As much as I enjoy travel portraiture – a now rather obvious statement given the wealth of posts about it – there can be an air of self-absorption. That’s not to say that the documentary style collections like Jimmy Nelson’s are for entirely selfish means per sé, but rather the more common portraiture of poorer areas of the world.
With that in mind, Sasha Leahovcenco’s project for Help-Portrait is somewhat refreshing. Although I am under no illusion this venture bolstered his portfolio with emotive and engaging portraits, it served another purpose which is stomach-warmingly kind. Sasha – at his own and supporting companies’ expense – printed the myriad portraits of the citizens of Nigeria he took and gave them to the subjects immediately.
It may not seem like much of a gesture, but it has a more profound impact than one might first imagine. Tricia, an old boss of mine, whom I am still in contact with, was extremely well travelled. The highlight of every year for her was travelling to remote and incredibly expensive locations such as Burma. When visiting these financially poor communities she would always take boxes of Biro pens as the children there loved them and they were borderline impossible to obtain ordinarily. The photographs Sasha took, printed and distributed amongst these Nigerians would have had the same sort of effect, of that I have no doubt. It is highly unlikely that anyone in that area possessed a digital camera (DSLR or otherwise), lighting equipment and a high quality printer and so such task in the West is a memorable event in some parts – as patronizing as that sounds!
Help-Portait is fantastic and inspiring idea, well delivered and a venture I would love to contribute to myself one day.
As someone who enjoys portraiture, travel portraits are particularly fascinating to me. I imagine this is probably self-evident given my two recent articles about Sebastião Salgado’s exhibition Genesis and Jimmy Nelson’s stunning collection Before They Pass Away. There is something captivating about cultures diametrically opposed to the West and that quality appears to be transferable to photography.
One interesting stylistic observation to be made about travel portraiture – particularly of tribes – is a post-processing technique which is almost uniform among famous examples of the last few decades. There is a moody, dramatic darkness to the scenes; almost cinematic-esque with bold lighting on the subject. I thoroughly enjoy the effect and it feels oddly fitting. The above video by Photo Training Canada uses a rather complicated lighting method which is carefully explained along with the post-processing technique which accompanied it. For those wondering what equipment was used and where to buy it, it is the following:
I’ve used Phottix remotes for a couple of years now and I must say I would recommend them without hesitation.
All in all, a comprehensive and enjoyable tutorial, so make sure you take the time to visit and like their Facebook page here.
The authenticity of a scene – be it still or moving picture – rests on the shoulders of a few factors; the models, the set, the wardrobe and so on. However, one of the vital ingredients is also one of the most subtle: light. One has subconsciously built up an extensive index of how light looks in different situations and a good director or photographer must have an equally exhaustive arsenal of lighting techniques in his or her repertoire to achieve consistent authenticity.
For example, if the sun is deep in to golden hour and casting a horizontal plane of bright orange beams, back-lighting the subject, a bright white strobe lighting the front of the subject will not look genuine. Whether the viewer is a veteran Hollywood lighting technician, or an every-day person with no real interest in how light works, they will both notice.
Janusz Kaminski is the director and cinematographer responsible for such works of art as Saving Private Ryan and Schinder’s List to name just a few. If anyone is going to respect the gravitas of correctly lighting a scene, it is this man. Although the above video is not about lighting per sé, it does show some of his techniques and he discusses how he makes a scene of which lighting is an integral part.
For more from Janusz Kaminski on how he makes a scene, please click here to view the New York Times page dedicated to this series.
A short but interesting video of photography Bil Zelman discussing the difficulties of shooting celebrity portraits. The foundation of the difficulties is not unusual territory; making the person the opposite side of the lens feel comfortable and relaxed. This will always be problematic as it is not an ordinary situation – far from it.
The subject is expected to look natural and at ease in a situation unfortunately engineered in such a way that is anything but. There are lights, strangers, alien postures to assume and the knowledge that the result of the shoot will be borderline immortal; that’s a lot of pressure for even the veteran models. Celebrities, however, are not professional models and particularly directors and authors as Bil was shooting in this video, are going to be rigid and visually emotionless prior to photographer intervention. I have written an article on this before and it is easy for the photographer to forget that this role is well and truly resting upon his or her shoulders.
Of course, when putting that person at ease is impossible – as we see in this video – then the photographer needs to employ some creativity to achieve the desired results.
If I’m honest, I can’t recall where I first stumbled upon Emily’s work. I’m quite certain I have featured more than one of her images as my portrait of the day; she is a truly superb photographer.
What I enjoy the most about her work – the above video being no exception – is her eye for combining locations, props, models, make-up and wardrobe absolutely seamlessly. There is always a theme and the continuity of that theme is retained in every shot without fail. Emily’s The Queen of Versailles shoot – of which the video above is a behind-the-scenes look at – is expertly lit and populated with soft pastel colours and a distinctly French feel to it.
I implore you to take the time out of your day to electronically leaf through her portfolio, which can be seen here.
As far as creating lighting equipment goes, there are few who are as proficient as Profoto. Not long ago I featured a cover shoot for Elle in which a photographer used just Profoto reflectors to light the subject. I was impressed that they had created a reflector that was noteworthy in any way, let alone competent enough to handle a cover shoot.
Well, they have managed to impress me again (as they live to do – I’m sure!) with their B1 off-camera flash. In the right hands, this piece of light wizardry can be used in a multitude of situations and create superb, crisp light. The images above are by Michael Mueller and demonstrate the creative uses for the B1 outside of ordinary portraiture – fashion for example. They are of skaters reaching ridiculous speeds down the side of a mountain which ticks several boxes in my ‘do I want to look at these images’ list. All in all, an impressive flash that I am eager to get my hands on to try!
Below is the official Profoto advert for the B1:
Photographer Kirsty Mitchell has been creating a series of images entitled Wonderland for four years now. The collection of images – seen here - contains some fantastically surreal photographs with a fairytale feel to them. The attention to detail with regards to props, make-up, hair, clothing, location and lighting (to name just a few) is very impressive.
Another noteworthy achievement of the set is that despite a variety of different images in both technique and colour there is a continuity achieved through her post-processing style that binds the images together successfully.
I recommend browsing her portfolio which can be seen here, as there are a host of other impressive images and more behind-the-scenes videos.
Combining paintings and photography isn’t exactly an alien concept. Photography is built on many of the foundations and rules that art set; indeed photography is now an art form in and of itself. There have been numerous attempts to blend the two disciplines in to a hybrid, one might even point to certain HDR techniques. However, none have particularly succeeded in both the photography and painting components.
Alexa Meade has come at the idea with a somewhat different approach. Meade uses models, props and sets as one usually would with portraiture, but then uses paint to make the subject and the scene look more like a two dimensional painting than the three dimensional photograph it is. It is an interesting technique and I would be interested to see if it can be pushed even further with more complicated backdrops and locations.
This article is perhaps to paint ‘portraiture’ with a broad brush but I couldn’t resist sharing this knowledge. The John Lewis Christmas advert entitled The Bear & The Hare is not CGI as one might think upon first viewing. It is in fact made almost entirely in camera and that camera is a Canon 5D Mark III! Stunning sets miniature sets are expertly crafted and studio lighting is carefully selected and placed to give a real wintery scene. Then, all characters are painstakingly drawn and cut out for every frame in the advert.
This video’s link with portraiture is indeed tentative, but it does pose the question of whether forced perspective and miniature sets might be worth exploring with human models as opposed to adorable cartoon animals.