Sunday, September 26, 2010

environmental portraiture

Stewart, 2009

Continuing last week's theme of portraiture but moving into environmental portraiture, I would like to share some images taken at a variety of locations.  One of my favorite backdrops is the humble, organic adobe or stuccoed wall.  The two images of Stewart were made with that backdrop, as part of a slightly unconventional and informal "head shot" series for the movie industry.

Stewart, 2009

The shoot involved a number of changes in clothing and settings, and since models really do feel differently in varied costumes and locations, the resulting photographs present two different "characters."

Catherine is a professional photographer whose current emphasis involves movement and dance.  She needed some images for her web sites and we spent an afternoon in the process of making those.  Below is one of our favorites.

Catherine, 2010

Finally, another image from the photo session with my colleague, Steve.

Steve, 2010

The autumnal equinox graced the planet on 22 September.  The next few blogs will feature autumn in all its glory.

Until next Monday,


a passion for the image

Monday, September 20, 2010

two photographers get together...

How many photographers does it take to make a decent photograph?  What happens when two photographers get together for a photo shoot?  There must be at least two or three jokes you could tell.

But what really does happen when photographers meet for practice sessions?  Steve and I got together last week, using his garage set up as a studio for an exercise in portraiture and lighting.  It was definitely a learning experience.  Anyone who works with electronics and computers knows that the possibilities for complications and equipment failure are huge and there were moments of confusion.  But overall, it was very educational and because of that, we both will think about shooting slightly differently.  There are things any photographer needs to keep in mind.  Know your camera and equipment.  Be aware of light.  Make your subject comfortable.  (Steve is a great model but I don't particularly care for being  photographed.  I prefer my place of comfort behind the camera.)

During a roughly three hour session, we both posed using his soft box, back drop, light meter and flash.  We also chose several natural light environments, both inside and outside, making it possible to compare and contrast.

Steve 2010
The two images included here are very different as a result of two controlled lighting situations.  The results are apparent.  One is not better than the other.  They are both effective but for different reasons.  The black and white feels like a timeless portrait taken in the desert in the 1903s or 1940s, while the picture of Steve with the guitar is obviously a product of electronics and the beautiful soft, even light brought about with a single soft box.

By the end of the session, I think we were both feeling more comfortable being photographed, allowing ourselves to use props and just sit before the camera.  During the past when I shot environmental portraits and weddings, I always tried to make the model or person involved feel comfortable.  Because of this photo session, I am once again aware of being photographed and how unsettling it can be.  It will make me work at my art that much harder.
Steve 2010

Until next Monday,


a passion for the image

Monday, September 13, 2010

in praise of local #3

This third and final blog in my series "in praise of local" will address another of my favorite genres of photography - environmental portraiture.  It is a broad area that includes portraits made in a 
person's immediate or desired surroundings, with the use of relatively few mechanical or technical aides.   Environmental portraits can be found in photojournalism, sports, weddings, and in self-portraiture.  Models can be adults or children - posed or candid - and they are all around us.

Walter Chappell, 1995
In 1995, I was lucky enough to spend part of a day with filmmaker and artist Walter Chappell, shooting photographs of him in and around his El Rito, New Mexico home.  The image here was my favorite of the group, made with a Mamiya 645 camera with Kodak Plus X film.  I have since printed it using a number of different papers and developers and toners, and have also scanned it for giclee printing.  People have said he looks like Merlin or a wizard, shaman, or mystic.  Surrounded by cigarette smoke in his studio, Chappell seemed to be giving himself to the camera.  I would categorize this image as a hybrid - part posed, part candid.

Melissa, 2010

Much has been said about wedding photography.  Some photographers won't touch it.  Some, like me, really enjoy the possibilities and challenges of it.  There are many people and stories present at weddings, and I was lucky enough to see and capture half a dozen environmental portraits at a May wedding I shot.  The image of Melissa was cropped from a photograph of the wedding party at an abandoned mine with the wind blowing at least forty miles an hour.  Technically, this was a posed shot, but it was so windy that the wiggle factor was huge, resulting in this fantasy/fashion image.   It was altered with filters in Adobe Photo Shop.  The other was completely candid, taken of Joe while he, the groomsmen, and other ushers were awaiting the beginning of the ceremony.  A majority of the light here is from the window since the room overall was dimly lit with fluorescent lighting.

   Joe, 2010
 Here is another example of a hybrid shot of tango teachers Mike and Carrie in action.
Carrie and Mike, 2009
Natural light from west and east windows, the studio's track lighting, and light bounced from the pearl side of a fill disc combined to make a balanced and vibrant image.  

Exciting, surprising, lovely, heartbreaking.  Environmental portraiture is all of that.  It will test your abilities as a photographer,  present challenges, and make you question your sanity.  But, if you haven't already shot an environmental portrait, try it.  The magic will be there!

P.S.  Check out
for information about and the work of photographers Sebastio Salgado, Margaret Bourke-White, Walker Evans, Annie Leibovitz, Gordon Parks, and many others.

until next Monday,


a passion for the image

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Monday, September 6, 2010

in praise of local #2

 In my inaugural blog, I wrote about the possibilities of photographing your local surroundings, whether at home or work.  The two photographs featured were shot off our front and east porch.  Just your basic sky shots during very extraordinary conditions, both made in the early evening hours of late summer after or during thunderstorms.

Continuing the "local" theme today, I need to admit a weakness.  I can't help myself!  That weakness is photographing food and flowers brought by guests and friends to our home.  Before food is ever eaten and after flowers are arranged, they are photographed in different settings.  It is a wonderful exercise in light, design, balance, focus, and printing, since I make archival greeting cards for them on Crane stationary for those who honored us with their gifts.

A perfect example.  My husband and I went to dinner at a friend's place last week and she sent us home with peaches.  They were very close to being overripe so I had to work fast.  A painter who was also at dinner threw down the literal gauntlet by saying that many of his fellow painters say "Put three peaches in a bowl, paint them, and it will sell."  Rising to the challenge, my backdrops, bowls, glasses, all flew out of the closet.  Such fun.  

This same friend had previously brought some of the most beautiful eggs I have ever seen.  You guessed it.  Out came my trusty camera and here are two of the photographs. 

Getting close and tight, shooting from a variety of angles, isolating and bouncing light from one surface to another can produce wonderful results.    


until next Monday,

a passion for the image