Having been given the choice of Crowds, Views, Heads or a subject on your own choosing, I reviewed the options here
Typically I would have selected “views” or “other” as they are a lower risk category that I could work on, on my own and at my own pace. “Views” is still an area that interests me that I will return to. I was also drawn to the “crowds” option but feel that, in order to avoid a set of clichéd images, this merits a longer-term approach. I have a number of ideas about how I would like to capture this that contrast with a typical street approach, but they will take some months for me to capture.
In the end I selected “heads” which is both the area the most outside my comfort zone but also the area in which I am most interested in developing my photographic voice.
In the previous assignment, my tutor feedback included the comment, “ … (a) thorough, more lengthy, approach can result in the kind of work that you could never think of in advance of being there.” With that comment in mind, I have taken great care to research portrait photographers throughout the coursework in part 2 of EYV.
Having picked heads as my subject matter, I decided to present Strong Women of the Matriarchy as my portfolio for this assignment, being all the living women on the matriarchal side of my partner’s family. They range in age from 84 to 16 and most I have not photographed before.
In the course handbook for Assignment 2 we are guided to be “… cropping close around the head to avoid too much variety in the backgrounds.” I hope to have taken that guidance to the extreme by controlling the background, lighting and approach to each portrait as much as I can. Given the restricted brief, I was worried that my approach would result in images that are more technical than creative, and I have certainly had some feedback for the OCA discuss group that underlines that. You can read those responses here.
I believe that the character and personality of each of these strong and independent women is apparent. I am grateful that each of them permitted me to photograph them knowing that every detail would be visible and that there would be no retouching. Some chose make up, some didn’t and this reflects how they wanted to present themselves to me and to the lens.
Technical set up
Having decided on subject matter, I wanted the theme of “collecting” to have a strong presence. I decided to control the background by using a simple dark backdrop and main light source with one or two reflectors when necessary. The main light source was in front of the subject at an angle of about 30-40 degrees to the left and slightly above head height pointing down. This, I believe, is classic Rembrandt lighting which I created using a single flash unit and soft-§box. I also used a single reflector on the right side at a similar angle to avoid too much shadow on the right side of the face again so maximum detail can be revealed.
Drawing upon the exercises in Project 1 in Part 2, “The Distorting Lens”, I knew that I wanted to use a telephoto lens to minimise distortion in the headshots. For this series I used my 56mm lens (85mm equivalent).
At the same time, I knew that I wanted to use a small aperture to maximise depth of field. Mostly I used f 8-11 to create the depth of field I was looking for to reveal details in the portraits. Using a telephoto lens at about 5 feet from the subject is going to limit depth of field, but using the lens near f 11 counters that without introducing diffraction effects into the image. This provides front to back focus of each head revealing every line and blemish, or every trace of makeup applied.
What worked well
From a technical perspective I believe I have delivered a good degree of technical competence. The images are in focus, correctly exposed and without apparent distortion. I have kept to the brief and, unlikely in Assignment 1, I have been consistent with format, colour, framing and composition.
What didn’t work so well
Whilst technically competent, I found the brief quite constraining and so I wonder if my creativity is too limited or worse absent. I wanted to create the sense of a collection but wonder if that has come across. One member of Discuss suggested that the portraits could have been even more “specimen like”, however I did want to present that spirit of family as a collection of people with their inherent humanity and not just inanimate objects. During the exercises in part 2, most of the photographers that I have researched do not use tight headshots. Martin Schoeller does but then his portraits are printed to huge sizes such as 6’ by 4’ so the impact is very different to a small screen based image. Ultimately what didn’t work so well was my own understanding of whether or not I have done enough.
How the series might be improved in the future
In this set of images I had chosen to present them as deadpan. I am now not sure if they are deadpan. I might choose to explore this further. However, along the way with this first series, some of the subjects blinked. The eyes shut images (some can be seen on the contact sheets) look quite different to conventional portraits and I wonder now I should have actively pursued this option. It would have presented a more creative interpretation of the brief whilst sticking to the constraints of that brief though at this stage I am not sure how I would have explained what this represented.
- Bloomfield, R (2014) Photography 1: Expressing your Vision., OCA 2017, p.53