I aim to take a series of portraits using family members as my subjects.
Equipment check list.
Camera (Canon 50D) & battery pack with fully charged batteries.
Formatted empty memory cards.
Tripod-- I use a Manfrotto 055XPROB + 804RC2 Head + Double Axis Spirit level.
50mm F1.4 prime lens--a great portrait lens on my camera's cropped sensor body.
10-22mm lens--not a portrait lens but one I enjoy using and may possibly need .
Backdrop and stand-I have a Lasolite black velvet backdrop that I find very useful but
incredibly difficult to collapse and fold away.
Camera settings: Manual settings -I will adjust as needed.
Raw. ISO 100 or 200 maximum . One shot auto focus drive mode. Auto WB .
Histogram and clipping warning on LCD display.
My shooting plan timetable needs to be reasonably flexible as I need to arrange individual sessions for each model. My family live reasonably nearby so I hope to take the majority at my own home but realise this might not always be practical . Jane Bown is a photographer I really admire for her knowledge and use of natural,
not artificial, light, my preference is not to use flash for this assignment so hope I am able to use available light to my best advantage. The weather will
restrict when I am able to take any images outside, bright sky with soft cloud cover acting as a diffuser would be perfect, but again I will need to adapt as I go along.
The British weather is notorious for being unpredictable!
An important question to ask myself prior to commencing is how I want to portray my close family members and will my presence influence their response to the camera? They are all used to me carrying and using a camera at family gatherings throughout the year but will the more formal set-up of tripod and backdrop
influence their response, and hence their expected outcome, of the session? My plan is simply to observe , wait , and not direct them to pose in any specific
way . I aim to be as objective as I possibly can taking these images of people to whom I am very close, and want the images to form the basis of a series of
more studied portraits (one I hope to continue as a personal long-term project ). I want to isolate each subject from their usual surroundings and belongings
for this reason I will use a black backdrop, which I also like aesthetically. Excluding all other visual information from within the frame will force my attention completely on each subject and hopefully help enable me to capture something of their inner self not usually revealed in a family album ,something I hope will be visible to the viewer also.
Post shoot plan.
Upload and import the images after each session into the Lightroom catalogue using a card reader. I will not delete any images from my memory cards until the assignment is complete and everything is backed up and printed. Back up Raw files to either DVD'S or an additional external hard-drive.
As I am now using my new Mac I have decided to keep my folders in date order , key wording each image very carefully so it will be easy to find specific images as
the library grows. (The folder system had become chaotic on my PC and this is something I want to avoid) therefore key words and metadata will be added as
soon as I have uploaded the images into Lightroom. The screen and printer have both been calibrated using X-Rite ColorMunki Photo software.
Assess each session using a colour rating system (not the star system I used for the exercises).
Red =images to be deleted/ Yellow= images to be reviewed a second time.
2:Review the images again and change any yellow flagged images to a green rating if I feel they are worthy!! I aim to keep these to a minimum , perhaps at the most 3 from each session , giving me a total of no more than 21 from which to make my final assignment selects.
3:Green=images to process further in Lightroom.
Create a virtual copy and do basic post processing in Lightroom. I could at this point also export the image to Flickr. Review the final selected green flagged images once again. From these I will make my final assignment choice and flag purple.
4:Purple= reserved for my final chosen assignment images to be further processed in PS as a 16 bit Tiff and printed.
I use an Epson R2880 inkjet printer with Epson ink and 325 gsm PermaJet Fibre Base Royal A4 paper.
I keep post - processing to quite basic adjustments (I am still building up my Photoshop skills) .
Create small SRGB low res jpegs to upload to my Flickr account and website. A useful function of LR3is the ability to export a jpeg straight toFlickr. Lightroom has been set to back up to an external hard-drive each time I close the programme and includes XMP file information.
This took much longer than anticipated due to work and family commitments, organising a session was like planning a military expedition. I found
photographing the younger children difficult too under the more formal conditions I set myself. I additionally took a series of unplanned self-portraits, the photographer is rarely included in the family album . Because I used a black backdrop I needed to meter carefully to avoid overexposing each subject . During the initial first few shots I bracketed the exposure , checking the histogram carefully for shadow and highlight clipping , until I was happy with the exposure . I used my cable release throughout each session (which I find invaluable). Having planned not to influence but simply observe I found I needed to give directions as to how I wanted each subject to pose to take advantage of the available light conditions, my choice of light could be considered subjective too. I also found myself giving specific instructions , not to smile etc, therefore creating the images became, I feel, much more personal. It is interesting to consider just how truthfully any individual in a planned portrait session can ever really be depicted. Did my personal knowledge make me photograph them differently to how a total stranger might have chosen ? This is something I aimed to avoid but actually found impossible, however does my insight of their unique character give me an advantage that somehow enables me to show hidden qualities? That is something I had not considered prior to starting the assignment but found myself consciously looking for as the sessions commenced. In an interesting interview portrait photographer Nelli Palomaki discusses the expectations and reactions of her subjects, especially of parents to her intense images of their children. "They are shocked because they have probably never seen a serious portrait of their child", she chooses not to direct or talk to her subjects and believes " freed from the usual instructions-----each child seems to relax and drop their camera face" pg 10 Black + White Photography January 2012.This contradicts my thoughts because as a stranger she still manages to capture hidden aspects of her subjects' personalities with her approach to portraiture.
Session 1. Outdoors bright but overcast day. (+ See notes in project section Editing )
56 images taken with a 50mm F1.4 prime lens. I incorporated the editing exercise into my first session using Maisie my 8 year old granddaughter. She is a dream to photograph and usually makes a willing model but her age means she does get distracted. Hence I knew I would need to keep the session reasonably short. As I noted for the exercise my best images were taken towards the end of the session as she became less conscious of the camera. I asked her to either look directly at me or away and did not talk but simply observed her. Imagery of children can be a contentious subject and I am always very aware of the limitations of what may be considered acceptable, or safe , however bearing that in mind I wanted to create a thought provoking portrait.
Session 2. Taken outdoors using available daylight with mainly grey cloud cover. 50mm prime and 10-24mm lens. William (Bill) my husband, who hates his photo being taken, was not an easy subject, he is the family comedian and could not resist pulling faces as I shot him: not what I had in mind.
Session 3. Taken indoors using strong side light from a large South West facing window on a bright sunny afternoon. 50mm prime lens. Mum--my subject-
needed to sit down for this session. She is quite immobile at the moment and it was safer than getting her to balance standing up. Using my velvet backdrop was
impossible in her flat hence I used a black skirt to provide the background. At 86 she is still a strong character and I wanted to try and show this even though age has caused the loss of much of her former independence. I wanted to capture a slight defiance but also her strength in the face of adversity , for this reason I asked her not to smile.
Session 4. An hour long session-the longest- with myself as the subject. Not something I originally planned to do. 10-24mm lens. Taken outside on
a bright but cloudy morning. I found it easier to sit on a chair with the cable release in my hand than stand. This was perhaps the most difficult session, not only attempting to frame myself without chopping my head off (hence I needed to use the wide angled lens) , but choosing how to pose too. I do not like my photograph being taken, it rarely matches what I (want to ) see in the mirror, or feel. However having total control over framing and pose gave me the opportunity to try and capture something of myself, something I know to be true, that I rarely choose to share , or be seen, in a photograph.
Session 5. The quickest session--only 20 minutes capturing two subjects neither of whom was directed except for where to stand. Indoors using available side light from a South facing large patio window early afternoon. 50mm prime lens. It was difficult to catch Caitlin, aged 5, with an un-posed expression, she was trying too hard to smile for the camera, I needed to wait but not did not direct her at all. Phil was not a willing subject, and I needed to be very quick taking some close up shots of him, it took me less than 5 minutes! I had seen a tightly cropped image of actor Michael Fassbinder in the Saturday Guardian Weekend magazine (7/1/2012 ) and knew this was exactly how I wanted to frame Phil too.
Session 6. I decided to attempt to take some images using an alternative from available daylight and took a series of portraits outdoors on a freezing cold night using an overhead door lamp and a hand held torch as my only light source . 50 mm F1.4 lens The 10-24mm lens was not suitable for the darker light without taking
very slow exposures which even if Rachel , my subject, kept very still were unfocused. The backdrop was balanced on bins behind Rachel, whilst her husband held the torch. Rachel can be theatrical and volatile, I wanted dramatic light. I needed to bracket all the shots, it was difficult to judge the correct exposure due to the brightness of the lamps.
Session7. Indoors using side light from a South West facing large window on a bright afternoon. 50mm prime lens. Black skirt used
as a background. Mum was my subject again but this session was of her hands. A photographic portrait is a visual description and hands can tell you so much about a person, I find them fascinating to photograph. Her hands tell of the passage of time and old age. I found it really difficult to get her hands framed exactly how I planned and needed to give her specific instructions. I like their texture and shape and tried to emphasise this.
Post shoot selection process.
A grand total of 234 images needed to be rated, grouped, and reviewed to make a final choice of between 6 and 12 for the assignment. After importing, tagging and applying metadata I used a colour rating scheme to review groups of photos. Using the Lightroom filters makes this a very easy process.
Any "horrors" (79)were marked red and deleted from the hard drive immediately.This was the easiest part of my post shooting choice: if an image is badly exposed, out of focus, or just plain awful, the decision is easy to make .My criteria for applying a yellow flag included the very many similar shots I could not make an immediate choice between but had the qualities I was aiming for at the time of the shoot , and perhaps most importantly needed little post-processing. What I found especially tough was being objective in my choice , it was really important for me to carefully consider how each image might be interpreted . This process took me far longer than I anticipated, framing, facial expression, stance , and technical details all needed to be scrutinised carefully. I used the histogram in Lightroom to check for any highlight or shadow clipping. Excluding session one I was left with 87 yellow flagged images and needed to reduce these to a workable amount. This is something I really must start to do , I have hundreds of un-processed Raw images on my old PC and do not want to build up a similar collection on the Mac. Now is a good time to start and only keep my very best shots, less is more perhaps? Before the advent of digital photography far fewer images were taken and I personally feel the need to slow down,to try and start thinking more creatively. I hope and want the portraits I have taken show to some visible emotion, offering a glimpse of the inner person, and also be technically acceptable. Hence I was really tough and stuck to a strict criteria to award a green flag, but will I ever bring myself to delete the rejected yellow flagged images from the hard-drive? I know I should. Perhaps by the end of writing and printing this assignment I will have pressed the delete button, that would be a step in the right direction to achieving a tighter, tidier, workflow. I was finally left with 15 green flagged images that I processed very basically, adjusting the WB etc. I did not include any that were badly exposed, even though I shot in Raw and could if I wanted adjust the exposure . The choices became harder at this point , each green flagged image was (to me) acceptable technically and artistically. I made a virtual copy of each file to work on. The images finally picked for the assignment were then given a purple flag to be processed further and printed.
Session 1. Maisie: (+See editing exercise for full details) 56 images of which 10 were deleted. 24 selected , reviewed and reduced to a final
9. A final choice of 2 were made for the exercise but my favourite is the one chosen for my assignment.
Session 2. Bill:45 frames / 24 flagged red to delete / 21 flagged yellow/2 flagged green. I liked his direct eye contact , facial expression and pose.
Session 3. Mum:12 frames /6 flagged red to delete/6 flagged yellow/3 flagged green Eye contact , facial expression, and how the light fell were important to create the mood I wanted to depict.
Session 4. Self portraits:35 frames / 10 flagged red and 25 flagged yellow/2 flagged green.+ 11 images initially taken with a 50mm lens that were deleted directly
from the memory card--my head was chopped in half! What I was looking for was an image that did not look like a self-portrait and seemed to capture me unawares deep in thought--quite difficult when I was taking the photographs.
Session 5. Phil and Caitlin: 22 frames/ 11 of each subject. Phil :2 flagged red and 9 flagged yellow/3 flagged green. Caitlin: 3
flagged red / 8 flagged yellow/2flagged green.
Session 6. Rachel:34 frames/22 flagged red/ 12 flagged yellow/ 2 flagged green. Bad exposure and unacceptable focusing (shaky images) influenced my choices when reviewing this session. Many were simply too underexposed, something I will need to practice and remember when using these sort of lighting conditions in future.
Session 7. Hands:30 frames/24 flagged red / 6 flagged yellow/ I flagged green. I was really disappointed with these and felt only one was really what I had been aiming for. I love the textures and shape of old hands , and my sole green flagged image was the best of the bunch. However I decided not to include this in my
final selection as I felt it somehow looked out of place and did not contribute to the sense of what I was trying to show.
It made a brilliant birthday card for Bill's birthday in January -- it should have been flagged red and deleted but sometimes you just need to keep memories like this.
I felt each of these were simply not good enough nor fulfilled the brief I had given myself.
Its been a long task reviewing all of them and took far longer than I was anticipating .
A thought for future assignments is to try and take less but better quality images.
The final selection
Processing the final images + see notes for each image.
I initially assessed and processed each image as either a colour or mono version depending on what I felt suited the mood and subject .I planned to include both colour ,sepia , and black and white images in the assignment. However although I felt some worked really well in colour I believe that as the set are to be viewed as a themed series it makes sense aesthetically to present only mono images. Each final chosen assignment image was processed in Lightroom altering the WB , clarity, curves, and converted to mono . Raw files also require post-capture sharpening and I used the Lightroom pre-set for these. There are more advanced methods but until I am sure I know exactly what I am doing consider it preferable to use this method. There is a detailed guide to sharpening in chapter 8 of The Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 3 Book: The Complete Guide for Photographers [Paperback] Martin Evening (Author) that I need to study in more detail. The images were then further processed in Photoshop but again only quite basically as a 16 bit Tiff file which was imported back into my Lightroom library and stacked with the master file and copy. Output sharpening for print can now be handled by Lightroom rather than the unsharp mask in Photoshop but I found through trial and error I preferred printing from Photoshop . Printing proved to be a bit of a headache , I felt some of my images were too dark , something I hoped to avoid by calibrating the screen. Following advice to increase the brightness prior to printing did improve some of the images but it also had the reverse effect of creating lost detail in the highlights on others , I ended up with 3 printed copies of some! I probably made life hard for myself by choosing high contrast light conditions for a few of the portraits. For this first assignment a Web gallery is acceptable but I also want my OCA tutor, Russell , to see my prints and evaluate them, printing is the final step in my digital workflow and I want to get it right.
F2.8 1/50 50mm ISO 100 Outdoor bright daylight with a cloudy sky
Lightroom and Photoshop adjustments.
Daylight WB. Initial conversion to mono using the auto setting then tweaked these until I was happy with the result. Clarity increased only very slightly.
Tone curve adjustment decreasing darks and increasing lights. Using the camera calibration settings I decreased the red and blue saturation and increased the
green. Edited in PS as a 16 bit Tiff with a ProPhoto RGB colour space. A very basic procedure of checking levels, adjusting brightness and contrast. I printed via
Lightroom using the output sharpening facility .
I liked the colour version of this image but as I made the decision to keep all my assignment images mono converted this too. I feel it is the best of the set I took of her, I like her direct gaze towards the viewer.
F4 1/80 50mm ISO 200 Outdoor daylight with mainly grey cloud cover
Lightroom and Photoshop adjustments.
Daylight WB. Initial conversion to mono using the auto setting then tweaked these until I was happy with the result. I have been rather cruel here and had fun with the clarity slider increasing it quite sharply. I wanted greater mid tone contrast to accentuate the roughness of his facial hair and skin texture. Tone curve adjustment increasing the lights whilst decreasing the darks. Using the camera calibration settings I increased the red, blue, and green saturation.Edited in PS as a
16 bit Tiff with a ProPhoto RGB colour space. A very basic procedure of checking levels, adjusting brightness and contrast. I used the unsharp mask -- resolution 175 / radius 1.5 / threshold 5 and printed from PS. (I had several attempts at sharpening , the first was far too over- sharpened and when printed looked terrible--resolution 179/ radius 5 /threshold 0 )
He looks tough (he's not really !!!) a rough diamond, but still retains a twinkle in his eye looking scarily like his own father once did. He has mellowed in middle age (something we all do) I can see who he once was but also who he has become . I like his pose and direct eye contact that are almost confrontational.
F7.1 0.6sec 50mm ISO 200 Indoor side window light
Lightroom and Photoshop adjustments.
Daylight WB Initial conversion to mono using the auto setting then tweaked these until I was happy with the result. Clarity increased to give greater emphasis to her skin texture and wrinkles. Tone curve adjustment increasing the lights and reducing darks . Using the camera calibration settings I altered the RGB saturation, decreasing red blue and green. Edited in PS as a 16 bit Tiff with a ProPhoto RGB colour space. A very basic procedure of checking levels, adjusting brightness and contrast. I printed via Lightroom using the output sharpening facility .
Mum makes an exceptionally patient model and although she may be getting older and more frail she remains fiercely independent. What I aim to illustrate is a sense of this inner strength.
F4.5 1/3 sec 18mm ISO 1OO Outdoor light bright cloudy day
Lightroom and Photoshop adjustments.
Custom WB @ 6100 Initial conversion to mono using the auto setting then tweaked these until I was happy with the result. Clarity reduced A strong tone
curve adjustment applied increasing the lights and decreasing the darks. Using the camera calibration settings I increased the blue and green saturation whilst decreasing the red. Edited in PS as a 16 bit Tiff with a ProPhoto RGB colour space. A very basic procedure of checking levels, adjusting brightness and contrast.
I printed via Lightroom using the output sharpening facility.
Have I revealed something of myself in this portrait ? I find it difficult to be objective viewing myself ,I obviously know who and what I am. Can you tell simply by looking at this image that I am shy, sensitive, but also ultimately a strong character?
F5.6 1/10sec 50mm ISO 100 Indoor side light from a large patio window
Lightroom and Photoshop adjustments.
Custom WB @ 4595 Initial conversion to mono using the auto setting then tweaked these until I was happy with the result. + half stop
exposure. Cropped to place her nearer to the left hand edge of the frame to improve the composition whilst keeping her eyes in the top third.
Reduced the clarity to help suggest a dreamy appearance. Added a slight amount of noise. I think this image has an old fashioned
appearance due to the light and her expression, this is not something I usually do but felt the image justified it. Tone curve adjustment increasing lights.
Using the camera calibration settings I increased the red, blue, and green saturation. Edited in PS as a 16 bit Tiff with a ProPhoto RGB colour space.
A very basic procedure of checking levels, adjusting brightness and contrast. I printed via Lightroom using the output sharpening facility.
Caitlin is quite shy and I hope this portrait captures some of her vulnerability as well as the insecurity of childhood. Her body language as she clutches her toy suggests a sense of this. A reflector held to reflect some of the light back into her face on the left hand side may have been beneficial but not something I considered
at the time.
F5 1/8sec 50mm ISO 100 Indoor side light from a large patio window
Lightroom and Photoshop adjustments.
Daylight WB Initial conversion to mono using the auto setting then tweaked these until I was happy
with the result. Cropped quite severely. Clarity increased. Tone curve adjustment, lights increased and darks decreased . Using the camera calibration settings I altered the RGB saturation, increasing red and decreasing blue and green. Edited in PS as a 16 bit Tiff with a ProPhoto RGB colour space. A very basic procedure of checking levels, adjusting brightness and contrast. I used the un-sharp mask -- resolution 175 / radius 1.5 / threshold 5 and printed from PS.
Phil was the most reluctant subject, he can be quite taciturn, I wanted to show him deep in thought but needed to be quick. This was already a very close up portrait but I wanted a more intense even closer frame than that captured in- camera. I printed the cropped and un-cropped versions to compare as I often prefer to view how they look as prints. The light is a bit too bright on the right hand side something I really should have been aware of at the time of shooting.
F1.4 1/30 50mm ISO 200 Taken outdoors at night using a hand held torch and an overhead door lamp .
Lightroom and Photoshop adjustments. Fluorescent WB Initial conversion to mono using the auto setting then tweaked these until I was happy with the result.+ 1 stop exposure . This is something I always try to get right in camera but find I occasionally need to alter , on these occasions I am glad I shot Raw. Negative clarity
adjustment to achieve a softer look. Tone curve adjustment increasing the lights . Using the camera calibration settings I altered the RGB saturation, increasing red and decreasing blue and green. Edited in PS as a 16 bit Tiff with a ProPhoto RGB colour space. A very basic procedure of checking levels, adjusting brightness and contrast. I finally printed via Lightroom using the output sharpening facility .
Directing perhaps some more light onto her hairline would have created interesting texture and a greater tonal range but overall I am pleased with this portrait of Rachel capturing her in a relatively contemplative mood.