You might think, from my photographs, I live a solitary existence since people rarely show up in them. Not so. I just don’t turn my camera to people as a subject very often. Long, long ago, as I was beginning in photography, people were mostly what I photographed. That lasted until my son told me he didn’t want to be photographed anymore (he was maybe 6 or 7?) and it was hard to find other subjects to practice with. I discovered stationary objects could provide a perfectly interesting subject, and they didn’t whine, either! I very quickly shifted away from photographing people to other things, and never looked back.
So I was a bit out of my comfort zone this weekend as I took a two-day class from photographer David Paul Bayles in “Creating Expressive Portraits with Window Light.” All learning is good, right? That’s what I thought as I signed up for it last November. I wasn’t quite so excited for the class as I ended the day Friday, tired after a low energy week, and just wanted to spend the weekend being lazy. But I had paid and my friends were going, so I wasn’t going to bail out. It turned out to be a fantastic weekend! I learned so much. There is a ton of new information floating around in my brain this morning… key light, lighting patterns, light modifiers. New words like gobo, scrim, flag. Thoughts on posing and positioning and engaging the subject. It’s amazing how much has to come together for a good portrait. I have soooo much more appreciation for portraiture after this weekend! I will be looking at every portrait I see very closely to understand how it was created.
I also have more appreciation for those who find themselves on the other side of the camera lens. All of us students had to take turns being the model for the other photographers in the class. It’s ironic that two weekends in a row I found myself staring into the lens, when I so studiously avoid it in normal situations. But it is good to be on that side of the lens too, understanding how it feels. As the one being photographed, you really want direction and to know the photographer is working to make you look your best. You want them to be confident and engaging, so you are comfortable. You don’t want them to be fiddling around or seem unsure of what they are doing. As the photographer, you have to do all of this while getting the technical settings and artistic elements right. Whew.
Here are a few of my favorite photographs of the weekend, posted with permission of the models, my fellow photographers and teacher in the class. These are pretty much straight out of the camera, just cropping on a couple of them. All of these were taken with window light, and in some cases a light modifier of some sort.
In this assignment, we were working on lighting patterns. Meet Helen, with a Rembrandt lighting pattern (almost) in low key. Isn’t she gorgeous? This was really beautiful light for her. This was a dark room with only one light source, a full-length glass door. Several feet behind her was some purple fabric on the wall. An assistant (the instructor) was holding a flag to block the light on her chest so the focus was on her face.
Here we have my friend Jeannette, in a “open” assignment where we weren’t looking for anything specific, just a good portrait in good light. My goal was to create a portrait that focused on her amazing blue eyes. She is sitting on the floor facing a large bank of windows (above her), with other windows on either side of the room. The background was carpet.
For our assignment on incorporating hands into a portrait, I worked with the instructor, David. I loved his hand gesture on the face, and how the light was just perfect through his fingers to keep a catchlight in his far eye. He is sitting angled toward some very large two-story picture windows in his studio, and several feet in front of a plain black cloth background. This is my favorite portrait of those I took over the weekend.
Our final assignment was to create a self-portrait. With dark hair, I’ve never been able to get a good self-portrait with a dark background, so that’s what I wanted to work on. In this one, I’m using the same full length door in front of the purple fabric from Helen’s portrait earlier, but I also reflected some of the light from the door onto the background to give better separation of my hair from the background. I did this by propping a reflector up against a folding chair off camera, to the left of where I was sitting. Kind of fun to be able to figure this all out! I still have more to work on, David pointed out a few things that I could do to improve it, but I couldn’t have created anything like this on Saturday morning before the class started. I’d say that means it was a successful class!
I still have much work to do to get this all down to the point where I’m not the fiddling photographer making the subject uncomfortable. But at least now I have a much better idea of where to start. I do need practice though. Anyone want to come model? 🙂