Environmental Portraiture – Task 1 – Three Portrait Narrative

Brief
Find a room where the sun (or other ambient light) comes in either early in the morning, or late in the day. Shoot three portraits of one individual using only the available light. Use and retain model release form.

Use an existing magazine to inform the context:

  • Lighting;
  • Composition;
  • Post-production;
  • Model selection;
  • Styling; and
  • Audience understanding.

Three A4 colour prints, 5:7 ratio with 2 cm white border.

Use three different lenses: 18-24 mm; 50 mm; and >100 mm. Experiment with various focal lengths to recognise their individual creative values, and create a cohesive narrative.

Research Notes
The only magazine I have ever subscribed to is National Geographic. I like the range of photography styles and the breadth of scope in their assignments. There is an formal familiarity in many of my favourite NGM shots, they aren’t generally editorial but they are very often about fascinating people.

My post on influential photographers and shots for this assignment is now live.

On the subject of using ambient or available light, one NGM photographer Jim Richardson is quoted as saying: “Find the light and you’ll probably find the picture”.

I am leaning towards shooting at night rather than in the morning, because I love the orange glow that comes from the streetlight outside our 1st floor living room window. I have a composition in mind that would work with the low light to create strong shadows, so I’ll take a couple of test shots tonight.

Wide shot
For the wide shot, I want my model seated, facing the window. The streetlight is almost level with our window so we get a fair amount of light. The room is decorated in quite an earthy palette (greens, beige, and natural wooden tones) and I like the contrast of the strong artificial orange light against the neutral scene. I want to capture the shadows behind my model, and I’m expecting the blinds to cast linear shadows on my model’s face.

A highly technical composition for my wide shot. Streetlight at centre right

I want to shoot with a narrow aperture for greater depth of field, but given the low light, this will require a long shutter speed. Depending how slow this needs to be, I may shoot the scene with the model at a wide aperture and fast shutter speed, and then without the model, stopping aperture up and shutter speed down, before putting them together post-production using a mask layer to ensure a sharp image of the model. I may not have to do this, but I feel it’s better to anticipate it to avoid having to reshoot.

Mid shot

Head in hand, elbow on knee, drink in other hand, plant in background.

I will shoot the mid shot at a wider aperture than the wide shot, and stop the shutter speed up if necessary to balance the exposure. For my mid shot I want the model mostly in shadow, with limited background detail. I should be able to afford to stop up the aperture in this case, but not to the extreme that the whisky related books on the shelf will be identifiable.

Close up
For the close up I will be using my 50 mm prime lens, which on my cropped sensor Canon 80D is closer to about 85 mm. I don’t have a natty drawing for this one.

Trial Shots
Shot on Canon 80D with cropped sensor using only available light.

Wide shot

f/5.6 – shutter speed 2″ – ISO 100
18-24 mm lens

This shot turned out almost exactly how I envisioned it (minus the cat). Tom is a whisky specialist, and I wanted to capture that aspect of his character in a subtle way. Hence, he is holding a glass of Glentauchers 19 y.o. single malt, and whisky books and paraphernalia are just barely visible on the bookcase. The tones of the shot are reminiscent of the contents of a whisky bottle. Also visible are the board game we play together most often, and a tiny model spaceship from his gaming sessions with friends.

There is a very faint blue glow from the television which is in the opposite corner of the room from where I positioned my model. Although barely noticeable, the glow is reflected under the window, and on the left hand side of the potted plant. The horizontal lines from the blinds and the verticals from the floorboards give the image depth.

My one gripe about this, that I am kicking myself for, is that I have cropped the model’s foot off. This was a rookie mistake and I am really disappointed in myself for not noticing at the time.

Rule of thirds

The light, tones, shadows, and lines in this shot satisfy the rule of thirds perfectly.

Mid shot

f/2.8 – shutter speed 4″ – ISO 100
50 mm lens

I wanted a mid shot that wasn’t just a zoomed or cropped in version of the wide shot, and I liked the way the shadows stretched along the model’s neck when he turned side-on, and the definition to his jaw. The shadows on the back wall are softer; I shot this at a wider aperture that the wide angle shot above. I took a couple of shots at this distance but I felt the hand-on-chin thing was too posed. I waited until I caught him in an “off” moment, and asked him to hold position.

Close up

f/2.0 – shutter speed 1″ – ISO 100
50 mm lens

I had the model sit in front of the window, a little bit away from it so I could achieve the desired shallow depth of field. I wanted the light through the blinds to be soft, and I didn’t want the shadows across Tom’s face to be too extreme: I didn’t want him to look menacing. I think I captured him well.

Bonus shot

f/2.8 – shutter speed 0.5″ – ISO 100
50 mm lens

I couldn’t resist taking this close up of the blinds. If this were a spread in National Geographic, I could imagine this being the intro page to the feature.

Thoughts
Overall I am really happy with how these shots turned out. I used the 18-24 mm and the 50 mm lenses. Minimal post-production editing was required to get the balance the way I wanted it, and all of the images retain the integrity of the scene and run coherently. I love the shapes that the light and shadows have created, and I’m looking forward to my 1-on-1 and class critique…

…that bloody shoe, though.

Model release form

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