I really enjoyed meeting Frederic and having a chance to discuss art, creativity, and purpose.
If you are interested in hearing me blather on about this stuff – and I do so love to do that – give the link a click and listen in. Frederic is a very good interviewer, and makes me sound pretty good. 🙂
I want to take a closer look at some of the portraits the students in the 8 Week Portrait Class are doing. Decontructing an image is a very valuable exercise and one that can garner much insight into the way the portrait was conceived and produced.
The image above, by Leonardo Ferri, is of a young woman at the rose gardens in Berkely, CA. Usually a place teeming with people and other photographers, and especially so, it was nearly deserted on this cold, overcast day.
Using the steps and the hedges as a grounding point for the image – a contextual pallete – he placed his subject in the middle of the steps and then moved a little to the side to bring the angles of the image slightly askew, and giving her a bit more of a dynamic position in the image.
The placement of the subject is directed by the angles of the parts of the image. The placement of her face is in nearly a perfect spot.
Photographer Iryna Ischenko used the tall gates and cypress trees to frame her subject. I personally like this photo for so many reasons. The leading lines of the brick roadway, the brooding sky and those lovely, tall cypress trees. The subject seems to be moving through the gate, and her gaze is down. All other elements are focused upward while she gazes down. I think this makes the portrait quite intimate and hints at a narrative unknown.
Photographer Gabriel Alvarez worked with his wide angle lens (part of the assignment) to create this powerful, yet understated portrait. Simple elements for the subject to lean on, and a single light from a speedlight was the effect he wanted to use. Gabriel told us he really struggled a bit with the wide angle lens and used a cropped area of the frame to keep the wide angle distortion from being too much for the image. Since our inspiration this week was the great Jean Loup Sieff, I think Gabriel did very well.
The expression is a moment caught in time and we are not privvy to what is happening. The wardrobe, a little black dress, adds to the minimalistic setting. Everything is black or white. Carmen Blike, the photographer, used the V shape of the stone work as a base for her composition, then used the subjects legs as an inverted “V” above them. The light is a single diffused speedlight above the subject and blended to be just a bit brighter than the ambient.
This image, by Diana Lundin uses the geometry of the setting to drive the eye toward her subject. It also seems to isolate her, while making her the obvious hero of the shot. All lines lead to the subject here, and instead of appearing overwhelmed by the huge architecture around her, the pose makes her seem confident and in total control of her environment.
Linda Luu Kieff used a graphical shaft of light coming in from the window on right to highlight the face of this nude portrait. The angles of the light bring our eyes to the face and the textures of the environment help the subject stand out. The smooth skin of the subject is in full contrast to the dark, rough material of the lounge and the patterned background. Working in the dark tones like this can be very tricky, but Linda handled the exposure very well. The image has a feeling of film to me, although it was shot digitally.
One more from the set by Linda Luu Kieff. This nude shows a different angle and how Kieff worked with the window light, and the bars/panes of the window to play the light across her subject. This play of light, and the anonymity of our subject prove to be a narrative that begs explanation. None is forthcoming. The gentle tones of the image are very film like, and keep the viewer intrigued by carefully retaining the shadow details to play off of the skin of the subject. Ballet shoes add to the story, although we don’t know why.
Annely Silferwax used two softboxes from either side for this nude portrait. Camera right is turned up a stop and a half over camera left, and provides the impetus for our subject to be looking off toward it. The dynamic position in the subject with the careful placement of the cloth makes this a very powerful image… one the subject seems ready to leap from. Annely used a very contrasty post-processing to be reminiscent of high-speed film when pushed. The subjects regal expression, and subtle dynamics provide a stunning image.
Photographer Frederic Reblewski used the stripes on the jacket as a compositional element. Notice the painting (hung on seamless paper) that mimics the lines and colors of the jacket. A large single light source gave him the look he was desiring, and a natural feel to the portrait.
With the subject leaning way into the photograph, and into the light from the bay window, Photographer Duane Middlebrook used line and texture to set his subject off from the background. I love that bright outside contrasted with the dark patina of the inside walls. The pensive look of the subject makes the portrait more intimate and personal.
In the wilds of the mountains, and on an overcast day, photographer Marjorie Decker caught this portrait of a fellow hiker and companion at a moment of rest. The gentle light and shallow depth of field help the portrait keep a more personal feel.
An intimate, spontaneous feel to this portrait is due to the careful use of props and background. A single speedlight is aimed from camera left, and it is flagged off to provide the raking light on the flowing background behind the subject. The simple wardrobe and sparse table setting give the image a bit of mystery. Photograph by Richard McDonald
The image on the right by Sherrie Von Sternberg is whimsical, playful, and quite a candid moment. The use of overexposure, and the shadow line, as well as the brave and dynamic crop, makes the portrait quite evocative. I like it.
Want to increase your photography chops? Try portraiture.
When we are working with another person, and trying to make a great portrait of them, we have many challenges that confront the photographic process.
The one that is largest, and seems to be one of the more difficult challenges is time. With a landscape or food or still life, we can take as long as we need in most instances. But with a portrait, time is of the essence. A bored subject can look tired or uninterested in front of the camera.
Add to that the challenge that so many of us put on ourselves of entertaining our subjects while they wait and we work to fix this stand or that umbrella… the stress can add up to an unfulfilling session.
Learning to work within this time constraint can make us better all around photographers, and lessen the need for vast quantities of Tequila and Rum at the end of a long day.
The cover image above is by Frederic Reblewski. Using a strong light behind the subject, his goal was a moody portrait of a young man in conflict. The light and shadow show a classical scenario that plays out well in this dramatic portrait. Close cropping of the image and the use of negative space help the mood along as well.
In this image, photographer Diana Lundin had a very short window to keep the sun on her subject. Notice the angle of the shadow that indicates the sun is already low in the sky, and to maintain the even light on the subject she had to work quickly. Using the graphical element of the lifeguard tower set the subject off, and provided another element of interest in the image,
With a large scrim and a speedlight, photographer Marjorie Decker was able to position her subject and create a flattering light quickly. This kept the subject more relaxed while Decker was able to finesse the pose. Large, soft light sources can be much more forgiving than small, direct ones.
Portrait photography helps you work on your composition as well. Having a subject that can move allows you to play with placement of the background elements. Trying several compositions quickly is much easier – just have your subject move a little to the left or right to see what happens,
Photographer Iryna Ishchenko moved her model into and out of the frame to find the point where the subject worked best in relationship to the background. Keeping the flow of the lines of the body, while making the subject nearly anonymous gives the portrait a sense of mystery and elegance.
This dramatic portrait was lit with only a window light. Photographer Linda Luu Kiefl positioned her subject to give extra dark space around him. This helps the feeling of isolation that is enhanced by the gentleman’s somber expression. Including a small part of the window shade in the photograph helps give it context and adds a bit of whimsy to the image.
Working with negative space on a plain background can be very challenging. Working the subject into and out of the light can help a photographer see composition happening right before their eyes. Working with the subject and space can be quite illuminating. Heh. Photographer Annely Silferwax worked with her subject looking off camera for added drama.
Portraits can encompass a wide variety of emotion. Photographers can use compositional elements to enhance feelings of isolation, elation, distress, sadness and joy.
Add to this the elegance of light, and the portrait photographer can work through all the challenges of photography in this one genre.
Texture, dimension, shape, color, and gesture are all within the purview of the portrait. Using light wisely and with intention helps set the mood for the portrait.
Adding texture and whimsy to the portrait, photographer Richard McDonald kept the light strong behind the subject and flattened it on the front side to present this portrait. Photographer and subject simply began playing with this interesting piece of cloth until something striking happened before the lens. The graphical element of the image is enhanced by the anonymous subject.
With the light fading fast, photographer Leonardo Ferri moved his subject between two pillars in the courtyqrd they were shooting in and pushed his ISO to capture the delicate ambient light from outside. The subjects haunting expression fit the mood of the light, and the soft texture of the background give the image a striking appeal. It has a timeless, tranquil quality.
These images are pulled from the student work from the 8 Week Portrait Workshop. The inspiration for this assignment was the work of Herb Ritts, an incredible photographer who left us far too young.
Photographer Gabriel Alvarez chose soft, directional light for this portrait.
Joe Tharpe uses texture and a simple, flat wall to enhance the intimate portrait of his subject.
Working in extreme cold, Sherri Von Sternbach directed her subject to close her eyes and look at the sun while she climbed above her for this sunlit portrait.
A large scrim and carefully placed bounce cards gave Duane Middlebrooke this elegant lighting. The texture behind is simply the shadows from the trees and direct sun.
We humans love to think in terms of beginnings and ends, and where, in reality, January 1 carries no more significance than any other day, we see it as a beginning of a new year full of promise.
And that is fine with me. 2015 was a difficult year for me, and I am damned glad it is over. I want to look forward to new opportunities.
First the good stuff from 2015:
My family is well and healthy, and I am going to be a grandfather. One of my daughters who was a bit estranged is now back ‘in the fold’ and we are all having such a good time together.
Project 52 started out with a bang in August, and the level of artistry in this year’s group is absolutely awesome – and you all know I do not use that word lightly. Project 52 is the glue to my existence these days. Thanks to everyone who is taking part.
My friends are all doing well, although a good bud of mine in Texas is having a rough year. We are all thinking about you, Charles. I know you can kick ass on that thing.
I made a decision to ride a motorcycle from Phoenix to Fairbanks, Alaska and have begun to get ready for that ride starting August 1, 2016. When I made the pronouncement I didn’t even own a motorcycle. I do now. And I am loving taking solo rides through the southwest.
The motorcycle is a luxury, I know… but I needed something to get me excited again. It seems to be doing the job.
Now the other stuff:
2015 was the worst creative year I have had in decades. I feel like my mojo done mojo’d off somewhere. I took fewer photographs than I ever have in a year. I was interested in some aspects of my creative life, but other parts just seemed to be sluggish at best.
You mean, what’s my excuse? I don’t have no friggin’ excuse. Excuses suck. Even more than my creative year of 2015 sucked.
My leg bothers me more than expected 2 years after the incident, but that is always going to be there and while it is annoying as hell, it is not an excuse to fall behind creatively. And I have worked through other challenges worse than a stupid leg cramp.
I fired three clients this past year. More than in a decade previous. Just got tired of the lame bullshit of diminished productivity. If you ain’t ready to commit, I am not interested in rowing your sinking boat. But that is just the way it is.
I pondered (picture me pondering… awesome…) over the last few weeks and have come to the conclusion that while I am pushing others to be their best, I may have slacked off on my own sorry ass. Not that I don’t work to be the best I can be, I just have not taken the effort out of the box to give it a shot.
Am I creatively afraid? I honestly cannot answer that.
I have rarely been afraid in the decades I have been making stuff, but I do feel like something in my core has fractured a bit. Not fallen apart yet, but fractured enough that it needs attention, Lots of attention.
Being creative has always been how I have defined myself, my work, my output. I may not be the most brilliant creative on the planet, but I do pretty well in the trenches. I love the trenches. I love getting into the process and the production, the grimy grit of where it gets made.
I love makers. I have always been a maker.
At least, I was until last year… and while I made some stuff, my output was lower than acceptable to me. It seemed like every time I started something I knew I had to do, it would get messy, and confused… and I would begin to pull away from it, not wanting to continue. A book is left half finished, another in nearly final form but sitting on a drive and without much love from me.
Maybe this is what they call a “Grand Funk”… or a “Creative Block”?
Who the hell cares what they call it, I want out. Desperately want out.
My action plan:
I have been working pretty hard this month to get ready for this ad-hoc ‘beginning’ of 2016. And I have been making stuff, getting it done. Shipping out is next, and that means I have had to shift some priorities. Slide a little here, shave a bit off there. Axe that crap right off the table… shifting.
My goal is to make something every day.
Produce something every week.
To ship something every month.
Less FB, more camera/pen/stylus in hand. More time outside. More time working this fucking leg to either get it strong enough or kill the SOB.
If the last few weeks are any indication, I should be able to meet those goals.
Lighting Essentials is a big part of the plan. A new look coming next week, articles and tutorials that will put my creativity to the test. I hope you stick around to see what LE will become.
I know this is not your typical “GoodGollyGee, I am so awesome and have been doing better than I ever expected” end of year post, but it is heartfelt.
And I know I am not the only one in a funk, a darker place, a trench in the front yard of Mr. Happy’s summer fucking home.
If you are going through something similar, may I suggest you DO something, and ship it. Get it done.
Small successes can lead to a tiny bit bigger than small success. Hey, it takes time.
I will keep you posted occasionally on what my funk level is, and perhaps we can help each other.
Until then, I will leave you with something that has helped me get going. A heavy metal band, Disturbed, recently covered a 70’s piece by Simon and Garfunkle, “Sound of Silence”. To say they made it their own is an understatement. I have watched it a gazillion times – not only for the wonderful musicality but for the incredible visuals of master photographer Matt Mahurin… a lifelong creative and someone I am influenced by. Enjoy.
IMAGE BY GLENN HARRIS AFTER STUDYING THE WORK OF ANDREW HETHERINGTON
I am just about full on my newest portrait class (starting November) and we have been discussing a lot of things in the current portrait class that has me thinking. Yeah, that can be sorta dangerous, but in this case I think I want to share a few things.
In today’s wacky, fast-paced, ‘just-show-me-how-it’s-done’ world there are those who want to skip the hard bits. Just jump on over the challenging and get right to the ‘good stuff’. And yeah, we have bemoaned this before.
But today, more than ever, it seems like what is missed is becoming the heart of what should be found. It isn’t difficult to learn about master photographers, and it doesn’t negate anyones talent to study and learn from them. On the contrary, the study of the masters, or even contemporary shooters who you enjoy, can open your eyes to your own work.
We don’t study in order to copy the masters, nor is there any desire on our part to become small clones of their style. At least there shouldn’t be. What we are looking for are the commonalities of making images, and the unique solutions others have found to make them.
Look – we can teach someone how to light fairly quickly, it isn’t hard. We can teach the ‘rules’ of composition, and how to color balance and all that stuff. It is pretty damned easy to teach and to learn.
But no one can teach someone how to see, how to make a photograph that transcends the snap and becomes something more. No one can teach vision, and style, and how to dig down deep to make something all their own.
We teachers can only lead the way, show them the direction and help them find it within themselves. Understanding what other artists do and achieve with the very same tools they use can open flood gates of creativity, and the always valuable introspection.
Simple, really. We study the art of others to help understand our own.
The students in the 8 Week Portrait Classes I have run this year have said things to me like;
“I never knew I could make photographs like this. Studying the work of Peter Limburgh opened me to a whole new way of approaching light.”
“Sarah Moon made me see photographs in a totally different way.”
“I have found a new love of portraiture after being immersed in the work of David Eustace, and I love it.”
It is so true… the photographers all saw major breakthroughs in their own work after studying these wide ranging master portraitists. This was probably the most exciting thing for me as a teacher.
Here are a few things we can learn from studying other photographers.
How to meet a challenge head on.
So many times shooting is just a set of challenges that seem to stack up against you at every turn. Understanding that other photographers have had those same challenges, and then learning how they dealt with them can give us fresh perspective on ways we can deal as well.
How to approach a subject in different ways.
The portraiture work of David Bailey is worlds apart from the portraits of Dan Winters, and yet there is something to be gleaned from both. Whether you like one or the other more, studying the way they use light to shape and present the subject is fascinating. You may choose another path altogether, but you do it knowing what you are doing, and how to do it your way.
You get to step into the mind of another shooter… and that helps you grow.
When you study, or immerse yourself in the work of another photographer, you can start to see how that photographers sees, how they approach a visual challenge, how they choose to use – or not use – context. This can help you make decisions when you face the same challenges. Decisions that are uniquely yours, but derived from the visual legacy of a master.
The more you THINK about making a photograph, the better your photography can become.
In the workshops we strive to immerse ourselves in the work of master photographers. Some of the students decide they want to create a lighting scheme that is as complex as a master they are studying, while others try to find the essence of the work and then integrate some of it into their own style pallets. Both are excellent tools. And both help the photographer hone their craft faster because as you raise the camera up to your eye, you start to question the process based on the photographer you are studying. And that exercise is so very valuable. It creates patterns that will stay with you for the rest of your photographic career. THINKING about the photograph.
Freedom from sameness.
Yes… freedom. We get in a rut sometimes. We begin to think that Facebook and Flickr and G+ are arbiters of our own style and aesthetic and nothing could be further from the truth. Studying the work of photographers who are creating masterful images can lead to the discovery that you can make any kind of images you want to make… as long as they are authentically yours. And the freedom to make YOUR image can many times come after studying someone else who claimed their freedom, and then took it to levels unimagined for most of us.
I love teaching these classes, and we will resume in January. Currently we have three portrait classes; two are general approaches to stylized portraits, and one is focused on the environmental portraitist. I may add a studio section, but probably not. I am thinking that I could switch out a few photographers in the other classes and add a few new ones to the mix.