Photo lessons learned

I had the opportunity to do something new and different this past weekend. A friend of ours needed to have some photos taken of herself, and I offered to spend part of the afternoon shooting her. Now, since these were private photos, I can’t show you examples of what I learned, I can tell you a bit about it.

First off, the reason we were doing this in the first place, is because this person is very uncomfortable in front of a camera, thus they don’t have any recent pictures! I started out shooting with my 50mm f/1.8 lens. I love how this lens keeps the warmth of skin tone and gives me enough speed to not be blurry when I operate it without a tripod. Unfortunately, the fixed focal length has one draw back, though many might not see it as a drawback. If you want to get a closer shot, you have to move yourself closer to your subject. I quickly discovered that if I wanted to really get a close up of my friends’ face, and get a good capture of her eyes, I had to stand fairly close to her, and that was, in fact, making her more uncomfortable than she already was! It showed in the photos too! I don’t do a lot of portrait work, but even I know that an uncomfortable subject is not going to photograph well, no matter what lens you use, so the 50mm was quickly replaced with my 18-55mm. This allowed me to stand at a comfortable distance to the subject, and vary the focal length to suit my needs, from focusing on her face, to widening out to capture some of the background around her. This seemed to work much better for her. It probably also helped that I wasn’t moving, especially towards her, so much.

The other thing I did, to help her be more comfortable, is simply let her talk. We chatted about work, people we both knew, stories from the 10 years we’ve known each other, etc. Obviously, having known her that long gave me a decided advantage here, but as she chatted, I shot. Now, that meant I had to do a lot of shooting, because she was talking as I took the photos, plenty of them have her eyes shut, or some silly mid-sentence look on her face, or a hand in her face, but she was comfortable, and laughing, so there was enough there to get what we were looking for. I took 245 photos in about 90 minutes. I think what I’ll end up giving her will be somewhere in the 40-50 range, but I think it was worth it to get that many photos where she looks happy and relaxed.

The last thing about shooting with someone who’s not comfortable is taking care about location. Yesterday was a beautiful day in Columbus, relative to what our weather has been like so many places we might have thought about going, would have been full of people. We started out at Northbank Park downtown, which was pretty empty, it being Sunday and all. That gave us some freedom to wander around to different places, while avoiding the possibility of us being watched. The second place we were going to go was the fountain in front of the Main Library downtown. It’s an old Carnegie Library, a pretty magnificent building. Unfortunately, as we walked up, we realized there was about a dozen people just sitting out front of the building on the benches. We were going to have an audience there, so we just kept right on walking, over to the Topiary Park, a block away. That was much less occupied, and gave us some more time to venture around and take some different shots.

Overall, I think there are some real nice shots in that bunch, if I don’t say so myself. I think we managed to get some shots that not only look nice, but also capture some personality, which was really the goal. The real test will be when she gets to see them after I get done processing later this week, but I suspect she’ll be pretty happy with them.

Hopefully, the next time I get to do something like this, I’ll be able to share some of the results.

Technorati Tags: Portraiture, ComfortableModel

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