Thursday, 27 January 2011

PnP1: Ex 3: Thinking about lighting (i)

The aim of this exercise seems to be to consider the effect of various lighting schemes on a portrait. May have to complete this in batches as the weather is not being particularly kind.
As noted in the previous entry, I’ve decided to go with a series of self-portraits in this exercise.
First up is a shot which follows on from this experiment on my personal blog:
Self portrait - torch light
It is lit by torchlight from below and the colour balance adjusted in Lightroom to remove the pronounced orange cast. As expected it has a sort of ‘Hammer House of Horror’ feel to it. The rather focussed light casts dramatic, but unflattering shadows from a strange angle, and there is a spot which is nearly burned out under the chin. The overall effect is unsettling and less than flattering.
By contrast – this version is lit with a relatively large light source from the side. This time I used the light from the lcd monitor on the household computer:
Self portrait - screen light
The strong side-lighting produces deep shadows on the unlit side of the face, but the bright highlight in the dark eye draws attention to the eyes, and together with the light on the cheekbone provides enough detail to allow us to see the whole face. The photo has a late-night feel to it – perhaps even a sense of mystery. Edit: EileenR on Flickr suggested I should try this as a B/W, which I have done here
The next shot from this group uses an on-camera flashgun bounced from the ceiling:
Self portrait - flash bounce from ceiling
The illumination is much more even in this photo but the overhead lighting has placed quite deep shadows in the eye sockets and under the facial details This, coupled with my rather sombre expression creates a rather down-beat image which to my mind lacks the visual impact of the previous two, even though the lighting produces a more accurate likeness of my features.
The final shot in this group uses on-camera flash in the same position, but this time angled upwards and away from the subject to bounce from the wall and ceiling on the right of the photo:
Self portrait - flash bounce from ceiling and wall
This shot needed lightening in Lightroom, perhaps because of the relatively low power of the flash. The lighting is much more uniform, with reasonable detail in the eyes and far fewer unflattering shadows than the previous version. Must remember to look as though I’m enjoying myself though. To be honest this seems the most boring of the indoor shots presented here, lacking in sparkle or interest.
The rest of this exercise and the conclusions will be uploaded in a separate post.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011


While searching for inspiration for Exercise 2 – I’m not finding this course as easy to get into as DPP1 I came across the following link: Self-Portrait as Fantasy.

While it’s not about photography it is about portraiture so it seems relevant here, and has got me thinking about using myself as a subject.

By coincidence the BJP is also carrying an item on self portraiture in photography: The Self-Portrait in Contemporary Photography - British Journal of Photography.

To me self-portraits seem to lead to the heart of understanding what portraiture is about – whatever that is. I can understand that a photographer provided portrait can be considered to give some insight into the subject, but any reading of that insight must surely be coloured by the personal baggage of the photographer and the viewer – not to mention the need of the photographer to make money from print and repeat orders.

A self-portrait, on the other hand is not encumbered to the same degree by financial/commercial requirements, and any baggage carried by the photographer is absolutely relevant to the subject as they are the same – there is a feedback loop reinforcing the result.

Think I’m going to come back to this thought process – although what it has to do with capturing a series of portraits in different lighting conditions as required by Exercise 2 is hard to say. In any case, I’m going to be my own subject for that exercise.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Robert Mapplethorpe Profile

Mapplethorpe’s life and career are summarised here - Mapplethorpe Profile – and on the Mapplethorpe Foundation website. He is famous for his portrait, still life and nude photography, and somewhat notorious for his homo-erotic and S&M imagery.

Given the latter I was rather surprised by the humanity of his portrait work. This is most obvious, and perhaps predictable given their relationship, in his shots of Patti Smith, but is well displayed in the portrait gallery on the Mapplethorpe foundation website. Particular favourites are this one and this one which seem to be at odds with my previous impression of Patti Smith as a somewhat edgy rock singer/poet.

His male and female nudes are equally fascinating for their tonality and for their classical feel – it is unsurprising to see a range of shots of classical statues in the sample of his work on the Foundation website. His obvious delight in playing with the colour of skin comes through in shots such as this, where the visual effect is purely down to clever lighting, this delightfully tender nude study of two young women and this stunning double portrait which reminds me of the cut paper silhouette portraits popular in the 1800s and earlier.

I struggle a little with some of the more blatantly sexual material, which is as much, if not more, a reflection on me than anything else – even here though there is a quality to the work that makes it difficult to look away.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

People and Place1: Ex2: Thinking about location

The stated aim of this exercise is to provide practise at translating real world setting into a useful image element. This would be more straightforward if the weather had not been foul or freezing for days. In the end – to make progress – I have collected a variety of different location from around my home and some examples which I hope show I understand the aim of the exercise from my archive.

First up the house locations – the living room, the bedroom and the dining room in that order.










The first question is do these meet the criteria of being very different. I believe they do: The first is a large evenly lit room with relatively muted colours, the second location is in front of a west facing window offering lots of natural light and the third is a colourful surrounding with a very obvious prop – the piano.

Before returning to one of these to shoot the exercise image, here are a few from the archive:


This one was taken in the window of the Tower Bank Arms at Far Sawrey while we were waiting for lunch. It was a particularly rainy day and there was a lot of very diffuse light coming through the bay window in which we were sitting which made it ideal for a portrait shot. The curtain behind provided a backdrop which removed most of the distracting detail through the window, and even had roughly matching roses as a pattern – giving,I think, a classic feel to the shot.

Tower Bank Arms, Far Sawrey

We were in the bay window at the left of the above shot.


Next up is this moderately humorous one of my son in Ibiza Town a couple of years back. We found these mannequins outside a clothes shop while wandering around town. The use of them as props for the humour is obvious – I’m not a great believer in portraits revealing character but this one may be an exception – especially as the pose was his suggestion.


And finally from the archives two shots of my daughters – the eldest with her first car, minutes after getting it home and the youngest at Charles de Gaulle airport – the expression on her face says as much about the airport as you really need to know. With hindsight a little fill-flash to lift the face would have been good in this shot.

PICT0005.jpg Tedium at CdeG Airport

Back to the exercise

The final location I chose to complete the exercise was at the piano. I chose it because it is an essential part of my wife’s life and I can’t imagine any full photographic interpretation of her personality that did not have a musical reference.



Edit: 15 February 2011 – Some outdoor locations

First up this one at Silloth – the dunes – which I used to good effect in the first exercises of DPP1, and in the context of this course I have used in Ex3. Lovely clear morning light, a variety of pleasant backdrops – grass, beach, sea – and usable for a range of shots from family outings to outdoor or spring/summer fashion. There is also a hotel nearby with a range of facilities for a more professional shoot.

Silloth Dunes

Next up is my garden – it’s not a great location at this time of year but as the weather improves it offers a range of options. This is not the best of photos but it shows the essential ingredients. Sunlight usually comes from the left. The apple tree (foreground left) provides dappled shade across the lawn for a number of hours each day, the arch is usually covered in in mix of flowers, including large roses, and the shrubs around the pond in the middle produce a fairly solid wall of green for a backdrop.The large shrub near the back also produces an area of shade.

The Garden

One thing my area lacks is easily accessible industrial areas for more ‘street’ style shoots – so my next aim is to track down a couple of locations that are easily accessible.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Shooting Portraits of Strangers | Shooting Strangers in Orchard Road

This is an interesting project. I’m at the same place as he describes himself at the beginning – don’t quite have the nerve to approach complete strangers to ask for their photographs. I’ll get there in the end. Not sure about his ‘No smile’ approach - I think I understand why he’s done it that way, but it seems to me that asking people not to smile for the camera simply adds a different layer of artificiality to the one that comes from our conditioned reaction to smile for the camera.

Shooting Portraits of Strangers | Shooting Strangers in Orchard Road