Part 1 - Exercises

Focal length

This exercise asks for the same framing of an image but taken with different focal lengths. This time I decided to take self-portraits, so that I could also feel what it's like to be in front of the camera, be aware of how different poses feel and practice self portraiture as a whole.

it was a bit difficult because I don't have a shutter release, so I had to take all the images with the timer and wasn't able to focus properly. I had put something on my chair, would then focus in automode and then leave it in manual, so the lens wouldn't change. I can't say it was a big succes, all images are out of focus!

An other difficulty was that it's hard to know where exactly to sit when the image is taken. It took me quite a few shoots to get in the right position in order to keep the framing as consistent as possible. In post processing I have cropped the images to keep the framing almost the same. Here are the results.

The focal lengths used from left to right are 300 mm, 135 mm, 70 mm and 38 mm. It's important to keep in mind that the first two images were taken on a smaller frame camera and the last on a full frame camera.

The first thing I notice doesn't have to do with how I look, but more how different each background is! Each image was taken with an aperture of 5.6, but there's much more blur in the background the longer the focal length gets. There's obvious a relation between that that I hadn't been very aware of before. 

The next striking changes in the the images is that my face is rounder in the first images and the shorter the focal length, the longer and skinnier my face looks. In a way it is also visible that the camera was standing much closer to me with the 38 mm focal length, it looks as I'm almost bending forward in the lens, while with the image on the left there's a more distant feel. This might also be a result of the background being less prominent and more distant. 

Eye contact and expression

These kind of exercises are so good in learning how to pose a subject and at the same time be aware of the effect that has on the image. A good friend was willing to pose for me on a sunny Wednesday morning. I used a diffuser to block the sunlight and white reflector to fill up the shadows and create a somewhat evenly lit face.

When doing this exercise I often thought about the sculptures I had looked at in the previous post. I realized how much influence looking at other people's work has on my own way of thinking. I learn so much, get so many new insights and develop a way of communicating what otherwise is taken for granted or just noticed somewhat unconciously. Here is the sequel!

An active portrait

Personally I have found myself taking many more photos of people while they're doing something than have them sit and pose. I find the sitting and posing much more difficult because it asks from me to let the subject feel at ease, pose in a way that's most suitable and make sure that the lighting is right, etc. The subject is entering my world and that means that I have to have everything in order and under control. When I enter the world of the subject and let it do whatever he or she is used to and comfortable with, I just need to be there, show interest and adapt myself to the subjects situation and environment. Somehow I feel more comfortable doing that, even though with strangers it takes some gut to take some of their time and being and and use them for my own photography. 

In Senegal there are many professions that are really difficult to find in the Western world. For this course I'll show a lot of them, because I really like visiting workshops where things are hand made, that elsewhere have been made by machines for years already. This weaver's workshop is one of them. When taking the images I had this exercise in mind and really wanted to focus on the expression of the subject, but in the meantime show some of the craft and machinerie that's being used. As the reader already says, in framing the image I had to focus on the person, that was the most important thing. So that also helps in  choosing the best image.  

When I came to the shop, the men were already working and they have not stopped while I took the images. At first they were a bit hesitant to have their images taken, but after I showed interest and just stayed there for quite some time, they relaxed and continued their work without trying to pose or look away. Here are some of the results: 

Looking through them, there are some that are more suitable as a portrait than others. The first and second one, interesting as they are, show more of the work itself and not so much the expressions of the people's faces. The third, fourth and fifth are already more focused on the person who's working, but I find that the number 6 and 7 show the most expression, in which 6 has a nice balanced feel to it and number 7 shows a great expression from the guy who's smoking a cigarette. If I could choose only one, number 6 will be it!


Experimenting with light

I think mastering light is one of the most difficult things to learn when it comes to the technical aspects of photography. Or maybe I should put that differently, mastering the light and posing the subject in such a way that the quality of the light comes to its fullest potential. 

Ever since I bought a flash and reflectors, I've been practicing, but I'm still not very confident in how to direct the light in such a way that suits the subject best or brings in a certain atmosphere in the image. For this exercise, I asked the sister of my son's friend to pose. She really did a good job and I was able to use different kind of lighting set ups. Here we go! 

Natural diffused light with reflector on the back

Natural diffused light with reflector on the back

This image was taken on our staircase, which has very nice lighting as you can see in the catch lights. There are windows high up and windows down, so the light comes diffused from different directions. In order to fill the shadows, I used a silver/gold reflector shining from the side. The light is very soft and there are hardly any shadows in her face. This kind of light brings a very friendly feel to a face and does not show unevenness in the skin very much. 

Rembrandt lighting, natural diffused light from the side

Rembrandt lighting, natural diffused light from the side

Because the light is very soft, the shadows are very soft as well and the contours of the face are still visible. To get a better Rembrandt effect, I should have asked the model to turn her face a little bit more towards the light. I do notice that when a face is lit from the side, more details of the skin become visible, which can be a problem if it's a beauty portrait, but can also show the character of a face more strongly.

Diffused flash

Diffused flash

Here the Rembrandt lighting works better, there is some light under the model's eye and because the light source is less diffused and smaller, the shadows are a bit harder and the contrast stronger. Quite a pity that the eye in the front isn't sharp! This way of lighting is a bit more mysterious and would have been even more mysterious with a black background.  

Diffused flash from the front mixed with natural diffused light

Diffused flash from the front mixed with natural diffused light

In a way the light is very even, but I don't like the highlight on the model's nose and I do think the image is a bit flat, especially compared with the image above. This light is not particularly interesting. 

Natural light diffused by the leaves of the tree and reflected light coming from the front of gold/silver reflector

Natural light diffused by the leaves of the tree and reflected light coming from the front of gold/silver reflector

If I had taken the shot without the reflector, it would have been difficult to get the face well lit. I took this image at 4.30 pm, about 2 hours before sunset, so the light is already coming from a low angle and giving a bit softer shadows. The model is standing in the shade of the tree, which makes the light softer and gives it a greenish glow that can still be seen on the forehead.  I need to work a bit more on this image in Lightroom, but in general I think this lighting set up works pretty well. There are nice catch lights in the eyes and there is a warm glow to the model that suits well with her skin color. 

Natural light, coming from the side with a bit fill light from a reflector on the side.

Natural light, coming from the side with a bit fill light from a reflector on the side.

This lighting situation is more interesting than the one where the light is all diffused by the tree. I quite like the contrast in the face and the way the contours of the face are better lit.  

I really don't think that after this exercise I can say I've mastered lighting. I still find it difficult and something that I need to practice more, including how to use my flash and combine it with other light, use of gels, etc, etc. 

But it's fun and I do see that I am improving step by step. Maybe even more important, I'm starting to see how light works and how I can get a result that I have envisioned beforehand, which is a good step forward! 

Thinking about location

Ok, I had just finished this entire blogpost, with images and a long story on backdrops and then my computer crashed. So I lost it all! Here's a shorter version of what I just wrote and posted.  

Let's just say that I learnt a lot during this exercise :-) 

Here's an image that I took with my girls. It shows how despite the busy background that with a shallow depth of field, the focus can still be on the subject, while remaining the beautiful colors and a sense of the surroundings. 


Portrait - Scale and Setting

In portraits even the slightest difference in poses or cropping has an effect on how the image and subject comes across. It takes a lot of practice to know what a subject should do and how to instruct the person when it comes to putting it in the position with the desired effect. I've looked at a lot of different images, mainly online. Here are a few that interested me most. Composition and depth of field are very defining. Let's start with the ones with a tight framing on the face: This site shows a lot of different poses with a tight frame. I like how the photographer explains how he made the images (they're actually made in Maya) and doesn't know which one he likes best. It's understandable, especially since all images have such a different feel to them. Then there are a few images in which the person looks straight in the camera and lit from the front. I like this approach, it's very confronting, but wouldn't necessarily call it flattering for the model. Here are a few of my attempts. They're all processed a bit differently, because I'm practicing my developing skills in Lightroom and Photoshop at the same time.

What I notice most is that the personality or mood of the subject is just as much affected by the angle by which the image is taken as the gaze of the subject and softness of the mouth. When the subject looks straight in the camera, the viewer is more involved and personally directed inwards the picture, while with the images where the subject is looking down or in an other direction, there's a more mysterious mood.

Here are the ones that show the face and the shoulders. As the reader already notices, the way the shoulders are positioned effects how much one is drawn into the image, but also how the subject is portrayed, formal, or more relaxed. 

It's not just the position of the shoulders, the way the head is tilted makes a huge difference in the image as well. My model wasn't very motivated anymore when I took the last image, but as you can see, tilting the face forward makes the image more engaging and even somewhat threatening. I also like how the first image is a bit more interesting because there's more negative space on the right side and the rules of thirds are working. 

Lots of different images with head, shoulders and arms. The background starts to play a different role as well, since it's impossible to crop it out. What I notice is that it's important to have the face leaned forwards in order to keep the focus on the eyes instead of the torso and hands. I chose this background because it's simple, but does have a few leading lines that can lead the eyes of the viewer to the subject.  Depth of field plays a part in these image as well. Even though in the bottom image on the left the arm and elbow fill in a big chunk of the image, because it's not sharp the eye is still drawn to the face of the subject. I don't think it's necessarily nice though. The images at the top of the stairs show how when cropping below the waistline, the face becomes less the first thing a person looks at, maybe even more with a blocked shirt the model is wearing. Then it becomes even more important to tilt the face and shoulders a bit forward to keep the image more engaging.

I couldn't get my model to stand up and he was a bit conscious of his toes and you can see he's getting a bit fed up with the modeling! But looking at these images it's still interesting to notice the difference in feelings both poses bring about. Even though the body is straight towards the camera, if the gaze is going somewhere else, there's more disengagement with the subject than compared with the one where the subject is turned away from the camera, but looking into the lens. 

So here are my favorite four: 

The first image has a sense of distance and isolation to it because the subject is looking downwards and it's hard to read what's on the subjects mind. The viewer is still immediately drawn to the eyes and from there on to the mouth that does reveal the mood of the subject more.

The second image has a very sympathetic feel to it, the subject is turned towards the camera and looking straight in the lens. Because there's not a defined background the viewer is drawn straight to the subjects eyes and from there to his mouth and shoulders.  because of the position of the subject there's a bit of a distance between the viewer and subject, giving it a more formal feel than the next one.

In the third image the viewer immediately feels connected with the subject. The subject is leaning forward, smiling and tilts the head a little bit, which gives it a more engaging feel. 

The fourth image has a sense of distance again. Maybe because the subject is looking upward, has his hands hidden and doesn't tilt his face where his eyes are going.