Tag Archives: portraits

How to make a high key portrait

Low contrast lighting can be interesting, too.

A low contrast lighting situation is often called ‘flat,’ and there is a reason for this. Low contrast means there is less difference between the darkest part of the photo and the lightest part of the photo, resulting in a relatively even distribution of light. The resulting image for an even lighting situation is low contrast.

Flat or low contrast photos rarely register as interesting to our brains because contrast is one of the principles that make images attractive.

We create contrast with color, as in the photograph below. The color of the tree limbs and trunks and the grass in the background are darker than the color of the dried grass. Rendered in monochrome, this photo has high contrast because of the color in the original image.


Contrast from dark and light colors.

We also create contrast with light and shadow. In the photo below, the darkest darks are almost black, while the lightest lights are very bright due to the strong sunlight streaming in the window. The high contrast makes it an attractive photo.


Bright light creating high contrast.

How do we create attractive low-contrast photos?

High key images are very well lit photos. However, we can still create some contrast in a high key image, using both color and light.

How to make a high key photo in camera

As soon as you find a light source, in my case a North-facing window, position your subject so that the window is perpendicular to the subject and to your camera. This gives you a side-lighting situation which gives you a gradation of the light from one side of the subject to the other, and creates the 3D effect on your portrait.


Overexposed in camera but with side lighting to create soft shadows.

Your camera settings should be toward overexposure. Don’t worry about losing some detail in the highlights. Instead, hold on to the medium shadows so that you will be able to create some contour in the portrait. I overexposed this portrait by three quarters of a stop.


Contrast using bright light from a window.

Although the lighting is mostly bright and made brighter in the image captured with the overexposure, if you position the lighting so that you still hold on to some shadow, you can create a high key photo with some attractive contrast.

Processing a high key photo

Here is a video explaining how to process a high key image using Photoshop.

Here is another video explaining how to process a high key image using Lightroom.

High key images can make your portfolio a little more interesting, and high key images give you the opportunity to experiment with how much you can push the exposure of an image without losing attractive lighting.


Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That!

If you like what’s on the blog, let us know by commenting! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the orange RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage. It would also be cool to be friends with you on Facebook, or connect with you on Twitter.

You might also like:
6 Ways to Start Your Photography Hobby
Easy Way to Dodge and Burn Photos without Destroying Pixels
5 Myths about Creativity a Photographer Should Bust
Does Gear Really Make You a Better Photographer?
10 Small Things that make a Big Difference in Your Photos



Burma Myanmar rice field worker harvesting rice harvest Southeast Asia Burmese copyright Aloha Lavina

Week 13 Module: A Stranger’s Story

A photographer collects stories. Those stories can be about people.

When setting out to photograph a stranger, there is no way you can predict who you’ll meet, and even less chance of developing some definite expectations of what images you can make and take home. You need to be open to anything and flexible enough to change focus at a moment’s notice. Here is a how-to video from Clay Enos.

(The only thing I disagree with that the video says is about the lighting. Enos prefers “flat light” but I like contrasty. It’s a matter of taste.)

When I’m on the hunt for portraits, I’ve got a couple of lenses I like to use. A zoom that has a 50mm focal length within its range is good for closeups. A long telephoto is good for portraits of people whom you want to catch in their candid moments or without intruding on their privacy.

To help you maximize your chances of capturing memorable portraits that have impact, there are some things you can apply.

1. Wait for the decisive moment.

Cartier Bresson once said, “There is nothing in this world that does not have a decisive moment.” Finding this decisive moment is one of the most exciting things you can search for in your quest for portraits. Being patient and waiting for moments can result in expressive portraits.

2. Provide context for your subject.

Using the environment can help you tell the story of your subject. Whether it is about work, play, or other themes, giving bits of the surroundings can add impact to the story because the elements around the subject add to the narrative of who they are, what they do, linking their story to the viewer’s story.

3. Document a 1000 words.

That old cliché “A picture is worth a thousand words” can come true in your photography. While roaming a place, look out for moments that hold special significance to the people you are photographing. Sometimes you’ll find these vignettes that encapsulate universal experiences, such as wanting something we can’t have. Portraits that have stories in them are often some of the most powerful ones we can make.Burma Myanmar Burmese woman smoking cheroot headscarf Mandalay copyright Aloha Lavina

4. Interact with your subject.

It helps you sometimes to interact with your subject. Some would argue that interacting with your subject changes the image; that by imposing yourself into their lives, the photographer changes the natural way a local person would act.

5.  Keep your distance.

Conversely, you can keep your distance and use a long lens. Using a long lens, what I call the “sniper method” of portraiture, allows you to capture people in their natural state. Because you are not intruding upon their attention, you would get portraits that are more candid.Burma Myanmar rice field worker harvesting rice harvest Southeast Asia Burmese copyright Aloha Lavina

6. Know the angle of your light source.

I like dramatic lighting, so I always look for things like rim lighting, or light falling on the face of the person I am photographing. Burma Myanmar monk studying students boys in temple school copyright Aloha Lavina portrait lighting light

7. Watch out for body language.

A portrait can express a story even without the face completely visible. Often, body language can tell the story.Burma Myanmar monk portrait Inle Lake Burmese monk Burmese monk ceremony copyright Aloha Lavina

Although by no means an exhaustive list, these tips can help you start your search for the stories of strangers. Your assignment this week is to make some portraits of people you don’t know. Choose one photo that turned out special, and tell the stranger’s story on our Imagine That Photography Tribe Facebook page.

Have fun!

Join us, the Imagine That Photography Tribe, as we embark on a year of photography projects designed to improve and practice photography skills! Simply Like us on Facebook, and you will be able to see weekly posts, contributions from Tribe members, and talk photography! Participate and be included in weekly roundup articles published right here on Imagine That! Also get the chance to see your work in seasonal e-publications released by Imagine That.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That!

If you like what’s on the blog, let us know by commenting! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage. It would also be cool to be friends with you on Facebook, or connect with you on Twitter.

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Composition and the Use of Color
Hey Photographer! Who are You and What do You Believe?
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Are You Paying Attention?

D is for depth of field copyright Aloha Lavina.

The ABCs of Portraits

You may not know that photography can make you better at Scrabble.

Here are the ABC’S of portraiture. Some of these can score high, not just in your next Scrabble game, but with your portraiture.

 A is for Abstract

Portraits don’t have to be the whole face of a person. You can experiment with abstracting the face, highlighting her most beautiful feature.A is for abstract copyright Aloha Lavina

B is for Background

Backgrounds help to declutter a portrait, to make the subject stand out.

C is for Composition

Designing a composition that works is crucial in a portrait. Want to make people uncomfortable? Center the subject. But most of the time, avoid centering your subject and use basics like leading lines, to lead the eye to your subject.

D is for Depth of field

Controlling depth of field using your Aperture helps you make a portrait pop. A shallow aperture can give a portrait a creamy goodness that’s better than milk. (Well, almost.)D is for depth of field copyright Aloha Lavina.

E is for Environment

Don’t be afraid to go wide and include the environment. The surrounding space around a portrait can help give it story.

F is for Foreground

Not just background, but foreground can give your portrait impact. Selective inclusion of foreground elements can help you make a good composition.

G is for Grace

Graceful portraits make us look again, and again. One of the simplest ways to introduce grace into a photo is using lines. Another way is to ask the subject to position their hands in a certain way, like in this photo.G is for grace copyright Aloha Lavina

H is for High key

Overexpose the photo artfully for a stunningly bright high-key image.

I is for Intimacy

Get up close and tell a private story with your lens. Intimate portraits take us into the subject’s emotion and helps our audience connect with the stranger in the image.

J is for Juxtaposition

Introduce tension or harmony into the image using juxtaposition. This is putting two things side by side to compare or contrast them. Contrast can be a good way to add impact to a portrait.

Oh wait. This is only 10 letters of the alphabet. If you want the rest of the alphabet, I guess you better get my free ebook!


fire concept portrait copyright Aloha Lavina.

5 Myths about Creativity a Photographer Should Bust

If I’m not a prodigy, it’s too late.

Interests form very early in our lives. Sometimes they form from our preferences, like what happened to Gillian Lynne, one of the legendary choreographers in the dance world. Gillian was a kinesthetic learner, meaning she loved to express herself through movement. Her mother recognized this, and enrolled her in a dance school. Gillian said of this moment in Sir Ken Robinson’s book The Element, “I walked into this room, and it was full of people like me. People who couldn’t sit still. People who had to move to think.”  We can’t all be lucky like Gillian, whose parents helped her make a commitment to her creativity early in life.

But the wonderful thing is, it isn’t until we commit to this interest that we find our means to be creative.

Commitment is something that we can make toward our interest at any point in our lives. So if you picked up a camera at an age beyond childhood, it doesn’t mean you can’t develop creatively in your photography. It’s never too late to learn!

1. Creativity is something that happens in isolation.

Some people think that creativity is something that happens by itself, like to a writer who lives alone in the woods beside a pond. We think that person is creative because of the isolation, without distraction. Maybe the silence of living in the woods beside a still pond is great for processing thoughts, but silence and isolation in itself is not the basis for a creative response.

Many creative triggers people have responded to are made of social situations and connections. I read in this great book about director Enid Zentelis who made a film about people waiting in line because she was waiting in a food line one time, and it triggered a creative response in her. Watson and Crick collaborated on the model for DNA—their different insights connected into a product that was creative because they thought together. Ansel Adams was good friends with Georgia O’Keefe. Although they worked in different media, they shared a common concept—the idea of starkness and simplicity giving a sensuality to a composition.frost concept portrait copyright Aloha Lavina

Isolating ourselves thinking it will only increase our chances of creativity is a myth. Making connections between ideas we see other people having and our own ideas is a source of creativity. Paying attention to connections we could make between our concepts and what’s around us can trigger a pretty creative response.

2. Pressure kills creativity.

By pressure we mean things that might limit what we can use to create. These could be things like having just one lens or going on a photowalk when the light is “bad.”

But contrary to all the excuses, having a limiting factor in a situation where you have to create actually helps you be more creative. Sometimes having very little choice in your focal length is good for you. It forces you to move more; it distills your choices into how to compose rather than how to use equipment that you might have in abundance. This shift in decision making from what to use to how to use what you have is a situation that can trigger your creativity.

If you can respond with a solution to the situation, you have already begun to be creative.

3. Equipment makes you a better photographer.

This is one of those if onlys that photographers torture themselves. If only you had a better lens, if only you had a better camera like that guy with the 6800-dollar body, your photo would be sexier.

If onlys are a waste of time, and they actually kill creativity.

What promotes creativity is using what tools you have to think and see differently.

Part of creativity is inventiveness, a commitment to make something out of what you imagined. You don’t need an upgrade of gear to do this. All the gear you need is in your head.fire concept portrait copyright Aloha Lavina.

4. You need to go somewhere exotic to be creative.

Exotic places are great because they are full of new sights. These new sights might trigger a creative response.

But from a creative standpoint, sometimes you can see new sights with old eyes. That means you might be tempted to take the ‘safe shot,’ the one that has always worked for you in the past. If that happens, the creativity isn’t there because you haven’t invented a new way to express that new thing you saw.

On the other hand, you could be walking at a familiar place, seeing things you’ve seen before, but you put a twist into interpreting those familiar things with an unfamiliar composition.

That’s creativity.

It’s not going someplace you’ve never been. It’s seeing something in a way you’ve never tried. You don’t have to go away to do this. You can start right where you are, right now.ice concept portrait copyright Aloha Lavina

5. You need to have bursts of creativity when everything comes to you effortlessly.

Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon was not a painting he created in a single moment of creativity. The Musée Picasso has the artist’s notes on the creative process for this painting. It shows how he struggled to create the painting plane by plane, sketching and then eliminating one element, re-adding it, then changing again. In the revisions that he made, it is clear that even though Picasso had an idea of what he wanted to say in his painting, he had to go through a revision process to arrive at a final result.

Meaning comes to the artist in layers. Staying committed to an idea while the layers sort themselves out in a problem solving process is part of our growth as creative people.

Be open to the burst of inspiration. But don’t forget that the rest of it is hard work, and patience.

Can you think of other myths about creativity that need busting?

Krystal Vee portrait by Aloha Lavina. All rights reserved.

8 Things that will Inspire Your Next Portrait Shoot

If you make portraits all the time, where do you get inspiration for a varied, exciting portfolio?

Many might say it’s one thing—their favorite face, a specific lighting type, or concepts. But if you really want to keep inspired and keep making beautiful pictures of people, it’s important to take inspiration from the photo shoot itself. If your favorite thing is missing from a shoot, you can still get inspiration from other factors that go into an awesome photo session.

Here are eight sources of inspiration for your next photo shoot.

1. Motion

portrait by Aloha Lavina. All rights reserved.

Add motion into a portrait and make it pop. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

We take still photos, but there is no reason why the results can’t be dynamic. One of the easiest ways to evoke this dynamism in your photograph is to ask the model to move. A slow series of motions can help you create fluidity in the image, especially in situations where your background or clothing may not be that colorful. The flavor of a movement can spice up a photo, giving it more impact.

2. Emotion

Krystal Vee portrait by Aloha Lavina. All rights reserved.

Evoke emotion from your subject. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Not all models are great actors, but there are techniques to bring out emotion in your subject. Playing music during a photo shoot, or talking about memories, can trigger emotion in the model. This is sort of delicate; you don’t want to have a model turning despondent on you during the shoot, so it’s important to be sensitive while directing a model’s emotional response. But you can evoke emotion that translates into a facial gesture that makes a portrait stand out.

3. Shapes and Lines

Krystal Vee portrait by Aloha Lavina. All rights reserved.

Shapes and lines can help you compose a portrait, even close up.

Sometimes, something as simple as circles and arrows or lines can make a portrait pop. Using these shapes to add contrast or texture, or using lines to lead to the face can help you get a good portrait.

4. Poses

Krystal Vee portrait by Aloha Lavina. All rights reserved.

Change up the poses and find some inspiration in your model's flexibility. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Changing it up during the shoot, directing the model to contort or show the extent of their flexibility can help you create unusual portraits. Constantly trying new directions for poses helps you learn versatility in your own direction skills, too, plus trains your model to visualize what their body is doing for an image.

5. Lighting and contrast

Krystal Vee portrait by Aloha Lavina. All rights reserved.

Contrasty lighting can help you make unusual portraits. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

If you are practicing making portraits with natural light, you can create situations that utilize the high contrast, harsh light that streams in even at midday. Because the light is so contrasty, your portrait will pop with the hard light and shadows. The trick here is to use exposure compensation well, as well as metering. Metering on the middle values (grays) can help you make sure both the shadows and light are delineated well, and underexposing a bit can help, too.

6. Location

portrait with foreground texture copyright Aloha Lavina.

I've never met vines that didn't inspire a portrait. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Some locations are better than others. Even if you have never been to the location before, spending a few minutes scouting around for things you can use to add texture, depth, or interest to the portrait can help inspire your portraiture.

7. A prop

Krystal Vee portrait by Aloha Lavina. All rights reserved.

A prop can help create frames, leading lines, and depth in a portrait. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

In case the location and lighting are not that amazing, you can always bring a prop. When using a prop, it’s often inspiring to challenge yourself—how will it enhance the photo? Is it the positioning, the texture? Can you use it to contrast the skin? To add a frame to the image? Using a prop can inspire creativity during a photoshoot.

8. Simplicity

Krystal Vee portrait by Aloha Lavina. All rights reserved.

Simple compositions can be inspiring. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

No matter what the situation, at times going back to basics can be a way to inspired portraiture. Simplicity often gives you a clean composition, a graphic quality to the photo, and an uncluttered result. If your background and clothing for instance are both gray, you can still create a pleasing portrait using lines, curves, and a fierce pose.

The next time you schedule a photo shoot, pay attention to these eight things. One of these might just be the inspiration you need to make stunning portraits.


Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That!

If you like what’s on the blog, let us know by commenting! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage. It would also be cool to be friends with you on Facebook, or connect with you on Twitter.

You might also like:
Using the Background Effectively in Your Portraits
When You have to Wing it
From Idea to Image Part I: Planning
From Idea to Image Part 2: Lighting Clothing

How Different Lenses Help You See Creatively

tall dry grass copyright Aloha Lavina.

Using the Background Effectively in Your Portraits

Background is always part of image design. Incorporating a background effectively into a portrait is something that can enhance your image and make it unique.

Pay attention to geometry.

Because the brain likes to organize things into patterns, geometry is something that can enhance your portrait and make it pleasing to the viewer. Lines straight or curved, that lead to the subject can help to isolate the focal point of an image from all the other information that is in the design. Here the curve of the pool brings a variation into the square tile design that serves as the background to the image.

wedding portrait copyright Aloha Lavina

A curve can accentuate a portrait with a textured background.

Grunge can give an image a textured effect.

Grungy backgrounds look cool, but there’s actually an artistic purpose to using them. A grungy background helps to contrast, say, a subject with smooth skin. Placing the subject against a background with grunge and texture makes a portrait pop with contrast.

Nick Sotavongse Jewelry Design image copyright Aloha Lavina.

Grunge can give the added contrast to a model's smooth skin.

The background colors can give a portrait atmosphere and mood.

Especially at a shallow depth of field, say f/5.6, a portrait with a lot of texture in the background can help to separate the subject from what’s behind her. In this portrait, the green foliage is blurred by the shallow depth of field, rendering the outline of the model sharper in contrast. Although the background has texture, it doesn’t take away from the subject because it has a limited color palette.

portrait copyright Aloha Lavina.

A textured background can be less distracting at a shallow DOF.

The background can add dynamism to a portrait.

Even a background with lines that intersect the model’s figure can work to make a portrait more interesting. In this portrait, the grill pattern behind the model might seem to clash with the model especially in the complicated patterns of her clothing. But the lighting serves to separate the model from the background just enough to make her stand out. In addition, the background helps to ‘point’ to the Gaga-esque shoulder pads she’s wearing, giving the image the purpose for its design.

Vachini Kraikrish for Muse Hotel copyright Aloha Lavina.

Lines in the background can add a dynamic tension to a portrait.

A uniform texture in the background can help to make a portrait interesting and give it depth.

Even with the interesting colors of the sky, this portrait would have been less interesting without the tall dry grass behind the model. The grass serves two purposes, to create textures behind the model, and to give the image layers that give it visual mass. Without the grass, the portrait would have only had two visible planes, making the negative space of the sky less interesting.

tall dry grass copyright Aloha Lavina.

The background can add visual mass and depth to a portrait.

If you’re looking or a place to shoot this week, why not try to find similar backgrounds and try your hand at textured design in your portraits?

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That!

If you like what’s on the blog, let us know by commenting! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage. It would also be cool to be friends with you on Facebook, or connect with you on Twitter.

You might also like:
When You have to Wing it
From Idea to Image Part I: Planning
From Idea to Image Part 2: Lighting Clothing

How Different Lenses Help You See Creatively
Finding Good Photos Where They Hide

15mm lens portrait copyright Aloha Lavina.

How Different Lenses can Help You See Creatively

Watching Zack Arias’ video blog for the Kelby site inspired me yesterday. One of the questions Zack asked in the introduction of the video is, “What do I bring to the table that countless others have not already served up on this massive platter of visual pollution that we create each and every day?”

Zack’s question is probably something we ask ourselves as we try, each and every day, to get better at our craft. How do we interpret a vision with the tools we have? There is no button that says, “Joe McNally” on our dSLR that we can push if we want a photo worthy of a National Geographic feature.

A teacher once told me, When you’re in doubt about something abstract, go back to the concrete. I’m still trying to follow that advice; it’s helped me learn daily.

When we think about seeing creatively, and creating from that vision, it’s such an overwhelmingly large topic that we need to break it down into concrete modules, things we can do today that adds to and strengthens that vision.

We can begin with our tools.

The lens you have attached to your dSLR is an extension of your vision. Through that lens, you can create an interpretation of what you see before you. This interpretation is your vision, the way you say things that you see. How does the lens you use affect that vision?

1. Your lens determines how you frame an image.

Your lens can help you include things in the frame, or exclude things from it. Try going out with a couple of lenses to photograph a single scene. How does a wide angle’s inclusiveness change the story? How does the story change when you photograph the scene with a telephoto? The differences between what we can include or exclude using different focal lengths of lenses determines a lot of the story we present in a resulting frame.

2. Lenses change your point of view.

Because the focal length of lenses can include or exclude, using a different lens to take a photo changes your point of view. A lens that sees the same way the eye can see, namely the 50mm ‘normal’ lens, allows you to take photographs that echo what you see without the camera pressed to your face. A wide angle, say a 24mm lens, gives you a wider view; you can see more background, more foreground. The environmental details around your subject that you capture with a wide angle lens changes your point of view because you now have the ability to use these environmental details to add to the story.

Manila Bay at 50mm Copyright Aloha Lavina.

At 50mm, the lens 'sees' the way our eyes do. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

3. Different lenses affect an image in different ways.

At the different edges of the spectrum of focal length effects, different things happen in your frame.

A wide angle lens like the 24-70mm can distort the subject. For instance, if you use a wide angle lens for a portrait where the subject leans toward you, their face shows up much bigger than their hands. Wide lenses can ‘see’ what’s closer as bigger, and what is farther as smaller.

15mm lens portrait copyright Aloha Lavina.

15mm lens renders visible distortion in a portrait. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Telephoto lenses, such as a 70-200mm, tend to ‘flatten’ elements in the frame against each other. When you’re stacking elements in a frame deliberately, this helps you to create planes that the viewer can easily identify, and with good light, you can create a photo that has depth.

Inle Lake at sunset copyright Aloha Lavina

Long telephoto 'flattens' elements. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

4. Some lenses can render tilt better than others.

Tilting lenses while taking photos is a great way to discover what happens to the image when you change the way you point your camera.

Some tilt can be done on the same plane. What this means is, tilting the camera left or right, but keeping the lens pointed on a plane parallel to your subject. In the photo below, I tilted the camera to change the background, but the camera lens is parallel to the model.

Natalie Glebova for June Fifth copyright Aloha Lavina.

Tilting the lens without changing planes. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Other tilting can use distortion to effect. Here, with a wide angle lens, the camera was tilted to change its plane relative to the subject. I tilted the camera lens down and produced the effect of the clouds ‘marching’ across the sky. This sort of tilt helps you create perspective and depth in a shot.

Balinese sunset copyright Aloha Lavina.

Tilting the lens so it is pointed at a different plane than the one parallel to the eye. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Note on tilt: if you are using a normal lens, or a long telephoto like a 70-200mm, tilt doesn’t work for effect that well, since the focal length gives you a very narrow field of vision.

5. Lenses can help you use depth of field creatively.

portrait in f/2.8 copyright Aloha Lavina.

Shooting at a wide aperture renders the background blurry. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

We’ve all seen stunning images that use depth of field creatively. Lenses with large apertures (f/1.2 all the way to f/2.8 for example) produce very shallow depth of field in the images. Portrait photographers love to use very wide apertures because of the ‘creamy’ effect it produces in the background. If you use a very wide depth of field on a portrait with a forest as background, the background is rendered a blurred blob of soft green without much detail. This de-clutters the background and gives a pleasant dreamy quality to a portrait.

You can also use this effect for the foreground.

using blurry foreground for creative effect. copyright Aloha Lavina.

Shallow depth of field can be used to blur foreground for effect. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Seeing creatively—an abstract concept—can be made concrete if you begin practicing it through a concrete tool, like the lens you have on your camera right now. With these simple tips, you can build a visual collection that hopefully, doesn’t “pollute” but beautifies your portfolio.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That!

If you like what’s on the blog, let us know by commenting! Even if you don’t like what’s on the blog, leave a comment any way, but please keep it nice. 🙂 To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage. It would also be cool to be friends with you on Facebook, or connect with you on Twitter.

You might also like:
Confessions of a Photoshop User
Are You Paying Attention?
Finding Good Photos where they Hide
Why You Should Shoot Like Johnny Depp
Sell an Experience, Not Just Photos






dramatic portrait copyright Aloha Lavina

Are You Paying Attention?

Years ago, I used to think there was an outside force which would help me get better at my craft. Call it what you will—a muse, a mentor—it seemed to me to be all-powerful and decisive. It would sweep my photographic self off her feet and fly her to a level from where I could make grand leaps in skill and artistry. I waited for this entity with a stash of If Only’s stuffed in my camera bag with the rest of the gear.

If Only a photographer more knowledgeable than I would take me under her wing.

If Only I had that dude’s camera and lens I would make a better picture.

If Only I had more time, I could be brilliant.

If Only I bought this or that gadget I would create stunning stuff.

If Only. If Only. If Only.

It wasn’t until I stopped listening to the If Only’s that I finally could leave the plateau I was perched on and start climbing new peaks.

The key was to use both eyes.

I’m not talking about squinting with the one eye that is not looking through the viewfinder and finally opening it while taking photos. I’m talking about opening the physical eye, the one that is looking out at the physical world, and opening the inner eye, the one that examines what it is I mean to say with those photos.

framed dramatic portrait copyright Aloha Lavina

Copyright Aloha Lavina.

The breakthrough was not another workshop, another piece of gear, another trip to some exotic place.

The breakthrough was the realization that the source of those leaps I could make with artistry and skill were within me.  I really wasn’t paying attention. I was waiting for an external force to change how I see, when all I had to do was lose the anticipation for some artistic liberator, and free myself to an attentiveness to what was around me.

Cartier-Bresson once said, “You just have to live life, and life will give you pictures.” I found out, when I started paying attention, that if you’re interested, life becomes more interesting, and so do the photos.

dramatic portrait copyright Aloha Lavina

Copyright Aloha Lavina.

There is no easy, comfortable place to sit and wait for good photos to happen. There is only the hard climb, paying attention every step of the way, and learning. Learning is about change, so it’s never really easy. But what this hard work does is that it gives you the focus you need to receive what comes when you pay attention.

And usually, that means seeing something remarkable.


Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

You might also like:
Finding Good Photos where they Hide
Why You Should Shoot Like Johnny Depp
Sell an Experience, Not Just Photos
Nine Things Rupert Murdoch can Teach Photographers
Cut the CRAP–Just Take Pictures


portrait with catchlights in eyes copyright Aloha Lavina

10 Things Tyra Banks can Teach You About Portrait Photography

Tyra Banks is a genius. She’s built a beautiful and powerful brand for herself and for her famous show “America’s Next Top Model.” If you have watched ANTM, you know that Tyra is not just the brains behind the show. She’s worked not only in shaping the models that grow up on ANTM, but has been behind the camera on a lot of shoots. Both behind the scenes and in front of the lens, Tyra has a lot of things to teach the photographer who shoots models. Here are 10 things I’ve learned from Tyra Banks that you could use in your photography.

portrait with smize copyright Aloha Lavina

Smize. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

1. The eyes are the pivotal points of a portrait.
We’ve all heard Tyra say “Smize!” to her models. She even had an episode where the models had to compete to use their eyes to express everything—the art of smizing. In a portrait the eyes hold the portrait together, and that’s why you always have to keep the eyes in focus when you’re making a portrait.

double portrait with emotion copyright Aloha Lavina

Bring out emotion. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

2. Bring out emotion.
Unless the face is contorted in a strong emotion, the eyes have to carry the emotion in a portrait, especially in a closeup. Bringing out emotion in the model helps to achieve emotion in their facial gesture. Tyra always coaches her models during a shoot, if she’s around for it. Once, she even made a few cry with her coaching. Taking time to coach the model on the emotion in a portrait helps to realize its potential for impact.

3. Motion and energy give dynamism to a portrait.
Motion brings dynamism to a portrait. But motion doesn’t really literally mean having the model move around. It means being able to direct poses and create an image that has energy. What I’ve learned from Tyra is that she often asks the models to tense certain parts of their body during a shoot. Finding out which muscles to sculpt a pose helps the photographer achieve a look that also speaks of energy.

double portrait with contorted poses copyright Aloha Lavina.

Contortion. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

4. Ask your model to contort their body.
Sometimes, the most interesting poses are almost ugly. Especially with her work that is ‘high fashion,’ Tyra asks her models to contort, to push the boundaries of their physicality and find a pose that works for the image. Often what results is an image that is as beautiful as it must be uncomfortable for the model.

light and shadow portrait copyright Aloha Lavina

Play with light and shadow. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

5. Play with light and shadow
One of my favorite shoots done by Tyra on ANTM is when she created shadows with things like doilies, lace, and cloth. She shot the photos outdoors, in bright sunlight, and told the models about her concept. What resulted from that play with light and shadows were some amazing shots.

portrait with catchlights in eyes copyright Aloha Lavina

Teach models to find the light. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

6. Teach the model to find the light.
Catchlights in the eyes are attractive because they give the eyes depth and character, making it easy to see the model’s ‘smize.’ Tyra is always telling the model to find the light during the shoots on ANTM. If a model is new or unfamiliar with the shooting process, you can help them help you make the image better by teaching them where the light is coming from. Sometimes, just telling them to look in a certain direction helps you get those stunning catchlights.

7. Make it about the fashion.
If you are shooting a model in color, it has to be also about the clothes. Sometimes, it could be about a simple accessory like a hat. Composing the photo using the standard compositional techniques like leading lines to bring attention to the clothing is something that Tyra teaches. Keeping this in mind helps you to ‘sell’ the clothing in your portraits.

portrait with hat copyright Aloha Lavina

Make it about the fashion. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

8. Model from head to toe.
This is really great advice from Tyra. Even if you’re taking a closeup shot of a model, you want the model to feel the concept with every bit of her (or him). Asking someone to ‘model from H to T’ or head to toe will make your portrait pop.

9. Start with a concept.
I really like the Tyra Mail that happens every week on ANTM. This is a note Tyra writes to the models telling them what’s going on. When there’s a shoot about to happen, she’ll include something cryptic in the note referring to the concepts they are about to interpret with their modeling. Tyra comes up with interesting, beautiful concepts that result in fabulous photos. Paying attention to your concept means you don’t just take photos of a beautiful person, but you are taking beautiful photos of a person.

10. Every model is an individual.
Tyra might put her models through makeovers that chop their long hair or make them ‘edgy’—but she does this because it either pushes the model to come out of a comfort zone and become more interesting (read ‘marketable’ as a model), or to challenge them to make the new look work for them. But in the long run, you can see that she appreciates their individual qualities and tries to hone those qualities to strengthen their skill as a model. She tries to get to know each girl by listening to them and making careful observations. Using the same technique, you can make the model a partner in creating awesome portraits by giving them opportunities to be themselves in the photos.

We can all learn from Tyra Banks who is model, photographer and a fashion visionary in one. Why not try these tips I’ve learned from her, and create some awesome portraits this week. Remember that awesomeness always ‘wants to be on top.’

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

You might also like:
10 Cliches a Photographer Can Believe
Making Expressive Portraits
Concept is Everything
10 Things a Photog Can Learn from Golfers
Be a Photographer, Not a Lens Changer


using props in a double portrait copyright Aloha Lavina

Prop it Up

Make sizzling portraits tip # 5: Use props to make portraits pop!

Beauty shots or closeup portraits of a beautiful person are favorites among photographers. Many hobbyists get hooked into portraiture because of these types of shots. One of the challenges of a closeup shot is how to give it more impact, how to set it apart from the thousands of beauty shots out there. One simple answer to this challenge is to use props.

Props are easy to add to a closeup because they are usually easy to get, and you don’t have to change the lighting setup or makeup to use the prop. But a prop can help you improve your closeup shots by adding to the composition. Let’s look at some ways you can do that.

The photo below uses a scarf to bring an element of repetition into the composition. The edges of the photo are framed by the repeating shape and lines of the scarf, bringing the attention to the center of the frame, the face.

closeup portrait using a prop copyright Aloha Lavina

Use a prop to add repetition into the composition. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

This next photo uses props to add repetition to a double portrait. The two models are flanked by the masks they are holding, making the photo interesting with the pattern of faces both fake and real, alternating inside the frame. What adds to the effect of the composition is the repetition of colors; repeating the black and red and white pattern brings a graceful variation into the repetition.

using props in a double portrait copyright Aloha Lavina

Props can add a harmony to a photo. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

You can also use a prop to give you leading lines. In the first photo of the concept ‘fire,’ the model is holding the piece of fabric out, and I tilted the camera so that I could use the cloth’s line to lead to the model’s face.

prop adding leading line copyright Aloha Lavina

Use a prop to add a leading line. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

In the next double portrait, again I used the cloth, this time to add tension to the composition by leading the eye with its lines first from one of the models to the other, and back.

using prop to add tension to a composition copyright Aloha Lavina

Use a prop to add tension to a composition. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Sometimes, all you need is a bit of color and shape or texture in a composition to add to its impact. In this last photo, I focused on the model’s face but added a bit of her red bead necklace to the shot. This little splash of color just was enough to balance out the texture from the net of her hat, and the graffiti in the background. By placing these three elements in a sort of triangle, I added a compositional frame to the closeup shot.

bits of props work too copyright Aloha Lavina

Bits of props can work, too. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Introducing props into your closeup portraits can help you add impact to your photos. With a bit of imagination and simple compositional techniques, props can make your portraits pop!

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

You might also like:
Light is the Thing
10 Cliches a Photographer Can Believe
Making Expressive Portraits
Concept is Everything
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good light copyright Aloha Lavina

Light is the Thing

Make sizzling portraits tip # 4: Make a portrait in good light.

Portraits resonate more with a photography audience because people seem to prefer looking at photos of people, and also because most people alive these days are visual learners. That means we prefer to see things to make sense of them.

A long time ago, when radio was the most common mode of entertainment, most people preferred to learn by listening. Now with more than half a century of television, the advent of the internet and our ability to produce multimedia, we’ve reached an age of visual references. But with this new profile of the average audience member, photographers also have a new challenge. With the countless choices to look at or watch online, the photograph has to really stand out for it to be noticed.

We could start with content, by making a portrait that has interesting elements.

But content will only go so far; after all, there are sites online which trap attention by titillating their audience. What the photographer needs is great content and fantastic light.

great light copyright Aloha Lavina

Good light helps your photo create impact. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Light is still the thing when it comes to photography. Without dramatic lighting, a photograph doesn’t achieve as much impact.

Here are five tips for achieving great lighting in a photograph without it costing too much.

1. Shoot at the right time.

Sunlight remains the most beautiful lighting a photographer can get, and it’s free! Scheduling a shoot in the early morning or the late afternoon can do wonders for your portraits.

good light copyright Aloha Lavina

Shoot at the right time to get good lighting. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

2. Use a reflector to fill in shadows.

I’ve talked about how side-lighting makes a portrait dynamic. But at the times of day when the light is best, it also has intensity in one direction, and positioning the subject so he or she is lit from one side produces strong shadows on the other side. Placing a reflector in the shadow side can fill in these shadows and bring out detail.

3. Control the light indoors using a window.

Indoor portraits are great because you can do these any time during the day. Even though the sunlight has become harsh in the later part of the morning, during midday or the early afternoon, you can control window light by positioning your model at the right spot near a window. If you really feel that the light is still too contrasty and the shadows are too deep, you can diffuse the light simply by covering the window with a white sheet. This in effect makes the window into a huge softbox, softening the light and the shadows on your subject.

portrait at sunset copyright Aloha Lavina

A window can help you control light. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

4. Control the light outdoors using a shelter overhead.

When shooting outdoors, especially when the soft light of early morning has been replaced by the harsh light of midday, you can still shoot some amazing portraits. Looking for something that you can use to shelter the model—a roof, a tree or awning. You can even use a hoodie or a hat. As long as the model’s face is in the shade and you are in the light, what you will get is a shooting situation where you can control the light on your subject. (You can even act as a reflector by wearing white to the shoot.)

5. Learn how direction and intensity affect your images.

With a lot of practice, you too can spot good lighting for a portrait by paying attention to direction and intensity, and how these affect your photos. Starting with the basic lighting situations, you can then move on to experimenting with tough lighting, such as high-contrast lighting and backlighting.

Light still reigns as the most important ingredient in a portrait. Without good lighting, a portrait is just a photograph of a person. Using the right lighting, you can make a beautiful photograph that stands out.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

You might also like:
10 Cliches a Photographer Can Believe
Making Expressive Portraits
Concept is Everything
Using Location to Make Your Portraits Sizzle

10 Things a Photog Can Learn from Golfers
Be a Photographer, Not a Lens Changer

conceptual portrait copyright Aloha Lavina

Find the Model Beneath the Makeup

Make Sizzling Portraits Tip # 3: Seven Ways to Find Your Model Beneath the Makeup

I love makeup. Working with a great makeup artist makes our job easier—less retouching if they are skillful with the face, and if they are good at conceptualizing, you’ve got instant inspiration just in the makeup itself.

But as the photographer, what you do and how you do it results in the final image. Yes, the makeup artist begins the creative process, but you put the finishing touches on it when you create that shot.

At times, makeup also gets in the way of a portrait photographer’s important skill: the skill of directing a model. Here are seven secrets to honing your skill in directing models.

1. Get to know your model before the shoot.

Spending some time talking to your model before a shoot is the best way to get to know them, and for them to get to know you. If a model is comfortable with the photographer, he or she will relax and be easier to direct. Inviting a model to a planning meeting with the rest of the team is an ideal situation, but if you’re not able to get everyone together before the shoot, spend time just before you begin to shoot in casual conversation. This small and simple act will go a long way in ensuring that you will work reasonably well together.

2. Be specific in your directions.

Communicating clearly and succinctly helps you to get the shots you need. Make sure you know what images you’re after, so that you already have a list of directions you will be using to get those shots. If the model is new to modeling, make sure you remind them gently to find the light, to smile or not smile, or even to close their mouth or not show teeth. During the shoot, there is no way the model can get instant feedback about what they look like, so it’s up to you the photographer to give them the necessary feedback to get a good pose or expression.

conceptual portrait reflection makeup copyright Aloha Lavina

Copyright Aloha Lavina.

3. Use the LCD screen.

Spend time in between shots to show the model some of the shots using your LCD screen. This is a great way to give feedback, and saves time because from the poses or expressions on the images you show, the model will be able to adjust.

4. Be positive.

Keeping your tone and words positive and encouraging also goes a long way to coax a good performance from a model. People learn faster when they are relaxed, so if you keep your model relaxed, you can get magic out of their poses and expressions. Using encouraging words and smiles work better than harsh, negative comments. You can keep your model confident by keeping them upbeat, and that confidence will translate to beautiful portraits.

conceptual portrait copyright Aloha Lavina

Copyright Aloha Lavina.

5. Involve your model in the creative process.

Everyone can learn from everyone else. If you believe this, you also know that models, especially experienced models, can add to the creativity of a shoot. Asking a model what they think can result in added value to your images. If they respond to this invitation, you may get performance that you would not get otherwise if you just treat the model like a mannequin who happens to breathe. Being valued for ideas can go a long way when you are trying to produce a creative performance from someone.

6. Know when to speak, and when to be silent.

If your model is new to modeling, chances are they will really appreciate you talking to them throughout the shoot. Sometimes, even short phrases like “That’s it” or  a comment like “That’s beautiful, hold it” can help a model realize a pose or expression you need for a shot. Remember that you are their mirror while you’re shooting, so be helpful in your commentary toward reaching the creative goal.

Sometimes, though, magic happens and everyone gets into a flow. When this happens, it’s better to let it happen rather than talk over it. Being in tune with your model’s artistic performance can help you decide whether to speak or be silent, and this knowledge can produce poetry.

conceptual portrait copyright Aloha Lavina

Copyright Aloha Lavina.

7. Be confident.

Confidence is contagious. When the photographer is confident, the team is, too. Keeping yourself confident throughout a shoot—in the way you make decisions about lighting, wardrobe, props, and the other things that ultimately make the images— is something your creative team and model catch on. If the photographer is confident, that makes the model feel more comfortable than if the photographer is fidgeting or visibly anxious over something.

Prepare yourself well before a shoot. Know your concept inside out, and be familiar with the location. Be sure about the results you need and the equipment and settings necessary to achieve them. By taking care of these beforehand, you will be self-assured while you work, and the confidence will infect everyone on the set.

Directing your model is one of the most important skills of a portrait photographer. Practicing these simple guidelines, you can master this crucial skill and create portraits that sizzle.

Up next: Make sizzling portraits using beautiful light, right here on Imagine That!

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

You might also like:
Use Location to Make Your Portraits Sizzle
Concept is Everything
Let the Light Inspire You
All You Need is a Window
See How Easily Your Photos Can Create Impact
Making Expressive Portraits


conceptual portrait copyright Aloha Lavina

Concept is Everything

Make sizzling portraits tip # 1: Concept is everything!

It’s easy to let a beautiful face distract you. It’s easy to be trigger happy, because a photo of a beautiful face is beautiful. Right?

Not always.

The impact of a portrait is independent of its content. Without certain elements, a portrait of a beautiful person may not turn out to be a beautiful portrait that creates an impact. Photos of beautiful people abound on the internet. So how do you make sure your portraits pop out of the crowd?

One of the things you can do is to concentrate on your concept. The concept behind a portrait changes its impact. Here are some sources of concepts that have worked for me and might work for you, too.

1. Create your concept from the model’s personality.

If your model is someone you know or can get to know before the photoshoot, you can build a concept around their personality. This is the most common source of a portrait concept, especially for a portrait that is made for a particular reason, such as a corporate portrait or personal commission. The goal of this kind of portrait is to find the person’s depth and express it in a medium that is two-dimensional.

2. Take your concept from the creative brief.

conceptual portrait from creative brief copyright Aloha Lavina

The concept was 'comfort.' Copyright Aloha Lavina.


Commissions have instructions from the client, usually the sense or feeling that they want from the images. This technique is a little more difficult; oftentimes, the client will tell you about abstract things such as an emotion or another concept. From this abstraction, you have to build a concrete list of things your images might contain, such as poses, specific lighting, props to use. Triggering your creativity from the brief will make sure you’re paying attention to what you need to create through an interpretation that is uniquely your own.

3. Use contrasts.

Many times, you can use contrasts in your portraits. This is a technique used by travel photographers. Old and young. Motion and stillness. Fire and ice. Modern and ancient. Smooth and textured. The list goes on. Challenging yourself to create a conceptual expression of contrasts often stretches your creativity and aids you in discovering its wellspring.

conceptual portrait copyright Aloha Lavina

Motion and stillness. Copyright Aloha Lavina.


4. Use artistic elements.

Building concepts out of artistic elements also works. Colors, geometry, scale, balance, values of light—these are some of the sources of concepts that visual artists have used. While using one of these elements, you’d be surprised at how creative you can be in using a simple element to inspire images.

5.   Use an idea that’s already out there, and give it your own twist.

conceptual portrait copyright Aloha Lavina

Gluttony. Copyright Aloha Lavina.


Ideas are plentiful around us, and they are the source of a lot of stories and paintings and music. Taking an ‘old’ idea and trying to re-interpret it is a technique that artists have used for as long as they’ve been making art. The challenge is to take that well-worn idea and make of it an image that’s stunning in its novelty.

Concepts are where the uniqueness of your images begins. By taking these simple sparks, you can fuel some creativity, and get started on making some portraits that sizzle!

What concepts are you shooting this week?

Up next: Make sizzling portraits by letting location inspire you, right here on Imagine That!

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

You might also like:
Let the Light Inspire You
All You Need is a Window
See How Easily Your Photos Can Create Impact
Making Expressive Portraits



high key portrait beauty a beautiful overexposed photo

See How Easily Your Photos Can Create Impact

A peculiar vocabulary exists that photographers use to describe photos. “Moody,” “bright and happy,” “cheerful,” and once, I even saw “brooding.”

That the vocabulary exists means that there’s a certain feeling we get from an image. Looking at some of the words we use to talk about imagery we look at suggests that maybe there is something we can do while we’re making images that creates the emotional effect in our audience. If we can do this, we achieve what we always want every time we click that shutter: to create a memorable, impactful image.

Creating an impact with your image begins with the concept you’re after. Rules aside, what do you want your image to make us feel? Often, the conceptualization is where you can distinguish your images from someone else’s.

I’ve written before about creating impact with decisions about color, or by design and composition, or using shadows and light. I’ve also mentioned what I call subjective exposure—an exposure that is made because that’s how I feel rather than following a technical process for getting a correct exposure.

Subjective exposures can be creative, and they involve the heart rather than the head.

If I want to give you a sense of winter in a shot, I’ll use Auto white balance since it produces images that are less warm than say, Cloudy white balance. Then, I might overexpose a lot using exposure compensation in Aperture mode. This is a simple way of creating a high key image, an image that is overexposed but artfully so.

high key portrait beauty a beautiful overexposed photo

Overexposure can work in a photo. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Some people will say this is bad because you lose a lot of detail in the shot. But what if that was the effect you wanted? What if you wanted beauty to float in a cloud of nothingness?

Similarly, you could underexpose the heck out of an image for effect.

The Balinese make offerings to spirits daily. For those of us who are not Balinese nor scholars of their culture, seeing the intimate act of communing with spirits that live amongst the trees and flowers of Bali feels like a sort of intrusion. But the Balinese make their offerings because they believe it is part of the balance of life. They really don’t mind the photographer with the telephoto lens, especially if you are far away.

undexposed photo of woman in Bali making offering

Mood is created with exposure in this image. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

I underexposed the photo to give it the mystery I felt while documenting the offering this woman was making to the spirits. The underexposure cut out the distracting background, and it also accentuated the light that fell on her face as she prayed.

Sometimes, when you let go of the rules that tell you what a good exposure is, you discover something about making images that create impact. You might make photos that don’t look like everyone else’s.

Now, wouldn’t that be something.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

You might also like:
Making Expressive Portraits
Five Variations on a Theme: Shooting Silhouettes
10 Things a Photog Can Learn from Golfers
Be a Photographer, Not a Lens Changer
Cut the CRAP–Just Take Pictures

prayer beads Buddhist Burma hands old hands

Making Expressive Portraits

Portraits have been called ‘studies.’ Taking this definition literally would mean that you, the photographer, are a student of human behavior. There’s a lot of truth in that last statement. When you make an image, you’re attempting to freeze the complex and beautiful world of human behavior. Studying and waiting for hunting seeking expressive portraits demands that you are attentive to human nature.

small monk young monk Burma grandmother

Photographers have to study people to make good portaits. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

You look for moments when people express themselves so that you can capture them and tell their stories.

If you’re a portrait photographer, you really have to be in tune with yourself. You have to dig deep to find truths about why you do what you do. Because our minds isolate us from each other without language or an exchange of some kind, the closest you can ever get to knowing what someone else is experiencing is to link it to something you’ve known and experienced.

How do we tell what someone is thinking or feeling? And how do we translate those insights into images?

One of the ways is to focus on outward expressions of inner attitudes—in other words, posture, gesture and interaction.

Hands tell stories.

hands abstraction old hands Burma faceless portrait

Crossing an arm across the body is a sign of protection from a stranger. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

In an old people’s home in Burma, I know my dSLR is a little scary to this old lady. She smiles at me, a little smile that coaxes me to raise the viewfinder to my eye. Then I notice her left arm, crossing over her knees, a gesture that tells me she’s still protecting herself from the stranger with the black machine made of metal and glass.

Outside, a man clutches his prayer beads, and he’s hanging on to something precious to him.

prayer beads Buddhist Burma hands old hands

We hold on tight to what's important to us. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

We surround ourselves with things that are important to us. This young weaver in Rangoon hung a picture of her favorite famous person beside her loom. When she looks up, sometimes, the photo might catch the light from the window behind her and cheer her up. To her left is a mirror, for when she thinks to look, instead, at herself.

weaver Burma silk weaving black and white

We surround ourselves with objects that comfort us. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

At a market, a man chooses a mirror. He looks at himself in one, unaware that he’s also reflected in all the others.

mirrors Burma Burmese man

Notice people who don't notice your camera. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

The best travel portraits are the natural ones, not posed, of people who are in their own bubbles of thought, oblivious to the photographer. These are the portraits that teach us the most how to create a picture from a canvas we can’t plan out by sketching all the elements first.

The challenge is in recognizing the moment when we finally find it.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

You might also like:
Five Variations on a Theme: Shooting Silhouettes
10 Things a Photog Can Learn from Golfers
Be a Photographer, Not a Lens Changer
Cut the CRAP–Just Take Pictures
Going to Burma