt cheap nifty fifty). I never used more than 2 speedlights, but sometimes had a reflector as well. And I only used my own sitting room for the shoot. Included in my sitting room was a sofa, a grey-ish wall, and a small section of wall above the fireplace that had this really classy black and silver wallpaper as seen at the very bottom of this post. Lets get into it then:

StuComerford_20140301_0514 StuComerford_20140301_0514-21/200, F/2, ISO 100, 50mm

The two photos above are the same photo, just processed differently. The bottom one isn’t quite black and white – it has a slight sepia tone to it to add a bit of warmth (it’s my preferred version of the photo I’d say).

Believe it or not, that’s not a natural light photo. It was actually quite a dull day out. I had one flash in the room behind the sofa, to illuminate the white curtains in the background, it also added a tiny bit of a hair light (or more of a sofa light in this situation). Then I had another speedlight with an umbrella very close to the model, on the left of the camera, which gave a very soft light to illuminate her face.

StuComerford_20140301_05601/200, F/2, ISO 100, 50mm

You can see here how the light in the room behind the model worked to simulate a daylight feel. It was a Canon 580 EX I speedlight that I used, with the little built-in diffusion panel thing to give it a 14mm zoom. I pointed it at the white ceiling in the room and closed the curtains in front of it – it did exactly as I wanted it too. Shooting at F/2 also helped to have the whole background melt together into some lovely smooth bokeh.

StuComerford_20140301_05921/200, F/2, ISO 100, 50mm

Moving on to a grey wall, I decided to go a bit artsy fartsy for a moment (for my own pleasure). So went for a portrait that was a lot more unconventional. This was lit with just one speedlight to camera left, with an umbrella to diffuse the light. This was just a shot I wanted to grab before she changed outfit. The model is sitting on a small coffee table about 2-3 feet away from the wall (the width of my sitting room made for this being a very cramped situation).

StuComerford_20140301_06641/125, F/2, ISO 100, 50mm

This is just to give you an example of the table she’s sitting on, and how cramped the space was – this was as wide as I could get, I had moved her back to about 2 feet from the wall and I was leaning back as far as I could, still resulting in the tips of her fingers being cut off which really bothers me.
Another note about this photo – the shirt she’s wearing was a bit too big for her, and wasn’t flattering to her waist. So I had her open the bottom button and bunched up the back of it and tied it together with an elastic band, so it seemed to naturally pull in around her waist and open up on her hips, making it a more flattering shape. Again, this portrait was only lit with 1 speedlight and an umbrella, but I introduced a silver reflector on camera right so it wasn’t as in shadow as it was before.

StuComerford_20140301_06761/125, F/2, ISO 100, 50mm

This was lit with 2 speedlights, both with umbrellas on both camera right and camera left.

At this point, she was starting to get a bit more comfortable with the posing but she was still fairly uncomfortable and didn’t know how to position herself (I wasn’t that helpful either as I’m completely clueless about posing models). I came up with the idea of taking her scarf that she was wearing that morning on her way to meet me, and just have her wrap it around her next and play around with it however she wanted. I know that wearing a scarf helps me feel better when I’m a bit self-conscious so I thought it couldn’t do any harm – it ended up being the best decision of the shoot.

StuComerford_20140301_07061/125, F/2, ISO 100, 50mm

StuComerford_20140301_07261/200, F/2.2, ISO 100, 50mm

The scarf was working wonders for how comfortable she felt posing, as it gave her a prop to play with and made her feel like she wasn’t just there doing nothing. The introduction of the bow made no sense in colour as it was a strong red which went horribly with the blue scarf – but I knew that they could work reasonably well in black and white together.

StuComerford_20140301_08151/200, F/2.8, ISO 100, 50mm

And to finish off the shoot I wanted to utilise that bit of wallpaper above the fireplace. For this I had to get her to stand on a chair and slightly sit on mantelpiece.  It made leaning against the wall easier for her, but in a whole it was a bit of an awkward position – just try to remember that the camera sees things differently to how you see them! The positioning worked for this situation. It was lit with just 1 speedlight and an umbrella, camera right.

In terms of post processing for all of the photos, they were all done in Adobe Lightroom 5. Basic shadow adjustment and sharpening was the main thing that was done to all of them – I’d lift the shadows on all the photos by using the shadow slider and the tone curve mainly, a slight increase in contrast and some sharpening would do it for nearly all of the photos – with a small vignette here or there. No skin retouching was done to any of the photos, it’s too time consuming and I just don’t believe in it for most purposes.

Well, hopefully that was helpful to some of you! As always, I’m open to questions about anything, just leave a comment on the post or get in touch with me on twitter: @StuartComerford

Visual Lexicon

Working on a new brief for college titled “Visual Lexicon” – the idea is to take images to fit under certain headings that are given to us. I’ll admit, my work on it so far hasn’t been particularly great – I’ve been very lazy with this assignment by leaving it to the last minute, but I’ve gotten a few images that I’m reasonably happy with. Here are a few of the images I took the other day while working on the project, along with their titles:

Movement

StuComerford_20140221_0072_Movement

Pattern

StuComerford_20140221_9986_ContreJour

Translucence

StuComerford_20140209_2_Translucence

Gaelic Football and overcoming lens restrictions for sports photography

I photographed Gaelic Football for the first time last week and it was an awkward experience – I was without my 300mm lens, all I had was a 70-200mm F/2.8 which I was not comfortable with. And I was in a position where I couldn’t sit on the ground, I had to stand at the sideline. But I couldn’t just simply not photography the match – I had to producer images that were usable for my college newspaper, and this was a pretty huge cup match!

It wasn’t the best experience to say the least, and it was cold and raining. However, the key is not panicking, and using what you have to your full advantage.

I knew going into this that I wouldn’t be able to cover much more than just the sidelines, so my aim was to position myself at the side of the pitch, between the halfway line and the goal line. Then shoot directly across, or upfield.
There was about a 4 foot barrier in front of me, so I couldn’t sit down and couldn’t get particularly low, but I was able to use that barrier to steady my hands much like a monopod would – and it helped keep horizons straight! Shooting in landscape orientation as opposed to portrait orientation is also an easy way to make things seem somewhat closer, portrait orientation opens up too much of the foreground and makes things seem farther away than they actually are.

Working with what you have at your disposal is the sign of a true photography, and what everyone should try to do. You don’t need that really expensive lens to take great photos, you just need to make the most of what you have with you. Know the limitations of your kit, and work around them.

Here’s some of my photos from the match, the first two are black and white because of artistic preference – I wouldn’t submit monochrome images for publication in newspapers, but I prefer the images this way:

BW (4 of 5)

BW (5 of 5)

DIT vs Marys Sigerson (1 of 12)

DIT vs Marys Sigerson (3 of 12)

DIT vs Marys Sigerson (4 of 12)

DIT vs Marys Sigerson (5 of 12)

DIT vs Marys Sigerson (12 of 12)

Bray, Dublin

Remember when I said I’d blog more frequently? Yeah…that didn’t go so well, but here’s some new stuff for you!

I’m working on some college projects at the moment, some rather interesting ones actually, and I’m about to move into shooting analog (film) so there’ll be plenty of that on here in the next few months! As well as a lot of talk about my upcoming feature length film titled “The Kids Aren’t Alright” – more information about that can be found on its website: http://tkaa-movie.com/

Anyway, photographs! Here’s some recent ones from a shoot out in Bray, in Dublin. These were all shot on a Canon 50D, and Sigma 24-60mm F/2.8.

StuComerford_20140209_9618

 

 

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StuComerford_20140209_9669

StuComerford_20140209_9700_solitude

StuComerford_20140209_9720

StuComerford_20140209_9784_seafront

 

 

StuComerford_20140209_9729_victorian

Exploring my artistic side

I’ve created a new tab on my website called “Artistic Projects” – I’ve never been really open to the idea of exploring the more “artsy” side of photography, but as I’m in college studying photography now I thought I’d delve into a bit of project work. Building stories around particular themes, or just posting the college work I’ve done.

At the moment one of my assignments is up there, a Kitchen Still Life assignment we got about two weeks ago.

Cutlery

 

As well as a personal project I did recently titled “Through the Fence” – which simply put, revolves around looking at/through a fence.

IMG_9225

 

It was a cool little project that developed while I was out on a photowalk recently, and I thought it was something quite special which I could develop into something bigger in the future!

IMG_9242

IMG_9261

 

But for now, I’m going to keep things simple and just get stuff up on my site as frequently as possible, to get my inner artist to blossom into a beautiful– scratch that, that sounds pretty lame. I just want to take cool photos.

The full photo projects are available on my website, here: http://www.stuartcomerford.com/Artistic-Projects

Networking :: Short Film

Firstly, apologies for not updating this blog for months! It’s kept passing my mind as I’ve started college and had a lot going on, I plan to get back to it now with photography and filmmaking posts!

I’ll start with a post about my latest short film. Since making “The Untold Story” I’ve been bitten by the filmmaking bug, and I just needed to give it another go and rectify all the mistakes that I made in “The Untold Story”. So here’s my second attempt: “Networking”.

It’s a mild thriller, about three girls who return home after a night out and end up playing host to some very unwelcome guests.
The entire short was shot in 2 consecutive days, 21 hours of work. And it was all edited together in the space of 2 weeks – so everything was quite rushed! It’s far from perfect, and nowhere near as good as “The Untold Story” in my eyes, but it was fun to make and everyone had fun – which is the most important part, your head has to be in the right place when you’re a creative person, there’s no point making something when there’s no joy in what you’re doing. If you’re not loving what you’re doing, then you’re not doing the right thing – so have fun in all your artistic endeavours!

The finished short film is available here:

And the behind-the-scenes/bloopers video of all the fun we had on set over those 2 days, plus cast interviews (and an interview with myself) is available here if you’re interested:

Filmmaking isn’t something I’ve ever really covered in my blog, but as I have plans to either make a feature film next summer or a 40 minute short film, I think I might start covering the creative process of it a lot more if people are interested in it. If there’s interest in anything I did in “Networking” or even “The Untold Story” then please feel free to ask and I shall make a post explaining what I did in detail!

The Untold Story :: Short Film

Final Facebook

Directing is a bigger step away from photography than I ever expected. My heart has been in cinema probably about as long as it’s been in photography, but it’s a very different change of direction in many respects. (Although, my taste in films is probably just as questionable to most as my taste in photography is). I’m glad to get away from photography for a bit and I’m extremely happy to have taken on this project. I’ve been writing several variations of this story for the past 2 years straight in my English class, and after turning it into a photographic story to use for my college portfolios it seemed almost silly not to take it one step further and turn it into a short film.

This was only possible thanks to everyone who participated and contributed to the making of.  And a special thanks to The Rehns for providing some brilliant music for the soundtrack (I suggest you check them out here – http://www.facebook.com/TheRehns ). This was a pretty strenuous undertaking as it was a first for everybody involved. The film is set to take part in the Kerry Film Festival, Cork Film Festival, IndieCork Festival, and Dun Laoghaire Underground Cinema Film Festival in the coming months and hopefully more in the future.

For now, I present to you, my debut as a writer/director – “The Untold Story”.

‘The Untold Story’, is a documentation of the frequently avoided subject of teenage depression, following the story of one teenage girl as she deals with bullying, social exclusion, isolation, and domestic violence while nearing the end of her time in secondary school. It touches upon the serious topic of teenage life, more specifically – the part of teenage life that people prefer not to discuss openly. The film depicts modern teenage life in school as vile and abusive as it really is. It aims to reveal how two-faced and self-absorbed teenagers can be, while highlighting the pressure to conform to an idealistic image of what your peers deem acceptable, with those who are ‘different’ being looked down on and bullied – both psychologically and physically.

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