People and Place
Assignment 1 – A portrait
Student no. 490630
I knew when I started the People and Place module that I would find this first assignment challenging because from the time I first started taking photographs I have had an irrational hatred of taking formal portraits. Until I started working towards the assignment I would rarely take portraits, perhaps one a year if someone really pushed me into it.
I did think about not doing the People and Place module and completing my three level one modules by doing a history of art module instead. However, in the end I decided that much as I hated the portrait aspect of people and place I was really interested in the remaining sections of the course.
After several false starts and a lot of angst I have got to the point where I decided I would just submit the assignment with what I have. Although I really don’t feel happy with the work and it may not be good enough I feel that it is time to move on and stop torturing myself and others.
I should say at this stage that I don’t dislike to concept of portraits indeed I quite enjoy looking at books and visiting exhibition of well know portrait photographers. It is just the process of taking them that turns me off. I suspect that my dislike drives when I first started taking photographs as a child and was dragged to family gatherings to take pictures of those attending many of whom didn’t really want to be there and would go out of their way to be awkward and then in future be highly critical of the resulting pictures. In the end it just became easier to refuse to take portraits and claim I was only interested in taking landscapes, street scenes, abstracts or whatever else I could think of at the moment someone requested me to take a portrait.
When I first read through the notes I persuaded my wife to pose and others to pose for the first few exercise but the results were poor and I never found a willing victim who was prepared to put up with my ineffective attempts to get them to pose as I wanted. Eventually I drifted into the idea of working through the exercise using myself as the model by taking selfies. I believe that I actually learnt a lot doing this particularly in the area of lighting. I spent a lot of time wandering around the house and other locations with the camera on a tripod trying to get interesting lighting. I also worked with the two speedlights I have and learn a lot more using flash. Some of the results of this experimentation are included in my write-ups of the exercises on my blog.
However, when I came to the final assignment I felt I really need to put into practice what I had learnt from selfies and create portraits of someone else and my wife (Tricia) was my chosen victim (her words not mine).
For this assignment I planned to take a number of different photographs of Tricia in different poses and lighting conditions. To make life simple the intention was to use different locations within our house and garden. In retrospect I should have planned the shots in much more detail. While I did move furniture out of the way set up lighting etc. I did not spend enough time planning the poses I wanted hence each shot became a rather slow and frustrating experience for both of us.
The first portrait was taken in the hallway in my house all of the lighting is from the door with a panel of frosted glass about six feet to the right. The picture was taken in the afternoon when the sun is shining on the south west facing door providing a significant amount of light. I tried to add interest to the portrait by having Tricia posed in front of a mirror which I think works ok but overall I think the effect would have been better had I removed the picture on the opposite wall that is reflected in the top left of the mirror. I selected this portrait from a number I took with similar compositions because I liked the expression of surprise and the eyes looking out of the right of the frame. We could imagine that she is almost oblivious to the camera and is surprised to see someone or something approaching from the right.
Although I like pose and expression this portrait looking back at it now if really is not as sharpely in focus as I would really like.
The second portrait was taken in a rather poorly light room and I used a speedlight with a plastic diffuser on the camera to provide some fill flash. Although this type of lighting can be unflattering but I think it works ok here because I turned the flash power down to avoid getting too strong shadows on her face. To me this is a happy picture that I could see working very well if replicated with a child and their favourite soft toy. I think it would have been a stronger portrait if Tricia had been looking more at Eeyore rather than straight into the lens. With better posing it should have been possible to give an impression that Tricia and Eeyore were staring into each other eyes.
For something completely different I created this low key black and white image where Tricia is light by a speedlight with a grid on it that was positioned left of the frame at the level of Tricia’s face angle so that it did not light the dark wall in the frame that was behind Tricia. I was pleased with the lighting in this portrait, perhaps it could be subtler but I was looking for a quite bold statement. I would say that I am not sure that it is the most flattering portrait I have taken.
While I quite like the overall effect here when looking closely at the image the highlights in the eyes from the look a little odd because of the use of the flash grid.
For the fourth portrait I used two speed lights one from the front left with shoot through umbrella and one behind above to the right with a soft box a modifier. I also used a diffuser filter for this portrait to give it a softer effect, perhaps I have overdone this effect and should have used a smaller aperture to reduce the softening.
The firth portrait I have chosen the picture below of my wife when she was very stressed in the process of cooking lunch when we had many visitors. I deliberately selected a portrait where her expression is very different from the perhaps excessive smiles in the other portraits. I really wanted to capture a different emotion and here I think the expression says why as are you distracting me taking portraits when I have some much left to do before the first people arrive.
For this portrait, I used a very simple lighting setup, a small soft box mounted on an on-camera flash, I know this is not ideal lighting but in the circumstances, it was really the only option I had. Unlike some of the previous portraits I wanted to make this one very sharp and did not use a soft-focus filter as I had with several of the previous ones.
As I said at the beginning of this submission I really feel that I have already spent far too long agonising over taking portraits and I really want to move on the other sections of the module.
Through this whole painful process, I think I have learnt two important things; firstly, I believe that I can take reasonable portraits and secondly I will never enjoy taking portraits with spending a fortune on therapy. More seriously, on a technical level I learnt a lot about flash lighting an area I have always tried to avoid in the past. I also learnt a lot about the need to prepare and plan when photographing people. When I landscapes or other inanimate objects I can experiment and develop ideas but taking portraits worked better when I had a clear vision for what I wanted, could setup the camera and lighting in advance and then position the sitter and relatively quickly take a series of shots.