Assignment 1: A portrait

The brief for this assignment is to take one person as a subject and draw on my experiences in completing the projects so far.  Each portrait made should differ in type and style and each be from a separate photographic session.


A1-A: 85mm, ISO 3200, 1/30 @ f11

In this image I have attempted to capture the subject’s expression whilst she is engaged in the activity of putting on makeup.  This also provided the opportunity to experiment with capturing a mirror image and therefore perhaps a more original portrait.  I chose to shoot this image in landscape orientation as this seemed to be the only sensible way I could frame it.  The shot took place in a room that, although small, has a very large mirror.  It took a considerable amount of time to find a suitable position for the tripod that would enable both it and the camera to remain out of frame whilst capturing the real and reflected subject.  The shot is lit by daylight from a south facing window, although ironically, bad weather caused light levels to plummet shortly after the tripod had finally been positioned and this is reflected in the need to use ISO 3200.  A high ISO was also required in order to enable an aperture that would give sufficient depth of field to keep the reflection in focus.  I made a large number of exposures before securing the one I have chosen.

In assessing this work my eye is naturally drawn to the image on the right hand side, the reflection.  This seems to be quite a natural pose although I did ask the subject to look up rather than at her lips and so there is an element of staging.  I would have perhaps preferred it if I could have captured more of the real subject’s left eye which is slightly cut off within the image.  This could be achieved by slightly angling the head a little more to the subject’s right.  With the benefit of hindsight, I would also ask the subject to wear a rather darker colour as I find the white of the tee shirt, especially on the left hand side, somewhat distracting – particularly as it is a relatively large area of highlight.

I believe that particularly in the reflected image, I have done a reasonable jog of capturing something of the subject’s engagement with this activity.  The subject is of course aware of the presence of the camera.

Finally, I would comment that this image was very difficult to process.  The room in which the mirror is situated has dappled orange wallpaper which I hoped to tone down in post processing.  This did not prove to be straightforward and attempts using the colour replacement tool, selective colour and replace colour all failed – mainly due to the complex selection required in the area to the left of the leftmost hand.  Eventually I settled on a hue/saturation adjustment layer where I desaturated the yellows and then brushed the colour back in to the faces on the adjustment layer’s mask.  Perhaps this more neutral background looks a little too artificial but it was the best I could do after several hours of trying different techniques.  Again with the benefit of hindsight, it would have been easier to suspend a sheet or some other background over the wallpaper and get the shot right in camera.


A1-B: 105mm, ISO 1250, 1/100 @ f5.6

Here the subject is presented against a background of a world map marked with places the subject has been or would like to visit.  The lighting is provided by an angled overhead skylight which in my experience consistently produces excellent shadow free portrait lighting.  This image was originally considered in the environmental portrait category although obviously the back story about the markings on the map is required to fully understand the environment.

In assessing this image I am broadly pleased with the top two thirds but feel that the bottom third looks somewhat ‘untidy’ and I should have seen this in the viewfinder.  Similarly, although I like the confident direct gaze of the subject I wonder if the facial expression as a whole ties in to the meaning of the background.  Perhaps it currently reads as pleasure in achievement rather than anticipation of future adventures – which is what I had intended it to read.  Perhaps I need to think more about how expressions might be interpreted so that I can better anticipate the right moments to capture.


A1-C: 55mm, ISO 100, 1/200 @ f8, 2 x speedlites

For this image I set out to capture dynamicism and movement.  The shot was lit by speedlites in order to freeze the movement of the hair.  There was a great deal of trial and error in making this shot as choosing the moment to fire the shutter required considerable co-ordination between myself and the subject.  This was further complicated by the need to wait for the speedlites to recycle and, the fact that even if I caught the hair at the right moment in time, there was a high probability that the eyes would be in the wrong position or closed etc..  In fact, at the end of the session when I reviewed the images on the monitor, I probably only had two images to choose from.

Both the subject and I enjoyed making this particular image and it’s interesting to anticipate and overcome the challenges presented by movement.  Were I to try and repeat this shot I would concentrate more on the preliminary set up of the lighting.  There needs to be more light reaching the dark areas on the lower right hand side of the image.  Aiming an additional light at the background would also help to separate the subject from the background.  Finally, it would be helpful if I could reduce the creases apparent in this old Lastolite background.


A1-D: 60mm, ISO 400, 1/100@ f8

Throughout the projects, I have commented that I find full length portraits more difficult.  Learning from my experience of using a prop in P8-B, I have placed the subject in a position we are both comfortable with.  Interestingly, in this case the proportions of the model are emphasised in a different way, the legs look long and the back looks much shorter.  Again I have defaulted to a ‘safe’ position for the hands that is easy for both the model and myself.  The use of dark and medium tones throughout most of the image means that the models face stands out quite nicely in the final image.

Looking back on this image, I would consider posing it slightly differently.  Perhaps the camera position is too ‘square’ on? The rotation of the back may be a little awkward and the head is slightly forward producing a round-shouldered effect.  I would also move the model a little further in from the right hand side of the frame.  Lots of ideas for improvement but hopefully, these are all marginal improvements rather than a drastic rethink of what I think is a reasonably pleasing portrait.


A1-E: 60mm, ISO 100, 1/200 @ f8 2 x speedlites

Intended as an active portrait I have taken a risk with this image by choosing one in which the model’s eyes are closed.  Although I do have other images in which the eyes are open, I felt that this approach was truer to the experience of playing a musical instrument.  The shape of this image was at least partially dictated by the need to have the oboe on a diagonal and to be able to show the fingers in position as it was played.  I experimented with versions that included sheet music on a music stand but, in the end decided that it was best to pare the image back to its essential components.

Were I to repeat this shot I might try to photograph the subject in a stage or rehearsal setting in order to convey the relationship with the orchestra and move away from this very obvious studio backdrop.  I would also give the subject more space at the left hand side of the image – here it was dictated by the width of the backdrop.

Wider reflections

As I have worked through this assignment and the eight projects leading up to it, I have noted a number of points to work on.  These include:

  • working on posture and body language within full length portraits
  • improving the guidance I give to the subject
  • improving the consistency of colour balance and skin tone
  • improving my anticipation of how clothing tones and colours will work within the image
  • controlling outdoor lighting
  • getting just the right amount of depth of field
  • anticipating how a particular expression may be interpreted by the viewer
  • anticipating the effect of bright highlights within the image area.
I have also learnt many things.  These include:
  • new experiences setting up and using pairs of speedlites
  • post-production techniques working on eyes and teeth
  • anticipating how a location might work as a portrait setting
  • using shot lists
  • striving to get things right in camera
  • making use of low reflectors in outdoor portraits
  • the use of tethered capture.

Overall, I’ve enjoyed completing the ‘People Aware’ part of the course and I am looking forwards to the next section.

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