As I’m fortunate enough to be taking a break from work for a couple of months, I’ve managed to get through the exercises on the People Aware section of P&P reasonably quickly but without overly rushing them. So I’m already onto the assignment planning.
I decided early on that I’d use my wife Ann for the assignment, and for that reason I didn’t bother her too many times during the exercises…! On reading and digesting the assignment brief, and in particular the advice to take the portraits over several shooting sessions, it became apparent that I would have to spread the shooting over a couple of weekends. So my plan is to do a couple of shots this weekend and the rest over the long easter weekend, giving me the final weekend in April to add in any remaining shots and write up the whole thing.
Much of my preparation so far has been to think about the various criteria / characteristics of portraits that I want to include in the set of images, to make them sufficiently different to each other.
I have made one key decision: all the portraits will be in black and white. I am generally steering more towards b/w for portraits as my personal preference, and after an email chat with my tutor on whether to mix up b/w with colour, I’ve finally landed on keeping the colour aesthetic consistent and bring in the variations by way of framing, lighting, props, location and so on. In this way, there are two constants (the subject and the b/w aesthetic) that help the set hang together as a coherent whole, but hopefully the other factors will still demonstrate variety in style.
EDIT: now I’ve started, I might just completely change that round and do them all in colour! I think I’ve got one, maybe two, keepers from today, and they’re both much better in colour. I still want to be consistent though. Let’s see what the next few look like. Decisions, decisions…!
I went back through the notes and exercises so far and brainstormed some of the factors that can be used to introduce variety:
- Formal (posed) vs informal (more natural, candid)
- related: sitting, standing, lying down, other pose
- Traditional vs more experimental
- e.g. non-face, shot through translucent material / through a hole in something, in a mirror etc
- indoor vs outdoor
- plain / blurred-out background vs interesting background
- natural vs artificial
- time of day
- flash / other photographic lighting accessories (e.g. reflectors)
- close crop to face, head and shoulders, profile, torso, full body
- Props (based on her likes / personality / character):
- gardening / flowers
- our dog (NB potentially dilutes the subject too much?)
- accessories (e.g. she loves posh handbags…)
- consider colours: dark or light, solid colours – for better contrast in b/w
I need to take the above into consideration – and combinations of them together – when planning the actual shots I will take.
The following ideas have so far spring to mind. If I can get 5-6 of these to work well, then I will have the assignment done successfully.
- In garden, full body, low afternoon sun, holding bouquet of flowers
- Holding a book in front of half her face (am thinking of a specific book cover with an eye on it, to form a kind of half-mask), torso frame
- Side-on shot of bathtub, shot from low down, with head just visible in profile over lip of bath, eyes closed… on the wall next to our bath is a wall sign saying ‘relax’ in script style, so if I can get this in shot as well so much the better
- Classic Bailey/Avedon-style white background, high contrast portrait, torso or full body
- Close crop on face, straight on, very calm expression, lit by window light on one side and a reflector on the other
- Pseudo-voyeuristic, through keyhole into bedroom
- Yoga pose, full body – e.g. standing on one leg, arms together above head
- Profile headshot with soft edge lighting through hair
I’ve been avidly poring over magazines (especially Ann’s fashion magazines) to check out the different portrait styles used by different photographers. My eyes are now open to subtleties in pose and style that had previously passed me by. However, I know that fashion photography isn’t representative of portraiture as a whole, so I’ve been supplementing this with re-reading various back issues of the British Journal of Photography and Hotshoe.
I’ve also been reading the very interesting ‘Train Your Gaze’  by Roswell Angier which covers many facets of portraiture and has been inspirational in many ways – a short review of the book will be a separate blog post soon. In addition, I’ve re-read the portrait chapter of Clark’s ‘The Photograph’  and perused the portrait section of ‘Photo Box’ .
The other kind of research I’ve found useful is to look back at the many pictures I’ve already taken of Ann over the years. Some of these I think are good enough to be inspirations for contemporary shots for this assignment. I wouldn’t try to directly recreate any of them, more a case of trying to recapture what I felt made it a good picture.
A few key observations on the old pictures selected:
- A smile always adds something to a photograph, but it needs to be a natural one, not forced
- Most shots I’ve ever taken of Ann have been similar in framing – head and shoulders… need to vary this more (not just for this assignment, I mean generally)
- Lighting makes a big difference, especially sunlight
- I really like the ones where she’s not making eye contact with the camera
- Angier, R. (2007) Train your gaze: a practical and theoretical introduction to portrait photography. Lausanne: AVA
- Clarke, G. (1997) The photograph. New York: Oxford University Press
- Koch, R (2009) Photo Box. London: Thames & Hudson