Sometimes you just want your portrait shot because you got a new hat…
Here are my favourite 11 of my own work from 2011. Personal favourites of one’s own work are always tainted by the stories behind the images. You the viewer judge the images on only what you see and that’s really how images should be judged but I like looking back over the year and remembering all the stories that went into the recent additions to my body of work.
Here’s to a creative 2012 for all of us!
Cheers and see you on the other side of the New Year.
All images are protected by copyright, no use of any image shall be granted without the written permission from Peter Carroll.
I had a fun shoot on the weekend with a family who wanted a family portrait that was “different”. They wanted something other than the standard everyday group shot. They left what exactly “different” was up to me. Whenever I am taking portraits I try my best to include props or themes that mean something to the people being photographed. Over the course of a few days I pondered different ideas for the shoot but nothing really popped into my head. Then, as I was playing Bejeweled one day (Don’t ask me how my brain works. My wife gave up trying to figure it out years ago!), it hit me – The Beatles! I knew the youngest daughter loved the Beatles. I always liked Robert Freeman’s Meet the Beatles album cover so I pitched the family the idea of using the side lit theme for their portrait. It definitely qualified as different and the inspiration for the shoot meant something to them. They loved the idea. Here’s the final result plus two samples of the individual portraits that I layered in Photoshop. For the version which they are including in their Christmas card this year I tracked down a Beatles font and inluded their family name with a pin stripe graphic detail under the four images.
In this the 4th and final post in my Helping Hearts series I’ll talk about lighting. As the model for the photo shoot which promted this series was a two year old girl I decided when I was planning the lighting for the session to keep it simple. I knew the energy bundle that is your average two year old would be moving around a lot and lighting that required the subject to hold position or be within a limited area of the set would be out of the question. I had to bathe the set in light and keep it simple. During my initial meeting, the client liked the look of the white seamless and how it is particularly flatering in child portrait work but asked for a 2nd background for a family portrait. As I mentioned in Part 2 of this series, you must be realistic in your expectations when photographing young children. You can’t be too abitious in your lighting setups. I would say two light setups would be the limit for photographing a two year old. Some kids will sit and smile all day. Others… not so much. The little girl who was the star of this session was the former type. She had a snack and played an iPad app while I changed the lights.
Here are the lighting diagrams for the two light setups. For a great explanation on the 2nd diagram – how to turn white paper grey – check out Zack Arias’ blog post here.
Note: I had panel doors in front of the strobes which were used to light up the background to 2 stops over camera exposure.
Turning White Paper Grey
The speedlight behind the model is used to create a light circle effect on the background.
I like shooting white seamless portraits. I like the way white seamless puts attention on the subject of the portrait. There’s no distracting background competing for the eye of the viewer. Attention is 100% on the subject. That a double edged sword, however, because it can be the recipe for a boring photograph too. What can you do to keep things interesting? Well, how you light a scene is one obvious answer. Another way is using geometry to your advantage in composition. Our brains are hardwired to appreciate shapes and lines. How you position your subject(s) can add interest. What I want to blog about today, however, is props. Props are a great way to add interest to a portrait and they are particularly powerful in child portraits. The right prop can make a child feel comfortable during a shoot, add an element of interest for anyone viewing the photograph but best of all it can make an emotional connection between family members and the photograph. A special stuffed animal, a favourite toy, a piece of furniture or a momento from a child’s room, are all props that have specific meaning in a child’s life. Using them in a portrait helps tell the story beyond the frame of a child at a specific age. They make an emotional connection with viewers who are family members.
Here are a few examples of props used in my portraits.
This little boy loved to do puzzles…
This little girl had some favourite stuffed friends…
Here are two from last week’s Helping Hearts session. The mother of this little girl had the great idea of bringing along the box of letters and cards they had received while her daughter was getting treatment in hospital. All I said during the initial meet was, “Bring along props from home that have meaning to you and which you would like to see in a photograph”. I’ve only met this beautiful little girl twice but knowing her story as I do that box makes a huge emotional connection for me because it tells of what she’s been though and how she’s fought along the way to get to where she is now.
I had a great photo shoot last week with a Helping Hearts client. Helping Hearts is an organization which provides free photography sessions for families with children who are suffering a life altering illness or disability. Here are a few images from the session…
In Parts 2,3 and 4 of this Helping Hearts blog post I’ll talk a bit about props, lighting and how to approach photographing wee people.
Yesterday I posted two images from a Snow White shoot I did on Monday. I promised I would follow up with a post about lessons learned. Since that time, I have came across a recent blog post by David duChemin, a photographer who’s work I greatly admire, which talks to the exact point I wanted to make. David posted an article on Tuesday titled Better Portraits: Wait for the Soul. David shares these bits of wisdom in his post, “With all the talk about technique it’s easy to forget, or to never learn at all, that the most important skills in portraiture aren’t photographic at all… My most valued skill has become not an ability to use natural light or pose a subject, but patience, and a willingness to wait for that moment, the one Steve McCurry talks about as the moment when the walls come down and the soul comes into view.” Exactly. It’s easy to read that, nod your head in approval and say it makes total sense but it’s another thing all together to put it into practice. When it hits the fan is when you need to remember these words of wisdom. I’ve only really started into portrait work myself and I already see that I’m on two learning paths and one is easier and shorter than the other. Learning how to set up lighting equipment and control light on a set is indeed a large part of portrait photography but learning how to help the subject reveal themselves is a harder skill to master and in the end is the necessary ingredient in not just making a beautiful portrait but one that has life to it.
On Monday’s shoot, my as yet limited skills in creating an environment where my subject felt free to reveal herself were glaringly obvious. I’m finding the more I do portrait work the more thought and effort I need to devote to creating an environment through conversation, music, atmosphere etc with the personality of the subject in mind. The more I grow comfortable with the equipment and light set ups the easier it is to devote time and energy to the subject. Honestly, I started out the shoot swinging big and connecting with nothing! As the shoot went on, both myself and the model found a groove and the images improved. As David says sometimes it’s just a matter of time. It’s important to be patient. Comfort between photographer and subject sometimes happens immediately and sometimes it takes time. Be patient. Don’t force it. Work through it. What worked on this shoot? Music! Almost nothing makes a tween more comfortable than their favourite music. Music led to goofy shots which made everyone laugh when they popped up on the laptop. I won’t break trust and share the goofy stuff here but suffice to say the whole session improved and became a lot more enjoyable. Not so forced and more natural. Lesson learned – let your subject reveal herself. Creating a comfortable environment can help but in the end it’s a team effort and always pack patience in the kit bag.
Some more shots from the Snow White shoot…
I get great enjoyment out of picking an object in the house and playing around with different ways to photograph it in the studio. I love tabletop photography. It’s a pure excercise in creativity. You throw ideas against the wall and see what sticks. No pressure in having to come up with the goods and no time constraints. Unlike portrait photography, I don’t need to respect the subject’s time on set and unlike landscape photography, I control the light. Somedays it’s a total bust and other days you connect with a fastball.
Yesterday I picked up my son’s Fender Squire guitar. I liked the black and white colour scheme and the shiny body. The colour scheme got me thinking about those black and white tile floors. I don’t have black and white tile floors but I do have black background paper and white tileboard. I had a good time playing around with different light set ups and different compositions. Here’s what I came up with…