Headshots & Portraiture : The Subtle Art of Character


Business Portraiture. There’s a fine line between what is & isn’t acceptable as a professional headshot - especially in the corporate world. One must observe power dynamics within the operational hierarchy, taking great care to ensure that the director is well defined from the workforce. When it comes to small businesses though, a much more creative approach is often the key to differentiating your subject from the pack - albeit subtly.

I’ve learned that there is much more to business portraiture than simply meeting a client & shooting photographs with some nice lighting. As a very creative & philosophical individual, I have to check that my direction meets the need of the client rather than fulfilling some artistic vision that I may have. I strongly believe that headshots & portraiture are entirely dependent on a clients unique personality from the offset. It is my duty to observe how much of this personality should shine through in the finished photographs.


By way of example, I was recently commissioned to make photographs for Heather Thomson, ND; a medical professional & naturopath based in Prestwick, Ayrshire. Heather wanted professional, yet informal, portraits that would convey her character to prospective clients. We met on Prestwick beach, the weather was rather bleak with a storm blowing in from the West. We chatted whilst I shot some nice locational portraits, getting to know each other a bit better before we escaped the storm for the shelter of her clinic where the real work would be done.


Heathers personality was professional, but she is a very funny & warm individual, so I wanted to make photographs that balanced this nicely. I set up some lighting, bouncing a speed light from the rear wall for some fill-light & using a softbox to light Heather, casting a very subtle shadow for a bit of definition. I opted not to pose my subject, instead capturing exposures as we made jokes & discussing things like acupuncture, ‘cupping’ (a traditional Chinese method which sounds a bit strange) & Chi. I made sure to show Heather what I had captured so as to reaffirm any sense of doubt as the session progressed - once we felt that we had captured the best we finished up & headed home.


The most important factor within this particular shoot was the confidence that we shared due to our meeting on the beach. While Heather was able to grow comfortable with me, I was able to determine the characteristics that I felt would benefit her portraits & express her personality to prospective clients across social media & on her website.

I delivered my work within the timeframe that I’d predetermined & Heather was over the moon - no edits!

Visit Heather’s site for more information at;

https://www.heatherthomsonnd.co.uk


Heather_Thomson_Professional_Headshots_Portraiture

How to Photograph Mushrooms : Fine Art Photography

Introduction;

In this blog, I will underline my process for shooting Mycological ‘portraits’. Why use the word portrait?  Maybe it’s because I’ve been fascinated by mushrooms since I was young; but, if you do a little research you’ll find that they in fact share some similarities with humans! As with shooting portraits of people, it’s always a lot of fun to experiment with different lighting techniques when shooting mushrooms; generally they live in dark places so it makes sense from a photographic point of view too.

Given that it’s now Autumn, the time is right to head into your local woodland to discover a world largely unseen. The woods really come to life in the Autumn, with stunning displays of colour, succulent scents & plenty of little scenes for you to explore!

 

1. Choosing your Location;

Though you’ll find mushrooms growing in both deciduous & non-deciduous woodlands, I prefer to explore deciduous locations as there’s often a lot more on offer, a lot more variety & a lot more space to explore. I’ll generally explore woodlands that are close to a river, with steep embankments - this usually means that conditions will be reliably damp & I’ll have plenty of opportunities for shooting/lighting at different angles. 

This False Deathcap (Amanita Citrina) was growing on the edge of an embankment, allowing me to shoot upwards with lighting from above & from the side.

This False Deathcap (Amanita Citrina) was growing on the edge of an embankment, allowing me to shoot upwards with lighting from above & from the side.

2. Choosing a Subject;

Once you’ve explored your location, you’ll want to find a subject that pique’s your interest. Look for interesting formations, colouration, contrasting visual traits or characteristics such as relationships between a group of mushrooms. You’ll want a scene which isn’t too cluttered, so look for subjects that have a clearly defined space within their landscape. Personally, I won’t enhance a scene by moving undergrowth debris etc as I don’t want to affect the ecosystem at all.

I found this wonderful Chanterelle (  Cantharellus Cibarius)   sheltering underneath the remnants of an old Birch; note the uncluttered area around its base & the photobombing insect to the left of the stem!

I found this wonderful Chanterelle (Cantharellus Cibarius) sheltering underneath the remnants of an old Birch; note the uncluttered area around its base & the photobombing insect to the left of the stem!

3. Composing your Scene;

Now that you’ve found your subject, you’ll want to compose your scene. I generally look at my subject from every angle & experiment with perspective until I find a position that really enhances the scene. Once you have your position, look at your foreground/background in relation to your subject; do you want it in focus or do you want it blurred? I like to shoot at larger apertures (lower f-stops) as it allows me to draw attention to my subject. It also has the benefit of creating an attractive blur or Bokeh around the subject. However; sometimes you’ll want everything in focus and a smaller aperture (higher f-stops) will help you to achieve this.

With mushrooms you have the choice of shooting from above for an overhead perspective, full frontal for an ‘eyeline’ perspective or from below for a really intimate & interesting perspective that isn’t usually seem. Each of these different perspectives offer exciting opportunities for lighting, so keep this in mind when finding your camera position.

Note; You’ll want either a lens with a close focusing distance, macro capabilities or a couple of ‘extension tubes’  to really get in about your subject at an intimate level. When shooting intimate scenes at close range or on a macro spectrum, I’ll generally use a lens with a variable focal distance (or zoom) as this allows me to easily pull in/out of a scene & recompose without having to move my tripod in tight situations. 

While hunting around the undergrowth I came upon this juvenile Panther Cap (Amanita Pantherina) surrounded by birch seeds, beautiful autumn leaves & emerald green moss. Note the leading lines caused by the leaf to the right & the fallen Birch log in the background.

While hunting around the undergrowth I came upon this juvenile Panther Cap (Amanita Pantherina) surrounded by birch seeds, beautiful autumn leaves & emerald green moss. Note the leading lines caused by the leaf to the right & the fallen Birch log in the background.

4. Setting Up;

So, you have your subject, you’ve composed your shot & you’re happy with your perspective. Now you’ll need to look at lighting the scene. Firstly, think about the message you’d like to convey. Would you like a brightly lit scene resplendent with vibrant colour? Would you like a moody scene draped in deep shadow? Once I know what I’d like to say with my photograph, I’ll use a video light with variable intensity/temperature controls to find my lighting angles. 

Generally, lighting with harsh, cool temperatures allows me to define where my shadows will fall within my scene. I then use warmer temperatures to fine tune the lighting positions in a much more natural sense. I’ll set up my master flash, using a wireless trigger for off-body shooting & then make test exposures until I’m happy with my main light source. Most of the time, I’ll use a small soft-box or diffuser on my master flash as this softens the light & allows it to ‘wrap’ around my subject.

Once you’ve got your flash in position, you may want to think about a secondary light source or ‘slave’. I generally use a slave to provide a bit of rim-lighting (back light) as this helps to add depth to my subject. I’ll also experiment with coloured flash gels, using the colour wheel to see which colours work well with my subject. Generally, woodland scenes will be of a warmer tone, therefore Blues & Greens tend to work well. It’s purely down to your personal aesthetic though! I like to use a large circular diffuser when backlighting a subject too, as this helps to soften the effect.

By opting to utilise a single light-source from above, I created an a clandestine atmosphere wherein the group of 'shrooms are apparently discussing something you shouldn't know.

By opting to utilise a single light-source from above, I created an a clandestine atmosphere wherein the group of 'shrooms are apparently discussing something you shouldn't know.

5. Exposing your Photograph

When using flash, you’ll want to remove any ambient lighting. To do this, you’ll want to shoot at higher shutter speeds; anything above 1/80th of a second in usually fine in woodland scenarios. Keep an eye on your shutter speed though - depending on your flash system your shutter speed can be too fast for the flash & this will cause a black bar across your image where the physical shutter blocks the light on the cameras sensor. Speeds below 1/200ths of a second without HSS (High Speed Sync) are generally fine. Once I’ve balanced my shutter speed & my aperture, I’ll usually set my ISO to 200/300. This means that I can reduce my exposure without having to change my other settings if need be!

By removing the ambient lighting, I was able to create an attractive colour palette & illuminate my subject - the Fairy Ink Cap (Coprinellus Disseminatus)

By removing the ambient lighting, I was able to create an attractive colour palette & illuminate my subject - the Fairy Ink Cap (Coprinellus Disseminatus)

Conclusion;

I hope that this piece has helped to expand your photographic skillset & inspired you to get out there & explore the macro world that is the woodland undergrowth! Please remember to roam responsibly; leave as you came & respect that you are a visitor to the environment. Happy hunting! 

Go Outside, It’s Good For You!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fine Art Photography : Making 'Beside You in Time'

It was a lonely day on the shore front; the lighting was exceptionally flat & the low-altitude blanket of cloud meant that any hope of decent colour during sunset was null & void. Instead of leaving the beach empty handed however, I opted to change out my wide angle lens for something a bit longer to pick out any smaller details in the landscape. I soon spotted a composition that I liked, a single solitary soul wandering along the beach defined only by their silhouette. At that point, I decided that I'd try something a bit different.

To create the image I had in mind, I had to capture two photographs. One was of the figure striding along the beach at a fast shutter speed of around 1/200th of a second & the other was to be a shot with a longer shutter speed of approximately 1 second, which allowed me enough time to shoot with 'intentional camera movement'. Basically, I had my camera on a tripod, level with the horizon. During the longer exposure, I rotated the head of the tripod so that the scene seemed to smear across the frame.

Once I had the two exposures that I needed, I headed home & fired up Photoshop. I opened the two exposures, placing the shorter exposure on top of the longer. I then used tools such as the selection tool & the eraser to leave only the man and the Arctic Tern (100% as shot) on top of the 'smeared' layer. After some basic colour editing and exposure tweaks, the photograph which you see now was what I was left with. 

The entire process was very simple, yet the final result is very interesting & visually arresting, with the sharp lines capturing your attention & dividing the frame as the figure seemingly moves through it - hounded by the Tern!



Camera Settings;

Short Exposure : 85mm - 1/200' Exposure @ f 1.4, ISO 100
Long Exposure : 85mm -  1' Exposure @ f 11, ISO 100 + Polarising Filter

 

Beside You in Time - framed.jpg

Portrait / Fashion Photography : A poem inspired by my work :)

I recently shared the following photograph on my Facebook page as a bit of an experiment & I was taken by surprise when one of my followers left the wonderful poem below in the comments field. I am honoured that a piece of my work has inspired someone else to create something & that they were compelled to compose a poem based on their experience of my output! 

[The photograph itself was an experimental street fashion shot for Glasgow based fashion label Social Recluse.]
 

'Faceless' 

'Faceless' 

 

"Hint of Light" 

There in the shadows wry,
smile on his lips, the frame
was denied me, disguised
identity, memory digs.

High brow raised eyebrow
gave out no hint, tshirt now
shapeless of the light just
a hint. 

With no greater knowledge
of the shadowy shape I
stepped in the shadows
resigned to my fate. 



Poem Written by Kit Duddy for The Eye of God Photography. You can follow Kit and read more of his wonderful prose in the following link;

 

https://www.facebook.com/kitspoems/
 

Philosophy : Art Versus Education

While it is true that the ready availability of information on the web has catalysed the development of many a keen mind, it has also given rise to a steady decline in articulation across the board. Those whom previously may have fallen by the wayside, due to a distinct lack of quality in their work, have been given a platform by which they can saturate their chosen markets, without the hindrance of personal reflection and/or learning curves. 

As creative professionals, we no longer need to study our chosen subjects in order to develop an unspoken understanding of our field. Instead, if something comes up that we don’t understand, we can open a browser and look it up - or, if we don’t want to make that sort of commitment to our craft, we can simply start a thread on a social media platform and let others do the legwork for us. The same rules also apply to those under a course of study. A subject or technique is briefly discussed before subsequently becoming the go-to until the next is introduced to the individuals (of which there are many).

Though it’s very easy to be cynical in a society which is (increasingly) cut-throat at best, the important thing is to figure out the issues at play and to set about incurring change. Even if it’s only on a personal basis. As creatives trying to develop our skills and to forge a path for ourselves in an increasingly difficult working environment, we must strive towards excellence. In the age of availability, we are told that the hustle is more important than quality of work, and this, is a integral part of the problem we all face.  

We must focus on our artistic integrity, while nurturing our own creative development. We must stoke the fires of productivity in order to compete, yes, but we must also place an unwavering value upon our work without the incessant need for ‘content’ clouding our collective judgement. We must resist crossing the threshold unto falsity in order to meet targets and instead rely upon our skills to get the job done to the highest standard possible at that point in our development. We must never give in to the pressures of the modern age, wherein beautiful works of creative expression are nullified within seconds. 

In order to truly forge a path for ourselves in the modern age we must look at our working environments with a cynical eye. Social media, online profiling, marketing & all of the modernistic tropes are simply tools by which we may solidify our place in the world. Without a well planned and critical approach we are doomed to fall by the wayside, leaving nothing behind to account for our endeavours. No matter what you are trying to do, you must first consider how your output will benefit your growth. Nurture your efforts and allow them to bear fruit. Strive to reduce the dross in which you will become consumed and allow yourself to operate on a level which is both conducive to your own personal targets and to those around you.
 

'Breaking Through'

'Breaking Through'