Tag Archives: portraiture

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.

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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.

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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.

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Let Shadows Speak

Dynamic lighting in a photo begins with direction and quality of light, but it doesn’t stop there. Part of the effect in dynamic lighting is where the shadows fall. You know that rule in physics that says ‘for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction’? This tension also works in photographic lighting, except that we could rewrite the rule as ‘for every light there is an equal and opposite shadow.’

So controlling the light means controlling the shadows. This effect can create lighting that is dynamic, three dimensional, and eye catching.

We can learn basic lighting conditions, whether in a natural setting like in travel photography, or in a more controlled setting like when using strobes or window light. To add to this wonderful skill is the ability to read the stories that shadows tell.

Telling stories with shadows is a great way to learn dynamic lighting. When we can learn to see where the light falls, how much it falls off and in which direction, we can start designing images that tell stories.

Where you stand to take a photo affects where light and shadow fall in the final image.

The photo of the two people was lit using ambient light, light from broken walls and holes in the ceiling of an abandoned mansion. There was light coming from above both the woman and the man, and the shadows falling around them framed the shot. If I had moved a little to the left, two things would have happened: the man would have been out of the line of sight of the 50mm lens I was using, and the woman would have had less shadow on camera left. Positioning the camera where it was, I was seeing the way the shadows would frame the scene. Moving around is one way of controlling the direction and amount of shadow in a photo.

Pools of light and pools of shadow create drama in this image.

Another vantage point that was deliberate was in the next photo where the model is below the camera; I was standing on a ledge in another broken building. The light was coming from camera left, through a broken wall. The harsh midday light created deep, dark shadows around and beside the model, making shadows on the wall, and forming pools of shadow around the path she walked. The mystery created by the shadows gives the photo a story telling quality I would not have achieved if I had the whole scene lit up.

Paying attention to shapes created by shadow can make a shot dramatic.

Lighting a scene, we know, doesn’t need to be complicated. In this shot of some Indian fashion, I only had a high window to work with, and a distant doorway some 300 meters behind the model. I found a place where the window light would directly shine on her face and side. Having done this, I also saw that the curvy geometric shapes and their shadows in the image complemented the pose and dress of the model, so I played up the shadows by underexposing the background and using a small aperture. The slower shutter speed gave me a sharper take on the dress plus created a three dimensional image. Controlling the settings to augment shadows in a shot is another way of allowing shadows to tell part of the story.

Telling a story with a photo doesn’t just depend on where light illuminates and what it illuminates. Where the shadows fall also speak stories.

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.

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The Girl with the Polka Dots

Light it! Shoot it! Process it! Welcome to our second installation of the 3inOne Workshop© series.

I had always wanted to do a shoot with a car, but not just any car. A car with a classic beauty. So when the owner of a 1959 Mercedes Benz agreed to let us use his car in a photoshoot, I designed a shoot called “Classic Beauty” and headed out to the man’s apartment building parking lot to make some images.

I wanted to shoot classics, so we used polka dots, strings of pearls, long gloves. The model was the perfect beauty for this shoot. Nook, a Swedish-Thai model, is statuesque and models H to T or “head to toe” in Tyra Banks‘ lingo. She can lower her eyelids just a tad and give you the most arrogant, sexy look one moment, and then soften her whole face the next.

On photoshoots, I always bring portable flash guns. In this case the shoot started at around 11 am after makeup. It was cloudy; this shot was taken in the rainy season in Bangkok when the clouds are thick and gray. I decided then to use only natural light with a couple of reflectors to enhance it and control where it was most intense.

The girl in the polka dots is actually Nook Wiwanno, a Swedish-Thai model based in Bangkok.

This particular shot was taken inside the driver’s side of the Merc with the door open. I had one assistant hold a large six-feet by four-feet reflector with the silver side toward the model. This reflector was position outside the windshield, angled at 45 degrees. This created the side lighting that gives us a three-dimensional effect in the image. The subtle highlights on the model’s arm is from the same source as the more pronounced highlight on the steering wheel.

This shot used two reflectors, much like a main light and a fill light.

I also placed a smaller 60-inch reflector with the silver side up, below camera, on the model’s lap. This light was to fill in the shadows on her face, and to give emphasis to her lips, the subject of the photo.

I used a very shallow depth of field, f/2.8, to give the shot a dreamy quality. I also shot it from slightly above, so that the subject of the shot (those lips!) would be framed by the model’s hands and the polka dot hat she wore.

Lastly, the light on the hat is from above, and that’s the sun diffused by the clouds on this rainy day.

So there you have it, an image shot with natural light.

Stay head on over our next 3inOne © post, which is a detailed, illustrated tutorial on how to process a fashion portrait using Adobe Photoshop.

I’ll be happy to answer questions you post in the comments.

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.

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10 Online Resources for Photography Enthusiasts

So you got yourself a brand spanking new DSLR. What do you do now?

Many photo enthusiasts who get their first upgrade from the “point and shoot” into the world of digital single lens reflex cameras, or DSLRs, often opt to shoot in Program mode, the mode that allows the sophisticated camera to make all the decisions and produce what it computes to be the best image given the circumstances.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Why relegate all the fun decisions you could make to your camera? Isn’t the camera a tool? You might ask, where do I start? How do I start making great photos with this nifty new camera?

There are so many resources you could use to speed up your growth as a photo enthusiast, and a great number of these resources are free. Here are some things to do with free online resources that will help you get your photography where you want it to be, and say goodbye to the Program mode!

1. Know your equipment, and maximize use.

Your DSLR kit comes with a manual. Read it, and try out the different functions. If you want summaries from other photographers about what your camera can do, Phot.net has excellent information about a wide range of camera equipment. People who belong to this forum are usually very helpful. If you’ve got a specific question, participate in the online forum. Meet new photography friends, and gain a whole world of information at your fingertips.

2. Learn about the exposure triangle.

Exposure is the result of how much light reflects back from the subject into your lens, and is recorded as an image by your camera. How to properly expose

A photo shot in Manual mode. (C) Aloha Lavina.

an image is crucial to learn because it also gives you the dynamic range of your photograph—this is the gradation of light from the whitest part of the photo (the most reflected light) to the darkest part of the photo (the least light reflected), and everything in between. The more detail you have in your photo, the better your exposure. You can learn about how to make good exposures at this excellent discussion at Digital Photography School, one of my favorite resources online. They even have a newsletter you can subscribe to for free, that you get in your mailbox weekly.

3. Learn composition, and make art.

Composition is what makes a photograph attractive or unique. Centuries of art have taught us what the human brain is attracted to in a visual sense, so there are some simple “rules” you can learn to get you started in making some compelling images.

Good composition can be learned, so why not learn right away how to make your images distinct and stylish? A great place to read a lot about composition is photoinf.com.

4. Learn about white balance and control color.

White balance is the way the camera records color, depending on the temperature of the light that it captures. If the light is “cool” it has a bluish tinge, and the camera records that. If the light is “warmer” it has more yellow in it, so the people might come out with a yellowish cast over them. Digital Photography School has a concise primer on white balance, and some other suggested information below the article. It pays to learn about white balance, to control the color in your shots, and to get “true” skin tones for the people in your images.

Most cameras have white balance pre-settings, and your manual can tell you which icon means which white balance. Learn about white balance, and you avoid photos that have blue people or yellow people in them. Unless you are photographing Smurfs or Mr. Smileys, that is.

5. Know your camera’s “modes.”

DSLRs come with modes that are ways you can tell the camera the circumstances you are shooting in, and help the camera’s computer make decisions for the best shot you could possibly get. Some modes include portrait, nightshot, or sport. In portrait mode, a camera tries to isolate the subject by blurring the background, giving the portrait a soft, creamy look. Nightshot mode tells the camera to open the lens opening (called the “aperture”) and let more light in to record the dark scene. Sport speeds up the shutter, so that motion can be frozen and not blurry. There are other modes you can use on most DSLRs, and there is a great resource with photos at Photonhead that can help you get acquainted with your camera’s modes.

6. Get started on some photo projects.

A recent photo project I had was to try to light and photograph "stuff." I learned a lot about lighting in this project.

Photo projects can get your creativity flowing, and there are a lot of sites out there that help you to focus your creativity and learn as you complete your project. Everyone knows Flickr, of course, where you can join a group and shoot specific subjects, have great discussions with like minded hobbyists, and be inspired by the thousands of photos uploaded every minute.

A great resource is this article by a Flickr member titled “7 Photo Projects to Jumpstart Your Creativity.”

7. Photoshop is your friend.

There are “purists” who say that using Photoshop or other processing software on your digital images ruin the integrity of the photographs and so makes it no longer “photography.” These folks have their point of view, and we should respect that.

But the 21st Century is the digital age, and eschewing Photoshop when we are capturing digital photographs seems to be limiting when Photoshop can help us create images that are unique and beautiful. How much post-processing you do on your images is entirely up to you. You can go crazy or you can do what great makeup artists do—make a lot of makeup look like none at all. It’s up to you.

If you’re like a lot of new photographers, who want to use software to enhance their digital photographs, there are some basic tutorials to start the fun at Mashable.

8. Flash is also your friend.

Most semi-pro and entry level camera bodies include a pop-up flash. Pressing a button on the side of the pop up unit releases it and gives you instant source of light in very dark or very glary conditions.

It can be confusing to learn how to decide when to use flash, but the rule of thumb is that you “fill” the areas that are dark in your photo with the flash’s burst of light. The amount of light your flash gives you along with the exposure you want tell you how much flash you need. You can learn the basics of using flash at Brighthub.

9. Take a course.

There are some excellent online places where you can pay for guidance from a professional. Betterphoto.com is one of the sites I have tried, and the course I took from there really helped me get to know exposure. Betterphoto also has courses on many other topics, including an interesting one on composition and creativity.

MatadorU also has an excellent course I would recommend. MatadorU’s photography course is geared toward becoming a travel photographer, but it addresses many of the topics I have mentioned here, in greater detail. The best things about MatadorU is that you get wonderful feedback from your tutor, and you get access to a lifetime of tips on a wide range of topic from equipment to using social media to gain an audience for your work.

Online, there are a few sites that offer basic photography courses. A good place to start is the appropriately named Photographycourses.net.

I travel with my photo club and it is a LOT of fun.

10. Join a camera club.

It’s fun to learn with other people! We learn this in school, and we never seem to outgrow it. Learning with others helps you to maximize your learning and enjoyment, and you gain new friendships this way. There is probably a photo club in your city. Talk to some other enthusiasts, join a forum that is run by a photographer in your city or nearby, and arrange to join some of the photo walks or excursions arranged by the photo club.

Getting started with your new DSLR is not as challenging as you think. These links are just a few resources of the plethora of sites out there. Let’s help to grow our photography community and post more resources in our comments!


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.

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