People & Place

Rob Townsend's OCA Learning Log

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Exercise: Review a portrait sequence


Set up a portrait session with consistent setting and framing so that the only variable will be the expressions and gestures of the subject. Concentrate fully on the person’s expression (and gesture or pose if they vary), assessing it from frame to frame in order to select what you consider to be the best of the sequence. Immediately after the shooting, write down as well as you remember the frame by frame progress of your subject’s expression, noting which you felt at the time were the best. At what point did you decide that it was time to stop shooting, and why? Next, open the sequence of images and review a second time. Rate them as follows: a) not good, b) acceptable, c) good and d) the best single shot, according to your judgement. How, if at all, did this later review differ from the way you saw it at the time of shooting?


Subject: this is Laura, a friend from down the road.

I took over 30 shots but removed a few early test shots and obvious bloopers (totally out of focus etc). What remains is a good representation of the main body of the shoot. I shot in black and white as I felt that the white background and her dark clothing lent itself well to this style.

At the time / immediately after:

The sequence divided into three main sections: with bounce flash; with bounce flash plus reflector card at chest height; no flash (higher ISO). At the time of shooting I thought that the ones where I had managed to catch Laura smiling or laughing were going to be the best shots, and I knew that I hadn’t managed to do this with every shot. Part of the problem that I recognised at the time was the flash recycle time led to lapses in spontaneity. This is why towards the end I ditched the flash and ramped up the ISO instead. The middle portion, where she held the reflector card, had the least spontaneous/natural expressions, probably because the fact of holding the card makes it more of an artificial situation and so harder to relax. I stopped shooting when I was reasonably sure that we had about 5-6 good shots in the bag.

During shooting and in the immediate review from memory afterwards I thought the shortlist of best shots was going to be 3, 10, 23, 26, 27, 29, 30.

Proper analysis:

Once in Lightroom I took a closer look at the 30 images and saw things that I hadn’t noticed before. Firstly, there is a distracting thin white stripe in the black top in many of the first half of the set. Secondly, in images 19-21 you can see the black underside of the reflector card sneaking into the bottom of the frame (could be cropped out if needed). Thirdly, a few of what I thought were going to be the good shots (26, 29, 30) turned out to have blurry or out-of-focus portions that ruled them out.

However, one of the images that I’d remembered at the time as being a possible keeper, number 23, is indeed the one that I consider to be the single best shot of the series.

23. BEST!

23. BEST!

What I’ve learned

Broadly speaking, I do think I correctly remembered the better shots based on expression, gesture and pose – but what let me down was more the technical side of things, e.g. a few of the ones where I think I caught a good expression, the focus was off slightly – or the framing, like leaving in the white stripe or the reflector card. I put this down to using the remote trigger release and not (often enough) checking the viewfinder. On balance I think remote release is an advantage, as it allows you to get out from behind the camera and engage with the subject, but I do think I need to remember to periodically check what’s in the frame.