THERE’S SOMETHING MAGICAL ABOUT photographing people’s faces; I’ve learnt that it’s not really about capturing what’s on the surface of the skin that matters, but really what lies beneath it. Being more of a Street/Event photographer, making individual portraits is not really one of my strengths.
Having said that, Portrait photography is one of the aspects of the art, that illustrates brilliantly the fact that the final product is much more than the sum the individual parts. Get it right, and the end result can literally blow you away.
When photographing an individual, capturing the unique individuality of the subject, makes the photograph shine. The trouble is, most people that I’ve attempted to do portraits for, automatically go into pose mode, the minute they get in front of my lens. It’s just what you do; right!… Wrong!
The problem with this is that pose mode masks the person, and instead, presents the made-up persona. I don’t have this problem when I’m shooting Street; most time the subject(s) don’t even know that they are being snapped, which introduces a voyeuristic angle, which makes street photos work.
On the other hand, sometimes, the street subjects are aware that they are being snapped, and when that happens, their reaction can often help make the image into a keeper, like this one to your left. It’s kind of crazy, but fun! I mean; what kind of mad person pulls a face like THAT?…
The images I’ve chosen to share with you today, can all be labelled as Portraits. However, they have all been made using three distinctly different approaches; 1. Studio shots, 2. location shots, and 3. Street photography. What they all have in common though, is that the expressions on the faces of the subjects conveys the story. Just looking at what is radiating from the subjects, sparks all kinds of ideas of what is actually happening at the moment the shutter went “Clack!” [7d shutter sound] I could literally write chapters on each individual image, but I won’t do that. What follows instead, are some brief explanations;
STUDIO: Shooting in a controlled studio is something that I’m finding myself doing more and more. For me, it takes a lot more thought and energy, not only because you have to work to get the subject(s) to be natural, (unless they are professionals) and not freeze up, but there is the small and often frightening matter of lighting to consider.
It takes a good deal of practice, to know how to quickly set up and use Speedlite flashes or Studio Strobes to good effect, and it’s not a good look to keep the subject waiting, because you’re not sure how to get the look you’re after. Subjects tend to get bored really quickly, and once they see you fumbling with gear, and realise that you are a dummy head, the photoshoot is effectively over!
I’ve had a good amount of success attempting to stave off that inevitable: “I think you’re a dummy head!” moment, by continually talking to the subjects with the express intention of keeping them happy; It works. Another good thing about talking, is that you can make them relax… even laugh, which apparently, I’m particularly good at.
LOCATION: For this image (above), I had a lady with the most beautiful smile. She told me that she was nervous, but then I revealed: “so was I…” We joked about who was more nervous, and who could “out-nervous” who… [yep] As we joked, I clicked the shutter, not sure if she even noticed at the time. I was very pleased with the result; it’s still one of my all-time favourite portrait shots. So much raw emotion packaged and projected at my lens. Absolutely every facet, every molecule of her face is beaming sunshine. I call this image: Joy & Pain, are like Sunshine, and Rain…
STREET: The image on your right; Charlie Phillips AKA Smokey Joe, is a well known photographer that I’ve become acquainted with through my MultipleMedia™ work. It was a quick street/portrait shot that I took when we bumped into each other briefly on Brixton road.
Photographers can be notoriously hard to shoot, for some reason they don’t like it, and in my experience they tend to resist all attempts to be captured by their own medium of choice. So after bumping into Smokey, and speaking briefly for a few moments, I quickly pulled out my camera before he could clock what was going on, told him to: “look this way”, and Clack!… Because interactions in Street photography tend to be brief, and not really being a people person, I find this method quite easy.
STUDIO: I call this next image: Don Dadda… it’s a kind of caribbean style, rude-boy or god-father type image. This particular image came about at the end of a long shoot. I had to fire off about 300 images just to get just ONE.
It was literally like; “well the photoshoot is over now, so lets just muck around for a bit and try some things…” The subject whipped out a straw hat, cocked it to one side gangsta style, and was about to slide on some cool shades he had in his pocket, and Clack!… The moral of the story: Sometimes the subject will only relax and be themselves when they think the shoot is over!… It ain’t over till it’s over; Blud! [smile]
LOCATION: This next image was actually taken in a jazz club. The live performance was over, and everyone was sat at tables drinking cocktails and relaxing. The ambient lighting, was provided mainly by candles, which illuminated the subjects face in a pleasing way. She looked serious!
I decided to enhance what little light was present by using off-camera flash set off to one side. Because it was on location, and the DJ was playing, and the subject was already relaxed, it allowed me time to sort myself out and get the image exactly how I wanted it using trial and error. When I made this image, I was still at the initial experimental stages with my flash photography, but enjoying the possibilities it afforded me. I give thanks for her patience, and I’m sure her long suffering on the day, contributed to the palpable serious tone of the image. [smile]
I’ve heard that some photographers even use off-camera flash for Street photography; WOW… That’s something I’ll have try one day. In the meantime, I’ll continue to utilise the little pop-up flash that comes as standard on Canon Crop sensor cameras, which really comes in handy sometimes. It’s one of the reasons I haven’t moved over to full-frame cameras yet, as being professional devices, they do not have an internal pop-up flash, and I’d have to carry one at all times; not good methinks.
STREET: Again, the subject (left) is someone that I know well, and happened across them on the street. Same routine as before; “Hi how’re you doing? Longtime no see; you looking really well; how’s so-and-so?…” Clack! [LOL] The subjects are usually OK with me snapping them, after I’ve taken the picture. However, I find if I ask them before I snap them, they almost always say NO!… What’s that all about?… Don’t they know WHO I AM?… Ron Digsworth!… With this image, I had to pop the little flash, as it was quite a grey day, and anyway, the subject was backlit.
STUDIO: Tip; Family members are good for practicing on, if nothing else! This image was actually from a series of images I took of one of my sons [codename]; SniperSniper™ whilst attempting to get a good portrait for him to use as a profile picture for future articles I was about to commission him to write for this blog.
I like the dramatic look; the way the brim of his hat casts a shade over his face, yet his eyes seem to illuminate out in that piercing fashion. His expression is quite hard to read; it could be considered sinister, sarcastic, even sadistic… Not sure where he gets THAT from. [ahem]
LOCATION: This image (left), was taken with the subject at a local park on a sunny day. I shot like a bazillion images that day, but I only consider a few of them to be useable. It happens!
It wasn’t like a normal photoshoot, it was more like just a conversation. A full-scale conversation about life, the universe, and everything.
The sun was low in the sky, and slightly behind, and the subject was wearing those cool shades that she hid behind, protecting the windows to her soul, and reflecting and deflecting everything. [You can actually see me aiming the camera in her left lens] Self-conscious of her huge lovely smile, she kept trying to mask it behind her hand. I thought it made quite a sweet innocent sort of image; Clack!… Oh the stories we shared that day…
STREET: Mr Roots Doctor, a local radio host, and someone I know through my MultipleMedia and community circles. I was Bopping down Oxford Street, as you do, and I can see his enigmatic smile coming towards me from one hundred paces. That day, I was actually on a Street photography mission. Armed with two Canon’s in my side arm bag, my only real problem was to decide which one to shoot him with as he approached. On one camera, I had an 85mm f1.8 prime lens, and on the other, a 35mm f2.0 prime. As we walked closer and closer together, like two bad gun slingers in one of those old wild west movies, where they shoot out at noon, I Gave the greetings, spoke a few words, then Clack!… The rest is documentary.…
As you can see, most of the portraits that I shoot are of people I already know. That makes it a whole lot easier; and as interesting as portraits are, I am by no means an expert when it comes to shooting them. On the contrary, I am but a learner. I’ve read many conflicting things from different schools of thought, throughout the years, on the subject, and from those who claim to be experts, but I guess at the end of the day those differences of opinion are down to personal style, taste and preference. One thing I think all schools all agree on though, is that shooting portraits should be about bringing out what is hidden on the inside.
Shooting people is fun, but hard work; well it is for me… I guess with more practice, it will become easier, just like when I first embarked upon Street Photography years ago. Developing not only your own style, but your own way of getting the subjects out of their shells takes time, but in order to be good at anything, you have to practice, and practice… and practice some more… and then when you think you’re finished… continue to practice.