Fit for purpose

Portraits need to be fit for purpose.

Take this picture. A résumé picture:

I have shot this model clothed, nude, in studios, outdoors, traveling: every picture is different.

A resume picture needs to be professional (the jacket, the hairdo); show beauty in the case of a woman (the overall make-up, the low cut, the eye shadow), but not excessively so; be perhaps a little sexy (the white top) but not overly so (the necklace, the businesslike jacket again). The expression should be friendly but neutral. Yes, some thinking goes into this.

As it should go into every portrait you make. Always ask:

  • What is the photo for.
  • Whom is it for?
  • What are they expecting?
  • What is the person being pictured expecting?
  • What are you expecting?
  • What demands does this put on the photo?
  • What problems need to be solved? What needs to be de-emphasized?
  • What do you want to emphasize?

If you ask yourself these questions, you will come up with answers all by yourself. Answers about clothing, setting, light, expression, and so on.

But if you do not ask, you will not come up with answers; or worse, you will come up with the wrong answers.

For those of you who are interested, after the “more” break, two civilized nudes from the very same shoot as the photo above:

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Interview

I was interviewed this morning by “Frontaal Naakt”, a leading Dutch opinion blog. The editor, Peter Breedveld, will publish the interview in the next days. In the mean time, some of my work is used as illustrations to his other articles:

One of the questions in the interview was about societal acceptance of nudes. Which, as most of my readers know, are among the many things I shoot.

I told him that in North America there is serious resistance to nudity, and that we, um, kind of missed the 1960s here. Does that sound extreme? Not to me. The Netherlands had full frontal male and female nudity on prime time TV by the 1960s and 1970s. Here, this may perhaps happen eventually, but we certainly are not there yet.

That said, young people in North America are much less prone to having body or nudity hangups than older people. In The Netherlands, however, mr Breedveld tells me, it is the other way around. The pendulum swings everywhere, always. Right now, that is encouraging to me here, and discouraging there, because as a child of the 1960s I cannot understand what anyone would have against the human body; and I certainly cannot see how they would wish to impose those views on others. Those views to me seem Victorian—but to each his or her own.

The other subject was “subjects”. Are all my subjects pretty young women?

No. I shoot people of all shapes, walks of life, and ages—but I will only publish them with permission, obviously, so they are less available. But I do love photographing all manner of people: everyone is interesting. You’ll see a few there I expect. “Selfies”, too. Why not? If I say nudes are OK, why should I not want to shoot myself that way? I could not ask my models to do something I would not do myself.

Are nudes sexual? Not usually; not to me; but there is a continuum. From 0% sexual (medical illustrations) to 100% (porn). I like to think I am somewhere in the lower half of that continuum.

Am I an activist? In a way, yes. I would like society to ease up a little bit on the Victorian values, and start realizing that there is nothing wrong with human bodies. Once you realise that, there’s a lot of freedom, and we all like freedom. Right?

Anyway: anyone who likes my nudes can see them on tumblr (my blog name there is mvwphoto). I would say “NSFW”, but I personally believe this is perfectly suitable for work!

 

Sam The Studio Man

When I prepare a tricky shot, I tend to use  stand-in model while I work on light, so the model does not need to stand there for half an hour while I adjust and move lights.

But these stand-in shots are often good, which is why I use them. While preparing to shoot model Danielle, I shot Sam Taylor, who runs the studio I teach in (see www.cameratraining.ca and click on “Schedule”).

I set my exposure for the window: 1/60th sec, f/5.6, 400 ISO. Then I added a strobe with a softbox, and I moved Sam far enough from the window so the strobe would light him up (from 45 degrees above), but would not light up the reflective inside of the window too much. And then I set flash power according to my camera settings. Finally, I did a little desaturating in Lightroom. Result:

Short lighting, great grunge, serious expression, rule of thirds, good balance of background and foreground. A tricky shot, and one I am delighted with.

One of my students remarked on how refreshing it was to see the problem solving process, and to realize that photography is in fact problem solving, yes it is. When I set up a shot, I do not have all the answers, but I see what I want, and I know how to solve problems “step by step” until I get that result.

And sometimes you change your mind. In the final model shot, I could not move the model away from the window, as she sat on the sill. Hence I could not get rid of a shadow cast by the snooted speedlight I ended up using. So then the shot changes entirely: if you cannot beat the shadow, embrace it! To spare those of you who are sensitive, I shall not show you that shot here (it’s a nude),  but if you are interested, click here to go to my tumblr feed.

(By the way: have you considered being photographed this way? if not: consider it. Some beautiful shots of yourself like this are worth making. If you don’t, you may well regret it later in life).

 

Softly softly.

In keeping with yesterday’s post, one more post on lighting humans, and why a”softly softly” approach is good especially in glamour and art nudes photography.

In Sunday’s “The Art of Photographing Nudes” workshop, we shot a lot of the images using available light. Images like this:

Model Kassandra relaxing

In a shot like this, you take a “soft” approach in various ways.

  • You use soft light, especially when shooting females. Available daylight from a north-facing window is good. That is what we used here.
  • You also use bright light, Bright, high-key light makes skin softer and smoother. Everyone likes that.
  • You take an easy approach with the model. Calm, take your time, do not rush and do not over-direct. If a model has an idea of her poses, some light instruction is all you will want to do. Else, the shoot will be less relaxed and your images will suffer.
  • You go easy on explicitness. Keeping things hidden is often a way to make a picture more interesting and more alluring.
  • You go easy on complexity: keep it simple. In nudes especially, the emphasis is on the human body, not on the backgrounds. I like using very simple backgrounds for much work, like the image above.

Those simple tips will help you get the most out of any portrait session. In our next workshop on this subject (which we will do in the next few months, probably in March) we shall do more.