BALLOCH 50 MM
The brief requested ambient light only, and the use of three different focal lengths to create a narrative. I wanted my images to look like they could be used in a National Geographic feature, because I like the informal familiarity of that publication’s articles. The images are close and relaxed; personal rather than editorial.
I looked at the works of photographers who have shot low-light images for National Geographic Magazine, particularly Aaron Huey and Randy Olson. I also looked at the photography used in old 1940s film noir works such as Double Indemnity (John F Seitz), and The Blue Dahlia (Lionel Lindon).
I had a composition in mind that would work with the low light to create strong shadows, and I followed that through and produced an image I was really happy with. The contrast between light and shadow, and the vertical and horizontal lines, were what I wanted. The light was very warm orange, because the only source of light was the streetlight level with our first-floor flat window.
The second image in the series was intended to be a closer shot, cutting out the window but still showing the shadows from the Venetian blinds. I achieved this, and the horizontal shadows on the wall give the image depth.
The final image in the narrative was wider than the other two, and centers Tom in our sitting room. I wanted to take a wide shot without the window, but still showing those shadows.
I was really happy with how these shots turned out, regarding composition and lighting. Having a plan and playing with the ambient light was a good way to approach the challenge, and I think I generated a coherent series of images. My editing was carefully considered, with basic retouching, optimisation, and selective adjustments in Photoshop, and I think I have framed the images well.
Areas for Improvement
By the time I shot the third image, I had improved my editing skills and my consideration of light and composition. I should have re-edited the first two images, or even re-shot them, but as my time management also needs improvement I failed to do this. The contrast in the first two images is a bit rough, and the shadows are quite severe when compared with the third image.
Evaluation of Learning
Having an idea of target audience/publication, and subsequently researching relevant photographers and their work, made this a really satisfying brief to fulfil. It would have been significantly more difficult to develop a plan without this research. I know that for other briefs I have kind of winged it, but because I had quite a tight plan for this one I am happy with the images I created. By the end of the process, I felt far more confident with my digital workflow and image processing skills.
Following on from this post, which covers my first attempt at this brief, I reshot the three images with controlled supplementary lighting (off camera flash).
I’ve included here the three final images I submitted for the brief. I like the varied compositions, and I think I’ve done a good job of getting the subject’s character through. He’s retired, and spends a lot of time at home with his wife and their dog, and lately has been spending a lot of time going over old military memories, as he is writing his memoirs. I think I’ve chosen the settings well, and styled him appropriately. The choice to shoot in the red and green dining room was influenced partly by the shots of the Baron Rothschild I saw in Country Life magazine, so these shots look like they would suit being in such a publication. I was really happy with how the shot of the brigadier looking at old photographs turned out, as the portrait on the wall is watching him while he looks at himself, I think it adds a nice story element. The scene is well lit and in post-production I selectively edited to make his yellow sweater stand out from the background.
I really like the light in this shot, and the composition. I was quite pleased that this was another image that I planned carefully, and it turned out almost exactly how I wanted it to. I like the frames within frames in the shot: the windows; fireplace; mirror; and the way the lines all lead to the subject. I also really like that the green and red from the other two portraits run through this one too: in his trousers, and in the sofa, cushions, and armchair. The portraits are evidently from the same series.
Areas for Improvement
The entire first shoot was a disaster because the receiver for my off camera flash stopped working, and my spare was back at home, many miles away. I had limited time in which to shoot, so I had to just do what I could with the light that was available, and make a mental note to reshoot whenever I got the opportunity. I did take this chance to review the compositions and make changes, so that when I did finally reshoot I was a lot more confident in positioning the subject, and composing the scene. I knew what exposures to start with, so I think I was able to take positives out of the mistakes.
Evaluation of Learning
I have learned the importance of preparation: although I had researched the subject and suitable publications, and I had pre-arranged the shoot, I had to travel quite far to get to on location and once I was there, I was without a critical piece of kit for the brief. The shoots were a good experience in terms of working on location, without the perks of studio lighting, and I think I developed a style for shooting and editing the images that was sympathetic to the subject and the location, whilst meeting the brief.
I changed my mind about the recipe I wanted to use, as the seasons changed and Autumn was becoming Winter, I wanted to create a more cosy image than the fruity tea I had previously imagined.
I used fresh garlic, cinnamon, and cloves, with a traditional mortar and pestle with a hessian fabric backdrop for a more rustic atmosphere.
I set up the camera (Canon 80D) on the tripod with a 50 mm prime lens (cropped sensor, so equivalent to 80 mm), and shot a few variations with the off-camera flash, all at 1/125 s and f/22:
I optimised all three images in ACR, and opened in Adobe PS as stacked layers:
I applied dodge and burn layer masks to selectively lighten and darken areas of the image, and performed other PS actions including unsharp mask and high-pass sharpening. Cropped to 5:7, and added a 2 cm white border on all sides:
I’m going to attempt this set up again, because I want the ingredients a little bit tighter together – the garlic is cropped at the right, and the glass jar is cropped slightly at the left. I might also bring the mortar closer to the camera and experiment with a shallower depth of field, to separate it from the hessian backdrop, and try shooting from above.
Composition – Lighting – Styling – Stacked layers – Layer masks – Optimisation – Editing
Another trial with the Samyang tilt-shift lens on the Canon 80D body. All images shot at ISO 100 and f/16.
Full Exterior – Glasshouse Entrance
I stacked the three images in PS, and used selection layer masks to bring in the darker sky from the 1/125 s shot, and the highlights from the 1/30 s shot:
Once I was satisfied with the tonal range and the colours, I cropped at 5:7 ratio, and added sharpening.
I added a black and white adjustment layer and played around with the blues to create contrast between the building and the sky that I was happy with:
Detail – Science Building
As with the full exterior shot, I bracketed the following image with shots taken at 1/15 s and 1/60 s:
I optimised the image and the brackets in ACR:
After stacking the three images in PS, I brought in the darker sky and the highlights, straightened, cropped and sharpened the composite, and used the dodge and burn tools to selectively lighten and darken areas:
I like the close crop of this image, and the detail visible through the windows. The white plant at the bottom creates vertical lines that continue up throughout the image, up to the chimney stacks. I also like the combination of repetitive geometric shapes and natural plant elements.
I added a black and white adjustment layer to the composite image and tweaked the sliders until I was satisfied with the contrast:
Detail – Glasshouse Roof
I liked the repetition of the angular bars atop one of the glasshouses against the clear sky. I took three shots at 1/60 s (± 1 stop).
I cropped in really close to focus on the angles in the roof. I liked the visibility of the greenery through the glass, and the growth of the plants up the outside.
I applied a black and white adjustment layer and played with the contrast using the tone sliders:
Full Exterior – Inverleith House
Since I’ve been volunteering at Inverleith House, I wanted to include the gallery in my shots.
As above, I took three shots and composited them after optimising in ACR. I also cropped, sharpened, and selectively dodged and burned.
With this image’s black and white adjustment layer, I went a bit extreme (it’s Hallowe’en, after all). The weather had changed by this time and I liked the moodiness of the clouds. The gallery looks like a little doll house.
A magazine (of your choice) has commissioned you to shoot an environmental portrait; an interesting person within an environment relative to their job/interest. This portrait is not about the person doing their job or hobby, rather them portrayed within a location that signifies their occupation/pursuit.
Shoot on a DSLR or mirrorless camera and employ controlled supplementary lighting in combination with available light to create a crisp, detailed colour portrait of the sitter. This existing ambient light must both technically and creatively inform your balance/introduction of this supplementary lighting. Pay careful attention to the colour palette of the scene and if necessary rearrange sympathetically to enhance your composition.
Once you have your lighting set up, take three varying compositions. This workflow will provide both you and an art/picture editor with a choice. This may be achieved by either moving the camera, or simply changing lens focal lengths.
Pre-production research and planning must be reflected upon in the blog.
Use an existing magazine to inform the context:
- Model selection;
- Styling; and
- Audience understanding.
Three A4 colour prints, landscape or portrait orientation, 5:7 ratio with 2 cm white border.
My intended subject is Charles Ritchie, retired Brigadier who served with the Royal Scots for over three decades. The Brigadier is currently writing his memoirs.
I have an idea to shoot the portraits in the Ritchies’ home (preferably the study). The intention is to have the subject dressed in his casual wear, standing (maybe leaning) in front of a desk, with a reference to his long and colourful military career – medals/hat/etc (for discussion). I plan to spend some time getting to know Charles and his wife, Araminta, before the shoot, because I want his character to inform the images I make.
Research – Publications
Country Life and Country Living are the two publications that came to mind first, for the most obvious reason that the Ritchies live in the Scottish countryside. I found images I liked in both magazines, a combination of environmental portraits and interior shots, as well as feature details.
Country Life – this article about the 4th Baron Rothschild. Interior environmental portraits.
I popped round to the Brigadier’s house this evening to meet him and familiarise myself with his home before tomorrow’s shoot. Because it was an informal meeting, I decided to forego the tripod and just shoot a couple of relaxed shots of rooms that would make appropriate settings for the shoot. The dining room really caught my eye, the decor was exactly what I was hoping for. As luck would have it, Charles showed me the portrait by Jean Miller Harding that I referenced above, and I want to include it in the final shots. Tom, who has known Charles and his wife for many years, offered to help hang the portrait, giving me the perfect opportunity for a candid shot.
I really had to push the ISO up more than I would normally, because I was shooting handheld and didn’t want to use too slow a shutter speed. Given the noise caused by the high ISO, I played around with the image in PS (after optimising in ACR). I like the busy-ness of the resulting black and white image. The brief calls for three colour images, which I will make tomorrow, so I won’t be using this shot, but I like it on a personal level. The torch Charles is holding illuminates Tom’s face, which has the effect of making Tom the subject, rather than the Brigadier. The door frames the shot as though I’m peering through a doorway (rather than perched on a chair behind the door, as I was). Leading lines are created from the curtains, rug, and the eyes of the gentleman in the painting on the left. I really like the sense of intimacy in this moment between old friends.
If I had been paying closer attention, I’d have moved the plate on the table to the left, to reveal the painting of Charles in front of Tom. As it is, though, I am happy with the recon.
Image 1 – Shoot
Of all the things that could go wrong with a lighting-based assignment, I think being on farmland in the Scottish borders with all my camera gear except for the transmitter for my off camera flash… that’s a major headache. But since the Brigadier was on a tight schedule, I had to make the most of the time I had to work with him. He had very kindly invited me into his home to make these images.
So, I was a speedlight down, with a limited amount of time to shoot, and I’d chosen the darkest room in Charles’s house to shoot in because I thought the rich colours would add to the interest of the images. I had to get creative with the lighting that I had to hand, since trying to fire the flash manually wasn’t timing well with the shutter.
This lamp came in handy, as it halved my shutter speed to 1 second at an aperture of f/8.0 and my camera’s prime ISO, making for a crisper, cleaner shot. I edited it out in post-production, and after optimising both images in ACR I stacked them in PS and used a layer mask to combine them into one image.
Image 1 – Editing
I used layer masks to dodge and burn parts of the stacked image, and added a tri-tone layer using shades of yellow from the image.
I used the B/W adjustment option to increase the luminosity of the yellow and red tones, using a layer mask to only apply the changes to the subject’s face, because I didn’t want to affect the red tones in the walls. After these screenshots were taken, I reduced the opacity so it wasn’t such an extreme difference.
After sharpening the image (USM and high pass), I cropped and framed the image to 5:7 with a 2 cm white border:
The Brigadier is retired, and lives an active life with his wife and their dog, Iris. Their home is filled with souvenirs and momentos of his military career, and portraits of relatives fill the walls. I didn’t want to shoot him in a military stance or in uniform, as I wanted to capture his character rather than his life’s career. There are nods within the shot to this; he was regaling me with memories sparked by the massive photo album in front of him; portraits of his wife and himself are close to hand, and the painting by Jean Miller Harding is in its place from last night’s visit.
Image 2 – Shoot
I moved the camera and the lamp to the other side of the table, for a closer portrait of Charles. From this angle the painting of him is more visible, as is the photograph of him in his military uniform. It’s a more intimate shot than the first one, and it was taken between stories of the retired Brigadier’s memories from his photo album.
Image 3 – Shoot
We moved to the sitting room, where the light was more agreeable and Iris was snuggled on the settee. I had Charles sit in the green chair beneath a portrait of Araminta, so he was framed by two lamps, and by his wife and their dog in a sweeping line from top left to centre right. I shot from across the room, bringing the mirror into the frame to reflect the lights. It also allowed me to capture more of the room without using a terribly wide lens, avoiding significant distortion.
Image 3 – Editing
As with images 1 and 2, I optimised in ACR and edited in PS 2019. Techniques were similar to those used previously, and the resulting image shows Charles reading tales to Iris from Beyond the Front Line, a war memoir.
As before, I used USM and high pass sharpening, but for the latter I didn’t want to affect Charles’s face detrimentally, so I selectively sharpened the green chair with a layer mask, for subtlety:
I also added the tri-tone layers, giving the image a soft yellow tonal range. After editing, I cropped the image to 5:7 with a 2 cm border:
The final image has leading lines (follow the curtain down to the cushions, and along the back of the settee, or start with the dog curled up asleep, and follow the edge of the seat cushion). There is an obvious but not forced combination of natural light and lamp light, and the composition was guided but not forced, as I wanted my subject to feel comfortable in his own home. I like this image a lot, although I am aware that the task will need to be resubmitted due to the issue with the off camera flash.