A magazine (of your choice) has commissioned you to shoot an environmental portrait; an interesting person within an environment relative to their job/interest. This portrait is not about the person doing their job or hobby, rather them portrayed within a location that signifies their occupation/pursuit.
Shoot on a DSLR or mirrorless camera and employ controlled supplementary lighting in combination with available light to create a crisp, detailed colour portrait of the sitter. This existing ambient light must both technically and creatively inform your balance/introduction of this supplementary lighting. Pay careful attention to the colour palette of the scene and if necessary rearrange sympathetically to enhance your composition.
Once you have your lighting set up, take three varying compositions. This workflow will provide both you and an art/picture editor with a choice. This may be achieved by either moving the camera, or simply changing lens focal lengths.
Pre-production research and planning must be reflected upon in the blog.
Use an existing magazine to inform the context:
- Model selection;
- Styling; and
- Audience understanding.
Three A4 colour prints, landscape or portrait orientation, 5:7 ratio with 2 cm white border.
My intended subject is Charles Ritchie, retired Brigadier who served with the Royal Scots for over three decades. The Brigadier is currently writing his memoirs.
I have an idea to shoot the portraits in the Ritchies’ home (preferably the study). The intention is to have the subject dressed in his casual wear, standing (maybe leaning) in front of a desk, with a reference to his long and colourful military career – medals/hat/etc (for discussion). I plan to spend some time getting to know Charles and his wife, Araminta, before the shoot, because I want his character to inform the images I make.
Research – Publications
Country Life and Country Living are the two publications that came to mind first, for the most obvious reason that the Ritchies live in the Scottish countryside. I found images I liked in both magazines, a combination of environmental portraits and interior shots, as well as feature details.
Country Life – this article about the 4th Baron Rothschild. Interior environmental portraits.
I popped round to the Brigadier’s house this evening to meet him and familiarise myself with his home before tomorrow’s shoot. Because it was an informal meeting, I decided to forego the tripod and just shoot a couple of relaxed shots of rooms that would make appropriate settings for the shoot. The dining room really caught my eye, the decor was exactly what I was hoping for. As luck would have it, Charles showed me the portrait by Jean Miller Harding that I referenced above, and I want to include it in the final shots. Tom, who has known Charles and his wife for many years, offered to help hang the portrait, giving me the perfect opportunity for a candid shot.
I really had to push the ISO up more than I would normally, because I was shooting handheld and didn’t want to use too slow a shutter speed. Given the noise caused by the high ISO, I played around with the image in PS (after optimising in ACR). I like the busy-ness of the resulting black and white image. The brief calls for three colour images, which I will make tomorrow, so I won’t be using this shot, but I like it on a personal level. The torch Charles is holding illuminates Tom’s face, which has the effect of making Tom the subject, rather than the Brigadier. The door frames the shot as though I’m peering through a doorway (rather than perched on a chair behind the door, as I was). Leading lines are created from the curtains, rug, and the eyes of the gentleman in the painting on the left. I really like the sense of intimacy in this moment between old friends.
If I had been paying closer attention, I’d have moved the plate on the table to the left, to reveal the painting of Charles in front of Tom. As it is, though, I am happy with the recon.
Image 1 – Shoot
Of all the things that could go wrong with a lighting-based assignment, I think being on farmland in the Scottish borders with all my camera gear except for the transmitter for my off camera flash… that’s a major headache. But since the Brigadier was on a tight schedule, I had to make the most of the time I had to work with him. He had very kindly invited me into his home to make these images.
So, I was a speedlight down, with a limited amount of time to shoot, and I’d chosen the darkest room in Charles’s house to shoot in because I thought the rich colours would add to the interest of the images. I had to get creative with the lighting that I had to hand, since trying to fire the flash manually wasn’t timing well with the shutter.
This lamp came in handy, as it halved my shutter speed to 1 second at an aperture of f/8.0 and my camera’s prime ISO, making for a crisper, cleaner shot. I edited it out in post-production, and after optimising both images in ACR I stacked them in PS and used a layer mask to combine them into one image.
Image 1 – Editing
I used layer masks to dodge and burn parts of the stacked image, and added a tri-tone layer using shades of yellow from the image.
I used the B/W adjustment option to increase the luminosity of the yellow and red tones, using a layer mask to only apply the changes to the subject’s face, because I didn’t want to affect the red tones in the walls. After these screenshots were taken, I reduced the opacity so it wasn’t such an extreme difference.
After sharpening the image (USM and high pass), I cropped and framed the image to 5:7 with a 2 cm white border:
The Brigadier is retired, and lives an active life with his wife and their dog, Iris. Their home is filled with souvenirs and momentos of his military career, and portraits of relatives fill the walls. I didn’t want to shoot him in a military stance or in uniform, as I wanted to capture his character rather than his life’s career. There are nods within the shot to this; he was regaling me with memories sparked by the massive photo album in front of him; portraits of his wife and himself are close to hand, and the painting by Jean Miller Harding is in its place from last night’s visit.
Image 2 – Shoot
I moved the camera and the lamp to the other side of the table, for a closer portrait of Charles. From this angle the painting of him is more visible, as is the photograph of him in his military uniform. It’s a more intimate shot than the first one, and it was taken between stories of the retired Brigadier’s memories from his photo album.
Image 3 – Shoot
We moved to the sitting room, where the light was more agreeable and Iris was snuggled on the settee. I had Charles sit in the green chair beneath a portrait of Araminta, so he was framed by two lamps, and by his wife and their dog in a sweeping line from top left to centre right. I shot from across the room, bringing the mirror into the frame to reflect the lights. It also allowed me to capture more of the room without using a terribly wide lens, avoiding significant distortion.
Image 3 – Editing
As with images 1 and 2, I optimised in ACR and edited in PS 2019. Techniques were similar to those used previously, and the resulting image shows Charles reading tales to Iris from Beyond the Front Line, a war memoir.
As before, I used USM and high pass sharpening, but for the latter I didn’t want to affect Charles’s face detrimentally, so I selectively sharpened the green chair with a layer mask, for subtlety:
I also added the tri-tone layers, giving the image a soft yellow tonal range. After editing, I cropped the image to 5:7 with a 2 cm border:
The final image has leading lines (follow the curtain down to the cushions, and along the back of the settee, or start with the dog curled up asleep, and follow the edge of the seat cushion). There is an obvious but not forced combination of natural light and lamp light, and the composition was guided but not forced, as I wanted my subject to feel comfortable in his own home. I like this image a lot, although I am aware that the task will need to be resubmitted due to the issue with the off camera flash.