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

Advertisements

What is photography to you?

For me, photography is capturing a moment in time that will never occur again. It may be replicated or imitated but never has that moment happened before and never will that moment happen again throughout the whole of humanity’s existence.

At that moment in time in which you depress the shutter button and expose the sensor to light you are creating a piece of history.

Photography started out as a means for recording moments in time but nowadays it’s an art form; a business and a hobby. Taking a macro photo of a flower or photographing a model in a studio isn’t exactly what you’d think of when I say “capturing a moment in time”.
I don’t believe there are many photographers now-a-days that can say they do it for the historical moments they create. Wedding photographers, photojournalists and sports photographers (to an extent) are the first three professional fields I think of when I think “capturing a moment for the history books”. These fields have adapted to modern trends but the underlying drive in their work is still all about capturing the moment.

I must say, I speak witha relatively hypocritical point of view. I’m guilty of photographing many things for the sheer joy of taking a picture instead of thinking about capturing a moment. Most of the work I do (by chance, I think) is primarily focused around capturing the decisive moment. Gig photography, photojournalism, sports photography etc.
I was looking over photos I had taken in the past when this question sprung into my head. I was looking at the photos of a play I shot, one in particular caught my eye.

I remember taking this before the play had begun. The pianist was messing around, making funny faces and noises that had the guitarist in stitches behind him. This photo was never meant to happen, it’s nothing special. But it is a moment in time that will never happen again. A moment which invokes many feelings of comradery, friendship and pure banter.

So I pose this question to you: What is photography to you?