100 Strangers 2 of 100 Candice

I met Candice as I was walking out of my neighborhood grocery store. She’s astonishingly beautiful which caught my eye right away. She was canvassing for signatures for a local political cause and asked if I would be willing to sign the petition. I said I would be willing to give her my signature if she let me take her photo.

A short back story of Candice. She immigrated with her family a few years ago with her family from the Ivory Coast to the States.

100 Strangers 2 of 100
Candice ISO 100, 50mm, f2.0, 1/160 sec

Technical asides: I’ve taken to always having my camera with me when I go to this particular place as the veranda out front is almost ideal lighting during most times of the day. My goal would be to position the subject so that the background would be the length of the veranda as it would provide interesting leading lines, but at this time it was later in the day and there just wasn’t enough light for what I wanted directly under the veranda. So I had Candice step out from under it and used a bricked pillar as a background.

Candice happened to have a clipboard with white paper in it. I asked her to hold it up and angle it just right to throw a little extra light onto her face. It worked out well.

She is naturally photogenic so she didn’t need much direction from me. The first couple of shots she looked directly at the camera and gave me a big smile. I then asked her if she could slightly turn her head to one side and cut her eyes to me and “burn right through the lens with her eyes.”

Excellent. I then asked her to do me a favor. As if reading my mind she said, “You want me to not smile, right?”

Exactly.

In total, I shot six photos; all of them quite nice, but this one, the very last one, was my favorite.

The total time from when I first saw her to when I shook her hand and thanked her was about 4 or 5 minutes.

100 Strangers

Over the years I’ve taken a lot of photos of strangers, but never anything like what is done in the 100 Strangers Project. In a nutshell, the idea behind 100 Strangers is to photograph 100 strangers. But it’s not as boring or as easy as it sounds. Like I said, I’ve taken quite a few photos of strangers but they consisted of mostly one-off types of shots in which I ask someone if I can take their pic, they say yes, and I pop off a few shots. I’ll mix these types of shots in with your run of the mill street photos because, as I’ve stated before, they result in different types of shots.

But with 100 Strangers it’s a bit of a different approach. The idea is to always get their permission, tell them that the photo is for a photo project called 100 Strangers and tell them what it’s about and then take the time and skill to take an actual, honest to God portrait. The hope is to better develop both technical and social skills. The social skills come in by the fact that you’re also required to get to know a little about each subject and then write about them when posting the photo.

I’ve only done one photo as of yet, and I can already tell that this project is going to greatly improve my skills; you start thinking about things like background and, of course, lighting along with composition; all while thinking on your feet and doing it rather quickly. I’m fairly adept at using flash, but based on what I’ve found on the 100 Strangers Flickr group I’m thinking that a reflector is probably going to be my go to lighting source. I purchased a Lastolite 30″ Sunfire/White reflector which I think will work out pretty good. It folds up quite small and will be easier to tote around than a speed light, stand and modifier.

Perusing through the 100 Strangers Flickr page you’ll see some pretty amazing work. Sure, there are some not so amazing photos, but man, there are a huge number of really great portraits.

Just recently I submitted my first Stranger, Pete:

Pete: 1 of 100 Strangers – ISO 100, 105mm, f4.0, 1/160 sec

I think it’s a good start. I didn’t use a reflector or any modifiers. The background was a bit of a challenge so I had to work around that a bit. I shot ETTR to give myself quite a bit of post production latitude. Still, the particular lens I used wasn’t ideal; Nikon 24-120 f4.0. For dedicated stranger shooting I’ll stick with my 50mm 1.8 as much as possible. But I am really wanting an 85mm prime as I think that would be just about ideal.

Anyway, I think this project is going to be fun and I’m really looking forward to continuing.

Staged Portrait Photography

Staged portrait photography is something that seems to cause a lot of confusion. What exactly is staged portrait photography? I suppose in reality any portrait is going to be staged in the technical sense. Someone gazing directly into the camera at the direction of the photographer is, I suppose, being staged.

But when I talk about staged portrait photography I’m talking about something a little more than simple direction for posture or gaze. I’m talking about either integrating some sort of prop and/or directing something to look like a single moment captured from a larger event even though the event being represented is not actually taking place.

I’m not necessarily talking about something as elaborate as Ryan Schude’s amazing Tableaux Vivants which are basically photos containing several portraits and stories sliced from a larger chunk of life and frozen at the moment. His amazing photos can contain a cast of dozens in a single location and tell several different stories in a single frame. His work displays a complexity way beyond anything that I would even think about attempting. Though not portraiture in the classic sense, they are portraits all the same.

What I’m talking about is pretty basic stuff that can add interest. For example, this shot:

Krav Maga fighting
ISO 800, 35mm, f5.6, 1/160 sec.

During a Krav Maga class in a public park I asked a couple of the instructors to ham it up a bit with something I had in mind. During the whole time, it was raining off and on with dark clouds rolling in and out. I thought that this would be a perfect time to do something to really accent the ominous clouds punctuated by the clear sky in the distance. Where we were standing was nearly dark as night, yet the the background was bright.

I had someone hold a single speed light camera left and asked these guys to pose for a shot; think kitschy surrealism. I was thinking it would be cool to try to make it look not quite real; maybe like something done in a studio or movie set so I popped off a few shots and liked this one the best. It really does look like something done on a set with a big background hanging on a wall.

No, it’s not overly elaborate by any means but it’s definitely staged, hence staged portrait photography.

Another staged photo. Again, I’m not talking way elaborate stuff here:

Shoot house training
ISO 100, 44mm, f4.0, 1/160 sec

I wanted this to replicate shoot house training. A little bit of a challenge since I was doing this in my little basement with tiled floors, white walls and a low ceiling. I leaned a 4 foot x 7 foot piece of faux brick wall paneling against the wall as a backdrop, hung a shemagh scarf from a C-stand with a couple of clamps and put a speed light behind it with some yellow gel. Camera left, I placed another speed light pointing at the wall for some bounce light to fill in the shadows a bit.

I then handed my wife my cleared and safety checked Sig P320 and we went to work.

Again, though not overly elaborate, this is definitely a staged portrait.

I suppose that I would go so far as to say that any photograph that has any input from the photographer regarding placement, behavior or posing of a subject is staged.

 

 

Travel Photography VS Photography While Traveling

Travel Photography vs Photography While Traveling. What is it that you do? Well, for me, it’s photography while traveling. I’m no “travel photographer.” I’m just a guy that likes to take photos and I especially love to do it while traveling with my family. I’m not talking about pulling out my phone and snapping off shots nearly indiscriminately. I like to put a little thought into it. I don’t mean creating some elaborate plan and setup, but just a little thought.

Travel photography is a discipline in and of itself and good travel photographers are an amazing lot; talented, observant and dedicated.

But you don’t have to adopt the approach of a dedicated travel photographer to make images while traveling that are taken to the next level beyond snapping pics of the family, Mt. Rushmore or whatever. Just put a little thought into it and, preferably, get those with whom you are traveling to get on board; especially if it’s family, and you can make pics that are a bit beyond “snapshots.”

In August of this summer we traveled to central Idaho where I was born and raised. We love going there to visit family and to take in the amazing scenery. One day we took one of our favorite drives going through the rugged wild country of the Salmon River. We drove through McCall, over the mountains and down onto the main Salmon River and finally to a little town called Riggins. Amazing, wild country. After driving over the mountains and landing on the river we wanted to find a spot on the river to soak our feet, eat a picnic and just hang out. Of course, me always traveling with a rudimentary lighting setup: a couple of speed lights, stand and umbrella, I set up a bare speed light on a stand got my wife to hold still for a bit.

Anna On The River: ISO 100, 50mm, f2.8, 1/200 sec

I threw on a 3 stop neutral density filter so I could stop up to get some blurry background, popped off the flash to fill in the shadows a bit and got this. I love this shot because it really captures the whole day, the wild country and, well my wife. There’s always that.

A couple of weeks earlier we were in driving around on the central California coast; perusing the Pacific Coast Highway. We visited a wine tasting establishment in Cambria, California and met some amazing people and had a great visit. Think about it, driving around, hitting the wine tasting joints, meeting new and amazing people.

Because I almost always have my camera with me, I got this shot:

Wine People: ISO 800, 50mm, f1.8, 1/160 sec

No, this isn’t some awesome composition. It’s noisy and not technically perfect. So what. It tells a story and captures a really great memory for me. I like it because it shows my wife and son having a great time. But for someone looking at who wasn’t even there, it still shows story which takes it to a level beyond a snap shot.

This photo, from the same trip is from the Sand Dunes near Pismo Beach, California.

Travel Photography VS Photography While Traveling Beautiful woman standing in sand dunes
Dunes: ISO 640, 50mm, f3.5, 1/2500 sec

Again, this isn’t technically perfect as I forgot to check my camera and needlessly shot it at ISO 640. But I definitely feel that this is a far better shot than just taking pics of this awesome place. Keep in mind that I’m talking travel/vacation pics. A good landscape photographer would have a hay day at this place. But for family travel, this is the kind of shot I’m talking about. I just asked my wife to “stand there, look there,” snap a pic and call it good.

The point in all of this is that just the most minimal of effort and forethought can, I think, lead to travel/vacation photos that are a bit above and beyond.