To create a series of between 6 and 10 photographs, using the exercises from Part Two to test out combinations of focal length, aperture and viewpoint.
I would have automatically chosen to do a series of landscape or botanical images, well within my comfort zone, but was encouraged by my tutor to do a series on heads, well outside my usual area of photography.
Heads: Frame a headshot, cropping close around the head to avoid too much variety in backgrounds. The classic headshot is buoyant but neutral.
I spent some time looking at portrait photographers. There are a large (and not always helpful) number of lists available of the 10 (or 50) ‘best’ portrait photographers. Most have a similar list of names, with Annie Leibovitz, Steve McCurry, Helmut Newton, Man Ray, August Sander and Diane Arbus figuring prominently. Many of the portraits are not a head shot, but are full length and show background to ‘set the scene’ and give wider information about the subject. Some that I found that met the above criteria and gave me ideas were (this list could have been much longer):
- Diane Arbus – Blonde girl with shiny lipstick, N.Y.C., 1967
- Diane Arbus – A woman with pearl necklace and earrings, N.Y.C., 1967
- Steve McCurry – Haridwar, India,1998
- Steve McCurry – Pul-i-Khumri, Afghanistan,2002
- Annie Leibovitz – John Lennon, New York City, 1980
- Annie Leibovitz – Merce Cunningham, 1994
- Man Ray – Henri Matisse, 1925
- Man Ray – Ernest Hemingway, 1923
I started in our local park where I go on a daily walk with my dog. Most of the photographs are of total strangers, a few I know ‘in passing’ to say hello to and two are family members. Having the dog with me was a good ice breaker, as usually she would pick the subjects for me by going up to them and standing at their feet. I then explained what I was doing and asked to take a photograph. No-one refused! There are three images taken inside, two at a show and one in a house.
I use a Panasonic micro 4/3rds camera, and used a variable focal length lens (14 -140mm, equates to 28 – 280mm). The camera was set to aperture priority and I used the widest aperture possible with the focal length used. Most of the images were taken with a focal length between 40 and 60mm, although occasionally longer if the person seemed uncomfortable with me getting that close to them. These settings allowed the focus to be clearly on the face and threw the background out of focus. If the person was standing, I stood, and if sitting on one of the park benches, I crouched down next to them so that I was taking the photograph level with their faces and not looking up or down at them.
All images were taken with natural light. I did not have a reflector, although have now acquired one, but it is too large to carry easily in my pocket.
Post processing was done in Lightroom, mono conversion in Silver Efex Pro2.
Success of series:
This was a completely new venture for me so I was very nervous about approaching the people, however it was easier than I imagined it was going to be. However, nerves undoubtedly did play a part and I was not always careful enough about the background or the position of the lighting. A reflector would have been useful on several occasions to allow better lighting of the face.
Talking to people before taking the photographs and getting some, however small, connection was useful and I felt they were more at ease and relaxed, therefore their expressions were more natural. Several of the people were wearing sunglasses, although it wasn’t particularly sunny, and I did not ask them to remove them as I felt this would have been too invasive.
I decided to use a monochrome conversion for the final images as this bought a coherence to the series and evened out the variable backgrounds and lighting conditions.
I did have difficulty choosing the final images so I decided to look for internal consistency. Several of the people were wearing headgear, varying from hats to glasses perched on their heads, so I used this as a focus for the series.
- Talking to the people in advance
- Using a large aperture
- Keeping on a level with the face
- Monochrome conversion
- Less positive
- Not having a reflector or alternative light source
- Lack of confidence, so not always approaching people
Thoughts for the future:
This was an interesting venture and definitely one I want to expand on. Rather than taking very close head shots I would be interested in taking images of people in the setting that they felt comfortable with. Many of the people were also dog owners, so It would be interesting to take ‘man (or woman) and dog’ pictures, a modern day take on Keith Arnatt’s series ‘Walking the Dog’. Two of the images taken in this series, although not chosen as final picks, did have the person holding their dog close to their face, and this would be a concept worth exploring further.
Photobooks explored while looking for ideas.
Arbus, D. (1990). Diane Arbus. London: Bloomsbury.
Arbus, D., Phillips, S. and Selkirk, N. (2003). Diane Arbus Revelations. New York, NY: Random House.
Hurn, D., Grafik, C. and Arnatt, K. (2007). I’m a real photographer. London: Chris Boot.
Leibovitz, A. and DeLano, S. (2011). Annie Leibovitz at work. London: Jonathan Cape.
McCurry, S. (2015). Portraits. London: Phaidon Press Limited.
Newton, J. (2009). Helmut Newton. Koln: Taschen.
Pepper, T. and Warner, M. (2013). Man Ray portraits. London: National Portrait Gallery.
Sander, A. and Conrath-Scholl, G. (2009). August Sander. Munich: Schirmer/Mosel.