Project 2 – Thinking about location

The brief for this assignment is to find six very different settings or backgrounds which could be used effectively and attractively for either a whole body or torso portrait.  The lens focal length, camera position and lighting need to be taken into consideration.  The brief points out that tonal and textural simplicity from edge to edge is a reliable quality.  Six images of locations are required before returning to one of them with a portrait subject. The aim of this project is to practise translating a real world setting into a useful element in an image.

All of the locations, except one, are shown are photographed in landscape format.  This was in order to give a sense of the setting.  I have indicated within the text how I might frame the image when it contained the portrait subject.

P2-A: Indoor seating for full-length portrait

P2-A: Indoor seating for full length portrait

I suppose this location could best be described as an ‘art bench’ – the marble bench is the light brown area beneath the coloured art panels.  The brief suggested carrying a camera at all times, (which I do anyway), and so this shot was made with a panoramic compact – that’s why rather more of the foreground is shown that would be the case with a portrait made in this location.  I envisage a full length portrait of a subject sitting off-centre to the right of the main brown panel.  The subject would have their right shoulder against the background and their legs stretched out along the bench top.  There is sufficient space at this location to use an 85mm lens as I would not seek to use all of the art panels in the background as these would diminish the importance of the subject.  Although light levels are low at this location I would seek to use a combination of ambient light, a tripod and a higher ISO rating.  The marble surfaces are highly reflective and so for that reason I have ruled out flash.  Daylight is also ruled out as there are no windows!  Although I would shoot in raw, I would need to take care with the white balance in post-production as there is mixed lighting at this scene – a mix of halogen and fluorescent lighting.

P2-B:  Outdoor background for full length or torso portrait

P2-B Outdoor background for full length or torso portrait

I think that this is quite a versatile background – although vibrant, it can be toned down or desaturated in post processing.  It faces North and so there is good light for portraits and there is always the option of using flash.  There is plenty of room at the location and so there is great versatility in choice of focal length.  The subject can also be placed as close to, or as far away from , this background as required in order to control, for example, the relative sharpness of the background or the shadows that might be cast by the model.

P2-C: Outdoor setting for full-length standing portrait

P2-C Outdoor setting for full-length standing portrait

Perhaps not the most obvious setting for a portrait but I like the potential, introduced by the steps, to depict the subject in a more active way – perhaps striding up the steps from left to right.  The handrail also introduces another dynamic and offers the opportunity to have the subject’s left hand reaching forward onto it.  In framing the portrait I would have to be careful of where the oblique ‘horizon’ line fell but I feel that it should be possible to exploit the white background above this horizon to make the head and hair stand out.  Like P2-B, this is a very flexible location enabling a wide choice of lens and lighting options.

P2-D: Indoor background for torso portrait

P2-D: Indoor background for torso portrait

This unusual background is both graphically interesting but also simple enough to avoid being too dominant and distracting within the portrait.  I can visualise a subject in contrasting light or dark clothing posing in front of this background.  I would opt for a focal length of 85mm in order to ensure that the subject dominates the frame.  This location has no natural lighting and so a high ISO is required.  Flash may be possible but I anticipate that flare reflecting within the background may prove to be a problem if flash were used.

P2-E: Outdoor setting for a portrait

P2-E: Outdoor setting for portrait

This is a ‘high tech’ setting for a full length portrait.   The strong ‘character’ of the location means that it is an integral part of the image and so the subject’s dress, pose and ‘character’ will need to fit in with that of the overall image.  I envisage that the subject would appear towards the right hand side of the image perhaps against or between the second and first columns.  In order to apparently compress the distance between the columns, a longer telephoto would be used than in the other examples within this project, perhaps 135mm.  This location finding shot was made just after sunrise as can be seen by the inclusion of my own shadow and the specular highlights in the stainless steel clad columns.  This low directional light might also make for a dramatic portrait although care would need to be taken in order to avoid causing the subject to squint when facing towards the  light.  There is also the potential at this scene for a ‘fun’ portrait where the subject ‘peeks’ round from between the columns.

P2-F: Outdoor setting for full length seated/reclined portrait.

P2-F: Outdoor setting for full length seated/reclined portrait

When I was brainstorming potential locations for this project, for some reason steps had a strong appeal to me.  They might not look very promising when photographed as a potential background but I thought that they might work within a portrait.  My idea seemed to be confirmed when I saw the image S1-1 in my A3 scrapbook.  London has no shortage of steps and I eventually settled for these, which are in Trafalgar Square.  This location has good levels of natural light although there is the option to use fill-in flash.  To make the subject sufficiently large within the frame I intend to use a ‘standard’ focal length of around 50mm.

P2-G: Portrait photograph

P2-G: Full length seated portrait, 50mm ISO 100, 1/100 @ f/4.5

I made quite a few images on the steps before selection this one where I feel that the pose looks natural.  Little post-production work has been done in terms of exposure, contrast or colour adjustment but there has been copious cloning of bird droppings and chewing gum, (P2-F shows the ‘before’ cloning version!).  Looking at the image a week or so after I made it, I am reasonably satisfied with the pose which I feel looks reasonably natural and relaxed.  I used a 50mm focal length and can now see one of the potential difficulties of habitually framing using a zoom lens.  Although 50mm does not really introduce distortion,  the legs, (given the pose), are relatively closer to the lens.  If I were to re-shoot this image, I would endeavour to move further back and use a slightly longer lens of day 85mm.

I also learnt some more general points from this project:

  • selecting suitable settings is surprisingly difficult.  In the past I have also shot with the subject in situ, selecting a background and envisioning how the subject will relate to it is a new experience and a new skill to acquire.
  • whereas I take the direction of the sun into consideration in landscape photography, I did not initially do so for this assignment.  Low autumn sun caused some difficulties when it came to positioning the subject for the final shot.  Another learning point!
I’m looking forward to assignment 3!
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