Portrait – scale and setting

This is the first exercise for the module People and Place is part of the ‘People Aware’ project.

I was tasked with taking a series of four portraits. The series of photographs required me to concentrate on the setting, composition and to the amount of attention to place on the face. The four shots were to be:-

  • Face, cropped in close
  • Head and shoulders
  • Torso, taking in to account the hands and arms
  • Full figure

My first challenge here was to find a suitable model, someone who is confident in front of the camera and happy to take direction. I know plenty of people who say they are happy in fornt of the camera but when it comes to it the shots end up with them looking uncomfortable. This is also reflective of my lack of experience in directing them. Fortunately I found the right person and started the exercise by deciding that I would shoot him at his condo in a relaxed format. The idea was that with him in his vest and shorts and with palm trees behind him it would look as though he were on holiday whereas he is actually living here and behind him in the last shot is his condominium.

Below are the four shots I took and I will comment on them individually and than collectively at the end. Please click on an image for a larger resolution version.

Face, close crop. ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/40, 55mm

This photo was taken with a small depth of focus as I wanted to deliberately focus on the subject’s eye. I like the shot although the ridge of the nose is blown out. However, I don’t think this detracts from the overall effect too much. I have zoomed in to get this shot rather than move in close with a wide-angle lens so that the facial features remain in proportion. This was important for the continuity of the next shots in the series. I think the viewer will be drawn to the focussed eye immediately as it fills a good percentage of the frame, then they will explore the rest of the image from that point. This image offers nothing about the surroundings other than it is outside and quite bright. It tells the viewer that the subject has some stubble and is possibly in thought about something as he looks away from the camera.

Head and shoulders. ISO 400, f/8, 1/100, 55mm

I closed down the aperture a bit more in this shot to ensure the eyes were still focussed but that the background was out of focus. I think the viewer will still be drawn to the eyes but won’t linger there as long as there is more information on offer from the subject. Still looking away fromt he camera, the viewer realises that the subject’s attire is very casual with a vest and necklace and there are palm trees in the background. His stubble now seems to fit with the setting a bit more.

Torso, with arms and hands. ISO 400, f/5.6, 1/250, 35mm

I closed down the aperture again here to try and keep the background out of focus. It starts to become obvious that I am shooting ‘up’ at the subject, which is a fairly unusual angle, but necessary for the final shot to work and to keep continuity in the series. Now the viewer can also see a tattoo on the left arm. The arms are folded and hands hidden. Folded arms traditionally tell the viewer that there is a barrier, that the subject is being guarded against something but I don’t think facial expression tells that story. I think in this case the subject (to me) almost gives the impression they are waiting for something, which is what he is watching for. Possibly a little bored? The viewer’s eye is drawn again to the face due to the positioning of the face in frame. I think there is much less attention on the eyes and face here as the body language is quite strong. The background starts to show signs of building instead of just palm trees.

Full figure. ISO 400, f/4.5, 1/400, 18mm

The final ‘full figure’ shot reveals that he is standing on a stepping stone in front of the apartments he lives in (although the viewer may well think this is a hotel or similar). In retrospect, I think I should have increased the depth of focus here to ensure good focus but I have kept the aperture quite wide. As I have tried to keep continuity with the way the subject is posed I think the viewer will first look at the subject (not necessarily to the face or eyes though) and then very quickly start to take in the environment around the subject. The pose itself is quite standard with arms crossed and feet shoulder width apart. Although in the previous shots it has looked perfectly normal it now looks slightly odd in the environment, which I quite like. The idea with this photo was to try and slightly surprise the viewer, as there has been no hint that the subject is standing in the middle of a paddling pool up to this point. It may make them ask the question ‘why’? The blue pool adds a good counter colour to the green of the trees.

Overall I’m quite pleased with the outcome of the portraits. It is not something I’m currently that comfortable with doing and so need more practise. Fortunately my subject was very easy going which made the shoot quite easy and the results pleasing.

Interestingly I also took all these shots with the subject smiling in them too. I found though, that as he wasn’t looking at the camera, it didn’t work. He looked like he had just seen something funny happening out of frame. So I went with the more serious expression. Had I chosen the smiling shots it would have told a whole different story.

My thanks to Gary Batchelor for modelling for me (www.garybatchelor.com).

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2 thoughts on “Portrait – scale and setting

  1. Really great shots, how lucky to have a relaxed model to work with, I would have been scared stiff lol. Yes, I was attracted to his eye in the first shot before I scrolled down to see what you had actually written so well done there. Keep up the good work and it looks far better weather there, than here :-(

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