Monday, September 23, 2013

When the Only Model You Have is You


Flash 137, 2013
(Click on images to see larger.)

Regular readers will wince at the thought that I’m going to once again mention the photography workshop I took in New York in August. Yes, it stretched my comfort zone. Yes, it made it hard for me to “see” photo opportunities that seemed limitless before. And yes, now I can’t seem to see a photograph of a person—almost any kind of existing light portrait, really—that couldn’t be improved by a little supplemental artificial light.

So I’m either ruined or off on yet another tangent. Rather than admit defeat, I’m choosing to interpret this as “skill exploration.”  Last year’s workshop sent me off photographing anyone who’d stand still long enough. This year it’s all about supplementing environmental portraits with artificial light.

The thing about doing environmental portraits—and by this I refer to any photographic portrait that’s done not in a studio, but rather in some sort of situ—is that you need someone to photograph. My New York friends can find models all over the place. Here’s anice one from Adam Buteux. I mean, it’s as if there are people just walking the streets of the city waiting to be asked to be photographed with, say, an Irish wolfhound, a Fendi bag or a lush Oscar de la Renta ball gown.

There are no super models wandering my local streets. No Fendi bags, Irish wolfhounds or de la Renta ball gowns. No, I’m left with the only model who’ll agree to sit for me, and that would be me, graying hair, wrinkles and all.

This is probably not a bad thing. There’s a lot I’ve yet to learn about lighting before I turn my camera loose on real people. Shooting with supplemental light requires a lot more thinking and planning than I’m used to doing. There are a lot more variables, which is great once you’re confident is flexing them.

Before I can do that, though, I have to learn a basic checklist for doing basic things with lights. When I get that “muscle memory” firmly implanted in my mind, I’ll be able to stretch some and play with the variables.

Using artificial light for the first time is like using Photoshop for the first time in that it’s a matter of subtlety. At first you over-do it. Then you learn how to tone things back so if you need such software to further process your images they don’t look so over-processed.

As the series of photos below shows, I’ve a lot to learn. The one above is the most recent, and I think the best so far. I may be slow, but I’m getting there.


Flash 015, 2013

Flash 113, 2013


  1. I like the light in Flash 015. It's a beautiful portrait. I don't know if it's the half lighting that makes the headshot so great or the tilt of your head and facial expression.

  2. The expression in 137 is so you. Great lighting, too.