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

Amateur music photographers… what are you doing… stop.

I shot probably my last gig for a long time at the start of the month and it was a horrible experience. It was a battle of the bands event, all the bands in the battle were enjoyable and entertaining to shoot (although the entertainment factor of the music is arguable…). The headlining band, however, was a horrible experience. It was an underage band, and they had all their friends there taking photos of them. You know, all these wannabe photographer hipsters that are flooding the industry?  Well, due to the headlining band being an underage band the security were very lenient, they didn’t care about what happened just as long as no one died on their shift.
I sat in the pit waiting for the band to come on, very relaxed and ready to enjoy an uninterrupted hour of shooting. When suddenly, the band comes out, with two photographers on stage. They’re a young band, and they’re obsessed with having coverage of their gigs. (We’re also from a generation of people where every second person is a photographer, and 95% of those photographers are just in it for the popularity.) Then for the whole show I had to deal with two morons bouncing around the stage as if they were band members, the two photographers were more interested in entertaining the crowd, getting attention, and having fun, than they were in taking pictures (which is what I consider the most fun you can have at a gig…).

Here’s what I mean (I know the images themselves are poor, I just wanted to show what the photographers were like):

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In all honesty, if I had bought a ticket to see that band play live and ended up having those two numbskulls doing that on stage I’d be pissed. It’s not like it’s a big venue/stage either, this is one of my photos of what the venue looks like:

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I would excuse their behaviour if they had some amazing shots, they’d still be pricks but I wouldn’t be angry about it. Yet, I saw their photos, and I know how they work, and… I’m not excusing their behaviour. Two people who shoot in full auto, only for the reason of being cool because they’re hipster photographers don’t have any right to stand in the way of real photographers or fans at a gig. It was a pain to work around them, as I don’t want them to be seen in any of my shots I ended up with very few keepers which is unfortunate. I wouldn’t pick a single shot from their set to go into my portfolio, I am very disappointed with how it ended up going. It was going so bad I had to move out of the pit and up to the balcony after a while as I just couldn’t take it anymore. These are two of the only decent shots I got:

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If you are one of these kinds of photographers, please, please, obey the unwritten rules of photography: don’t block another photographer’s shot. It’s called a “photo pit” for a reason, use it.

It feels good to rant about things sometimes.

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