How we do it ?
Assuming we each get the picture we set out to make
(and we really have to think that !)
we'll each have a a technique that suits what we do.
I think as long as we are talking technique that leads to
toward portraiture, we can talk about that here.
For instance, I work with a big camera and with a small camera.
I usually use a big camera when the subject is bouncing around,
and the energy needs to concentrated.
On the other hand,
a 35 AF helps when a subject is uncertain about the whole thing,
and walking about helps the process.
For this picture, her dad and I planted a 4x5 press camera
on a heavy tripod and used a 10" lens.
He is a fine photographer in his own right,
and was a cheerful and amused assistant.
We worked in a backyard under an October, overcast sky,
and the sitter lay down on a sheet of plywood that
had been raised at the end facing the camera,
to let her face up into the light.
I buried her with fallen leaves to make it fun,
and shot with Polaroid 55/PN.
The first couple shots I made were boring,
but her big rowdy hairy dog came over by the camera,
wondering what was going on. 1/10th of a second
after the shutter tripped, the dog jumped on the kid,
leaves flew everywhere, the kid chased the dog,
and the sitting was officially concluded.
I usually mask a 4x5 ground glass down to 3 1/2 x 4
because I just like an 8x9 proportion,
and leaving plenty of room around the subject
masks my errors, makes the process more relaxed,
and allows for chance to provide a Lagniappe...
like a big hairy dog.
For a lot of what I shoot, getting the pix I want has to do with having 90% of the technical issues taken care of before the shot. Taking the time to meter and, often, to focus will make me miss what I want to get. So, I am constantly changing the settings on my camera as the light changes; getting it ready to grab a printable shot. Constantly focusing on a different zone depending on how far away I think I might be shooting.
I always admire good portrait shooters. It's something I do not enjoy in the least. Just shot a studio portrait on 4x5 last night. It's tough, even with a 400 film. Flash would help loads...damn 1K M-Rs are not enough when you have to stop down to f/11 to get D of F on a 360 lens. hard for people to hold perfectly still for 1/2 sec...Wish the school would get at least 2K models. But, people have done way more using way less...that's what frustrates me.: it should be easy for me, but it's not. I also hate working with people in a studio. I much prefer environmental portraits.
keep it fun
pre-set as much as possible
don't take it too seriously
capture the essence of the subject, we hope
the attached, my 12 yo daughter, homemade pre-focused simple lens 8x10 box camera, old FB paper for neg, 295mm lens (magnifying glass)/8 seconds @ f11/available light
Except for a couple studios nudes (male and female) I did 20 years ago (which I think as more as figure studies rather than portraits) and some nudes in the environment around the same time (again not portraits), my portraits have been limited to my three boys.
At first I used an SX-70 camera and did maniplulated polaroids. I stopped doing those when they learned to crawl and they would no longer stay where I put them. I now have a series-in-progress of the Boys in the environment, which I feel are more along the lines of portraits -- though if someone was to argue with me about which genre they actually are, I would not put uip much of an argument.
The Boys and I were taking 1 to 2 mile hikes in the redwoods by the time they were 3 yrs old. I started taking the 8x10 -- and when I found something I wanted to photograph, I'd get the lunch stuff out. While they were eating, I'd get the camera out and make an exposure (otherwise keeping track of 3 four-year-olds while one's head is under the darkcloth is difficult -- I have a few stories I have never told my wife!)
Once they were 4 or so, I could start having them pose for me with exposure times of 30 to 60 seconds. And once they hit 7 or so years, I could spend more time under the darkcloth without worrying about the Boys exploring on their own around me. For my landscape work I tend to wander around the landscape looking at the light until I am moved to set up the camera -- I rarely go out with a specific image in mind.
With the series with the Boys, about 50% of the images are in the locations that are chosen from previous experiences with a specific place. Generally I take a few landscape images and let the Boys explore, climb trees, play in the creeks or whatever for a couple hours -- perhaps after hiking a hour or so. This burns up some of their excess energy and also grounds them to the environment we are in (mini-lessons in geology, botany, wildlife biology, etc get tossed in, too).
Once I have the camera is set up and generally composed and metered, I call to the Boys and have them pick their spots and poses within the frame -- with minimal coaching. With such long exposures, I do not expect stock-still faces...I just like to be able to see the facial features. I generally take two shots of a scene, and can occasionally talk them into to posing for a second set up in a different location -- but I am happy to get one.
I also have a second series of environmental porraits of the Boys using a Rollieflex and color negative film -- these tend to be closer up than the 8x10 and understandably a bit more spontaneous. I have not printed any color recently (RA4) and have a backlog of possible negs.
PS...this ended up being quite a book...thanks for reading!
For about a year I shot portraits only with available light. My office/studio has big north-facing windows that give an excellent soft light. The problem was that I could only book shoots in the afternoon, which meant mostly on weekends. And I had to cancel if it was not a sunny day, a frequent occurence here in San Francisco.
I've just recently started using a softbox with six 80-watt color-adjusted compact flourescent bulbs as my main light source. I totally love it! It gives me the broad soft light that I like so much and I can shoot anytime, anywhere!
My Friend Andy. A true Rockabilly stand up Bass player. Leica M6 with 50mm Summicron and Tri-X in HC-110 B.
He is a shy person, despite his on stage persona and I was having a hard time getting him to relax. In the end I told him to hold it like a woman and this resulted. Lit with a single flash head and honeycomb in a very cramped space, hence the 50mm instead of the 90 I would like to have used. (I was after a Herman Leonard sort of look).
I remember that portrait, John. I like it a lot.
The picture on the index of my website is an important one to me at the moment. I include a thumbnail but there's a better view here For me it is full of personal resonance, but it also has a kind of classical look. The irony is, that this was very literally a 'grab' shot. It's one of a growing number of 'accidentals' that I seem to be gathering along the way – when my purpose is focussed on something else – usually the landscape or smaller outside 'scapes' - and then turned to my youngest son.
I was taking pictures of landscape, and then looked to the right to see my son in this position. I have to say my heart did leap a bit, because the whole landscape (as well as seeing him within it), looked so beautiful, in the winter early morning. (The technical bit - I couldn't take a picture with the Mamiya without taking a giant leap 10 or 20 yard backwards, so I put down the camera, and picked up the FM3a at my feet, using aperture-priority, manual 28mm nikkor lens & the film was Tri X) and got the picture before he moved – although aware of me - and there it is, a 'snap'.
The landscape is one I've known since my earliest teens. So is it a 'snap'? A self-portrait? Or a portrait? Or a landscape? Both? All? On my site I put it in the landscape section, but that was more a question of context than anything else. There's a lot of me in it, it could be seen it as a journey to my past and also my future there, with him. But that seems contrived, and seen in retrospect.
There's more in it of him – he had no direction from me but just at that moment his presence, his posture, the waves of grass, the landscape, my position with a camera and lens that could take it all in, all came together and I was lucky enough to be there. Whether I managed to capture and communicate what I sensed and felt there is another story. I like that he is looking straight at the camera. And he has known the land since he was born, he has his own claim on it. I love the way he always lies and rolls in it. That won't last for long.
Cate... I don't think had seen that one before... it's stunning!!
Suzanne - thanks - glad you like it. There are some other really nice examples here also.
I think this thread shows something of the variety of approach and technique that can make a 'portrait' - (and this will vary also with different pictures we take of course). I think it works well taking an individual picture to talk about.
I hope more people will continue to post their own pictures and stories here, whatever the content and style - I 'm certainly interested in seeing them.
For a long time, part of my main gig was to shoot events, like festivals etc. for a magazine. While most of this was not "portraiture" in the traditional sense, it always involved working with human subjects. Naturally rather shy when I started doing this, I got over that pretty quickly. I had to. It became immediately obvious that the essence of the job was to engage, even to entertain the subjects. The more entertaining I could be, the easier it was, and eventually, I got so good at it that I could often shoot in close quarters for half a day or so before anyone thought to ask me why I was there. I could even direct people, and they'd do what I asked without question. I think I only had maybe three or four uncomfortable episodes in about twelve years.
I had one job for another client which was to shoot portraits of forty or so individual attorneys in their offices for a brochure I like the kind of light you get using a bare tube flash in small white rooms. It gives a direct light component with a nice diffused ambiance, if the balance is just right. With the particular setup I decided to use, I could use either f/5.6 at 8 feet, or f/8 at 5.6 feet. This took care of the technical stuff so I could work fast without having to worry about it. The approach I took was to fasten a flash-head to my head, bolted onto a hard hat. The result was amazing. Some of those guys were really hard, but you'd never know it through the pix. It was sometimes a challenge to subdue the mirth.
This was quite a while ago, and not all my files are in one place. If I can find the job, I'll try to reply to myself with an image or two.