Portraiture and the Photographer’s Use of Light

Monica aDemetra 3aMollyStephanie b6. BaileaStephanie a7. MonicaDemetraMonica  a

 

 

Photographer and author Frank Criccho states, “ The success of a photographic portrait depends as much on the photographer’s artistic and creative use of lighting techniques as it does on his or her skill with the camera.”

In an opposing remark during a recent conversation, a photographer told me that he didn’t have to worry about getting a flash for portrait photography and doubted he ever would, because he could just use a higher ISO, shoot multiple bursts, and fix everything in PhotoShop.

I don’t think that he is totally wrong, but his statement certainly demonstrates a lack of the basic understanding of how light impacts a subject’s face and how light can make the subject look younger, or older, or more glamorous, or down right unappealing.

I think in the race to purchase the latest hi-tech photographic marvel many photographers tend to forget about how lighting affects their subjects.

In my opinion, the goal for portrait photographers should always be to make the subject look his or her best, and provide an image that is flattering, and allows the person you are photographing to have a photo that impresses viewers.

One could say the responsibility lies with photographers, and not the subject, as to how good they look. Yes, I know in reality that isn’t the truth, but in my experience when one makes a bad photo of someone they will blame you, not themselves, if one makes a good photo they will thank you for capturing reality.

Many photographers just excitedly snap away without examining their subject, or posing them. Relying on luck and their subject’s talent to make that pleasing portrait, and pay little attention to how the light is making that person look.

Light and how a photographer uses it is very important. Too much contrast or side lighting shows lines and blemishes, whereas, on-camera flash, or bright, direct sunlight gives a flat, dimensionless, uninspired look.

To use the words of world-renowned photographer and writer, Joe Marvullo, “It is your ultimate decision, however, to determine what is “real” about that person and how to portray it in the photograph. You must successfully translate a distinct human personality in three-dimensional form into a two dimensional representation. This recorded image must come to life on it’s own. You, as an artist, must capture the “essence” of your subjects – their persona.”

Modern on-camera flashes are excellent if used correctly and creatively. Photographers can diffuse, bounce, and move the light off to the right or left, higher or lower, and modify that light using umbrellas, reflectors or softboxes to soften and control the direction and intensity.

I believe photography is all about the light. The lazy photographer just worries about exposure, where as the imaginative photographer pays attention, experiments, and practices creating portraits using light that are more than just documents of some person.  And as Marvullo suggests it is up to you, the artist, to capture the “essence” of your subject’s personality.

 

 

 

 

 

Photography, a personal vision.

Kamloops Lake 1

Kamloops Lake

Kamloops Lake 1a

Lawnmower Race copy1

Lawnmower Race copy2

Sax player 1 Sax player 2

 

 

 

 

My photographer friend Greg posted the following statement on the Canadian photographer flickr.com/group: “Recently I’ve come across a number of photographs on the social media outlets that are absolutely stunning and amazing works of art, but there are a whole host of people who comment saying ‘it looks fake’, ‘it needs to be more real’, ‘that picture has no resemblance to reality’”. And he continues raising the question with “Should we be striving to produce photographs that are more ‘real’ to please the crowds who seem to have very little understanding of art?”

My quick and easy response is to quote Plato, “Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder”. Even Shakespeare in his work, Love’s Labours Lost writes, “Beauty is bought by judgment of the eye”.

I understand his (and others) frustration with those that are ready to condemn anything that deviates from their personal interpretation of photography, but we need to remember that is just their opinion. I don’t think Greg or any other photographer should “be striving to produce photographs…to please the crowds”. However, when one displays a photograph on any social media site one needs to be ready for someone else’s opinion.

I used the following last January in my discussion of Photography as a Fine Art. Wikipedia’s on-line encyclopedia says, “Fine art photography is photography created in accordance with the vision of the artist as photographer.” That should be enough to ease my friend’s frustration. I will comment to him that those detractors didn’t understand the interpretation or artistic vision of the photographer’s work.

Some may disagree with me, but I think photography has always been a technology driven medium. And just as there are those willing to push the limits, there surely are also those that employ their cameras simply as devices to document the people, objects, and scenes in front of them, and I have no doubt their criticism might come swiftly to those that manipulate their images instead of maintaining the more conservative course of photographic reality.

Regarding Greg’s question about some people’s understanding, or lack of understanding of art, that is a question that countless generations may have struggled with possibly since the first humans decided to place a favourite rock in their cave or put coloured pigment on the wall.

I believe the question is actually, “What is Art and who has the right to define Art?”

Mark Twain is attributed with the words, “I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.”   I expect most of us fall into that category.

Here are a number of quotes about art by artists. American architect and designer Frank Lloyd Wright said, “Art is a discovery and development of elementary principles of nature into beautiful forms suitable for human use.” However, I much preferred photographer Ansel Adams words, “Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas. It is a creative art.” Or this from novelist Rainbow Rowell, “…and art wasn’t supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.” And French Impressionist painter Edgar Degas wrote, “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.”

When one has the need to be creative they should have the right to decide on their own particular style to fulfill their personal creative vision. What that vision is should be entirely up to the photographer, and the audience for whom the image is produced. I think the problem in this day of mass social media is how to select the right audience.

I do look forward to your comments. Thank you, John

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two Photographers Are More Fun Than One

Linda

Linda

 

Fallen Cedars by John

By John

 

Fallen Cedars by Linda

By Linda

Notch hill church. Linda

By Linda

The train goes by

By John

This week I talked with a fellow that grumbled about how his wife complains about waiting for him when he wants to stop to take a pictures. I suggested that he find a way to get his wife involved in his hobby. After he left I remembered the following article I wrote back in August of 2011. For those who may have missed it, I thought I’d post it again.

I received a most encouraging email from a reader: “In talking to you I noted that you and your wife both are into photography, so I proposed giving my wife a DSLR and get her into shooting her own pictures. She was a little hesitant to the idea saying she did not have the “artist’s eye”. However, I printed out your blogs on ‘What Makes a Good Photograph’.

After reading it she commented that “each person has their own take on what makes a good picture”, and the short of it is, she is willing to take up photography with me”.

Personally, I think much of my enjoyment of photography would be missing if my wife, Linda, was not also a photographer, and it is great that we both enjoy this exciting medium and can share the experience of making photographs.

My advice to any photographers that are interested in getting their spouse involved in photography is as follows.

Match the equipment. I mean with regard to cameras, both DSLR (digital single lens reflex) cameras should operate in much the same way. The models can be a few years apart, but should be the same brand and the controls should operate similarly and if two of the latest models are affordable, so much the better.

Don’t be cheap with lenses for your spouse. If it isn’t good enough for you, it isn’t good enough for the most important person in your life. Just as you would select a lens for the subject and the way you like to shoot, your spouse should select lenses for his or her preferences. I know your mother told you to share, but my recommendation is don’t share. That just leaves someone behind. If you both like long telephoto lenses, get two.

I can remember the exact moment I thought about the concept of equality. I was in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming waiting for Old Faithful geyser to erupt. While I waited I noticed a man and woman with their tripods setting up closer than me. I could see that he had a large, professional looking camera and she had a tiny, almost toy like camera. I knew that his photographs would be good and hers not so good. It didn’t matter if she was the better photographer or had the better eye, his pictures would be better, and I wondered why would she even try.

Shop for accessories together. Each photographer has his or her preferences and should make equipment choices for the subjects they like to shoot.

Education is always a good idea. Attend a photography class or workshop. Search for them on line or check local camera shops. Take turns going to photography classes or take part in the same workshop. One of my wife’s and my most memorable vacations was when we both attended a weeklong wilderness photography workshop on Mt. Rainier. In my opinion we may have got more out of that class than the other participants because we were able to share information and experiences.

Gently critique each other’s photography. Don’t just store pictures away on the computer. Sit in front to the computer display together and decide which photographs work and which that don’t, delete all the failures, and make a combined presentation of all the successful images to show your friends and family.

One photographer in the family is cool, but two photographers, in my opinion, are much better. If you want your partner to have the same excitement about photography as you do, don’t be stingy with the compliments. And if your spouse is fortunate enough to make a better picture of that waterfall or running deer than you, be sure to tell them.

Open House Versatile Photography Studio

Guests arriveGuests 2Guests 3Guests 4AshleyAshley in Studio Horses at the creekHorse portraitsMonique on the horseThree with MoniqueMonique and dogOpen StudioFun on the HarleyAshley on HarleyMoniqueShy-lynRoasting hotdogs

I was invited to attend a photographer’s open house at a local studio last Sunday. The owners, Dave and Cynthia Monsees, hosted the event and invited photographers of all levels to attend. On their Facebook page they had posted “Versatile Studio took delivery of some new equipment this week. Two new 300-watt strobes arrived along with a 60-inch Octobox that is going to be interesting to use. We now have a 480-watt battery powered strobe complete with a 24-inch soft box for use anywhere on the site. More changes are happening outside of the Studio as we continue to grow.”

Versatile Studio is probably one of the best-equipped rental studios in the British Columbia interior, with a wide array of lighting equipment for use in the studio or on the studio grounds. As well as the indoor location, Versatile Studio facilities include a large open-sided barn equipped with backdrop and electricity for lighting equipment, a mowed meadow complete with an antique buggy and old farm implements, an old Cadillac resting in a field, and the real favourite, a tree lined stream with a sandy beach.

I joined several others to include a local photographer’s group called Coffee n’ Click, several members of the Kamloops Photo Arts Club, and other serious photographers, and I was pleased when Dave told me that twenty-five signed his guestbook. I wish I had thought to get a group photo.

The day started at 10am with refreshments. After a short welcome everyone split up and the excitement began. Several chose to use the studio and I decided to set up high key lighting for Ashley, one of the three models volunteering that day. The other models were Monica and Shy-lyn.

Several photographers walked to the meadow where a neighbor had brought over her horse and a donkey for models to pose on. Another group chose go down to the stream to take pictures.

I didn’t stay long in the studio. There were so many excited people competing for the model’s attention that after a couple quick portraits I moved on. A Harley Davidson motorcycle had also been loaned to the studio and I rolled it into position in front of a painted backdrop that hung in the open barn, where I tried out the new battery operated, wireless 480w studio light with a 60-inch Octabox, and added a large gold reflector I had brought from my store. The results were great.

The day was fun, most photographers barely stopped for lunch and before I knew it people were roasting hotdogs over an open fire and it was 4pm. I enjoy events like this where one can interact with other photographers are just having fun doing photography. Usually I use that studio as a place of work where I lead workshops on studio lighting, but on this day I didn’t have to be “on” and was able to relax and talk to other photographers.

This week the Kamloops Photographer’s Facebook page was filled with photographs from the open house. I am pretty confident that everyone had a great time at Versatile Studio’s event.

I always look forward to your comments. Thanks, John

 

 

Interesting and Unconventional Photography

Unorthadox refection

Building behnd the shadow LIght in the shadows

Looking Up Town

About the time of World War I the common attitude regarding art and photography was shattered by innovations of modern painters like Picasso and Matisse. However, the fundamentally realistic medium of photography did not acknowledge that photographers could or even should produce abstractions or distortions to the extent that painters could.

Nevertheless, there were a growing number of artist-photographers like Alfred Stiegletz and Edward Steichen that worked at bringing photography in line with modern painting by creating abstract images and processes.

They, and others, worked to popularize the “sharp focus realism” or “Modernist” movement that was at that time deemed unartistic by traditionalists that called themselves “Pictorialists”. (The Pictorializm style is where a photograph lacks sharp focus and sometimes even had brush strokes muting the surface of the final print.) The pioneers of the “Modernist” movement in North America was Alfred Stiegletz, Edward Steichen and Paul Strand

The current age of digital photography seems to have vitalized photography more than any one could have guessed as recently at the 1990s. Although there are still those clamouring loudly from the sidelines calling themselves “traditionalists” and insist they will never move beyond their beloved film.

Attend any event and there will be lots of cameras ranging from cell phones, little point-and-shoot cameras, to impressive DSLR’s documenting everything from every angle. The internet is packed with images, with all kinds of sites available for people to stack their documents of everyday life.

In a moment of late night boredom I decided to do a search for a past friend who lives in the US. I not only found his company advertisement, but also several pages of family Christmas photos he and his wife took. My thoughts were that this is a reasonable and typical document of people having fun, nothing creative, just a real nice family documentary; and not unusual, as photographic documentation is more prolific than it has ever been, however, I began to wonder about another creative part of photography, the abstract and the unusual.

There are lots of instances of PhotoShop manipulation that anyone can find without looking very hard, yet I wonder at the style of abstract photography practiced by the greats like Stiegletz, Steichen, and Strand. They were very much involved in looking at everyday subjects from different angles or perspectives. They photographed the usual in unique ways and photographed the unique in unusual ways. They searched out things that many would ignore because they were ugly or boring, and chose diverse photographic views and visually discussed them in interesting and unconventional ways.

In my work I get to see peoples’ photos all the time, landscapes, portraits of people and animals, and a few close-up flower shots. Usually they are very nice and some are downright beautiful, but it is rare for someone to show me an abstract created by using their camera to photograph something using a unique view.

Abstract art and abstract photography may not be to everyone’s liking and I know when we show our photographs to other people we want them to comment favourably about our pictures. When a photographer takes a chance and tries to visualize and photograph something differently, he or she cannot worry about whether or not they will receive praise or criticism of the visual creation of the unusual, the ugly, the boring, or the unique. To do so means they must contemplate photographing the subject in their own personal way.

If readers have the interest, my suggestion is to take some time and find out about those pioneer photographers Stiegletz, Steichen, and Strand. We can always learn from history and their photography is very interesting and just might be inspiring to those wanting to step away from the crowd.

I look forward to any comments. Thanks, John

A Photo Trip to Margaret Falls

Linda at Margaret Falls

First bridge

Along the path

Reinecker Creek

Fallen Cedars

Crooked tree

 

 

Bridge to Margaret Falls

Margaret Falls, British Columbia (B)

I have spent the last few days slowly dismantling an old shed I built over 20 years ago. I will say that I enjoyed building that ramshackle structure that has served as a goat barn, a chicken coup, and lastly for storing stuff I didn’t know what to do with. The process of destruction hasn’t been going all that quickly because I have been finding any excuse to delay my work taking it apart and I suppose that’s why when my wife mentioned it would be pleasant to go to Margaret Falls I didn’t hesitate to put our cameras in the car and head out for an easy drive.

Margaret Falls is a 200 feet high cascade that drops into Reinecker Creek on the edge of Shuswap Lake’s Herald Provincial Park. Local lore says the falls gets its name from the first white woman to see them. I also have been told it was called Reinecker Falls. But I wonder what that place was called by those that went there long before the white settlers.

It is the place, and not the waterfall that draws tourists and photographers to make the short trek through that moss covered, old-growth cedar forest nestled in a narrow gorge.

Reinecker Creek falls down a sheer rock face and into the narrow chasm creating a wonderland for those that walk along the beautiful gulley filled with large trees and looming cliffs above.

Before one is even aware of the unique ecosystem, there is the envelopment of a waft cool, damp air that on a hot July day will be a startling difference in temperature. Knowing that we included jackets with our camera gear.

Over the years Linda and I have spent many hours wandering along paths with cameras and tripods, but this time the wind was picking up and we could see large, dark clouds looming. So we just brought our cameras in case we had to make a quick getaway. I do not remember how many times I have taken pictures along that cool walkway up to the falls, or all the different camera formats I have used. I have been there in every season of the year, rain or snow, and I have even photographed a wedding there.

For this visit Linda used a 24mm prime and I used my 24-85mm zoom. Wide angle is a must for that narrow canyon.

The overcast day really wasn’t a bother because our modern full-frame cameras can easily handle 1600 ISO and depending on our subject’s location we could choose either 125th or 250th of a second shutterspeed an still keep our aperture small enough to get reasonable depth-of-field.

One rarely has the trail to Margaret Falls to themselves. To achieve scenic photography photographers have to be patient. However, this outing was petty good. Our only interruption was a guy on his mountain bicycle that turned around and left when he realized there were people on the trail. And we met some people that told us they were celebrating their 70th reunion. They gently ambled up the path to the waterfalls, extended their arms for cell phone snaps and then left, giving us all the time we needed to compose our pictures. I did have a good time, but, as free as I was to wander around with my camera and 24-85mm lens, I missed having my tripod. We have decided to return in a week or two packing tripods and neutral density filters prepared and spend a bit more time.

I always look forward to comments. Thanks, John

 

I Prefer Using Flash

Bonnie, Monica & Patti

Bonnie, Monica & Patti

Flash & Reflector

Flash & Reflector

Off Camera flash

Off Camera flash

Lighting fun (2)

 

I like using flash. I know that really isn’t surprising to regular readers. Like most beginning photographers there was once a time that I thought the only circumstance to use a flash on my camera was when it was too dark to take a picture.

When I first began taking pictures for others I dreaded late afternoon events that forced me to shoot in low light. And when Kodak and Ilford introduced their 1600 & 3200 ISO films I joined others in applauding, and ignorantly thought I could forgo ever having to attach a flash on my camera again. However, although those amazing films would let us capture our subject in limited light, the side effect was nasty grain that was almost as bad as push developing film.

For those that don’t know what the term “pushing developing film” means, photographers would, for example, rate their 400ISO at 800ISO and double the development time to achieve a more sensitive emulsion – grainy as the outcome was.

When I looked into what successful portrait photographers were doing with flash I knew I needed to move out of the natural light rut. And I began the struggle to learn how to employ flash any time I photographed people. However, it was noted photographer, Dean Collins’, whose writings and classes opened the doors to using off-camera flash. He was the first that pulled me out of what he called the “artist” mode, and got me thinking about photography as a craft. He wrote, “Anybody who says that photography is 95 percent feeling and five percent technique is a coward.”

Before I learned about wireless flash, I would connect and splice wires together so I could use my flash on a light stand at some distance. To get the proper off-camera light one would go through lots of calculations. (There wasn’t a digital LCD on the back of a film camera) With trial and error I came to know that my old manual flash, with a folded men’s white handkerchief covering it, would give me a nice soft, diffused light at 10 feet.

Olympus introduced the first TTL (through-the-lens) flash metering in the 1970s and other manufacturers followed soon after. I began using Nikon’s early TTL, the SB16, on a Nikon F3 and my world changed – no more clumsy calculations. I have been a fan of TTL since then and with every camera upgrade I also upgraded to the latest technology in TTL flash.

When using manual flash, there is no control by the flash or camera; the light is simply a constant amount of light that’s emitted from the flashgun. With TTL flash, the output is controlled by the camera’s metering system, and is not a constant amount of light emitted from the flashgun.

I have used TTL flashes on and off-camera since the late 1970s. Taking nothing for granted I read everything I could find, and took as many classes as I could get to figure out the best way to use TTL flash, and after all these years I am pretty comfortable using TTL in any condition.

I constantly try to convince and help others to stop being lazy and to include flash when they make portraits indoors or out, and for many years I have lead sessions for those photographers that decide to take the step to using off-camera flash.

The included images are of participants in my last one-day workshop on using TTL and manual flash off-camera in daylight. I will steal the words of probably the most famous teacher, lecturer, and author, Joe McNally, and say that the best part of spending the day with those willing photographers that joined me on their adventure into shooting under the sun with flash is realizing, “The moment it clicks” for them.

I do enjoy all comments. Thank you, John