Shooting portraits outside of a studio can be a real challenge. You don’t always get the conditions you want and when people know that you are planning to shoot a portrait there are high expectations (even more so if you are getting paid). In this case I had the opportunity to shoot Helen who at 96 years young is quite simply an amazing woman who I am proud to have in my family.
For this portrait I knew that I would only have a few minutes and limited options in terms of the setting to shoot it in so I spent some time reviewing the options in my head before I ever got to Helen’s house with a goal of optimizing my chance of success. After thinking about it for a bit I realized my best option was to shoot the portrait in Helen’s sun room. If the weather was good (sunny) the room would be full of light and the interior walls would act as large reflectors to help me evenly light my subject. Instead of posing Helen against a backdrop my plan was to shoot her with her back to the outside world and let the outside world wash out to keep the focus on our subject.
This final image was one of only 20 frames I shot. If you are numbers orientated they are: 1/320th sec, f 2.8, ISO 500 shot with my Canon 6D and EF 70-200 f2.8. In Lightroom I did some very light retouching and converted the image to black and white.
Luck really is (almost) everything when making images outside of the studio. In this case I had a willing subject (look at how her eyes have that perfect squint that let you know she is smiling under her mask), wearing a highly photogenic outfit in front of a background that worked for this composition. For my part I did direct the pastor into the shade (it was full sun and mid-afternoon with very harsh sunlight) and into a position where I could turn a large bush in the middle of parking lot into a dreamy green background by shooting at F2.8 with my EF 70-200mm f/2.8L.
The real luck in this portrait was that my wife said to me, “Hey you should get a picture of the pastor!”
I am a naturally introverted person and I struggle to approach people for portraits when I am shooting in public. Fortunately there are a lot of wonderful people in the world willing to pose if you ask nicely. In the case of Katrina she almost volunteered for me.
Last Saturday while exploring West Virginia my family stopped in Charles Town, WV for a quick tour of the downtown and its shops. When we passed Abolitionist Ale Works and saw they had a sour sampler (4 X 16 oz. cans) to go I had to stop and give it a try (they are excellent by the way in case you were wondering). Katrina took care of my order and then asked me what I was out shooting (it is really hard to hide the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM). That’s when I realized that Katrina would be an excellent subject for my Portraits of the Pandemic series and she very graciously agreed to pose.
A couple of lessons I learned from this experience:
You can get great beer in West Virginia
There are friendly people out there that will help you out if you give them a chance (and ask)
And the 70-200 lens is a model magnet (people seem so much more willing to pose for you if your camera large)
A really good portrait does more than capture a person’s likeness, it also tells you something of their story. Who are they? Are they warm or are they aloof? Have they lived a life of hard labor or a life of leisure? Portraits that tell you a story are more compelling then portraits that are just attempting to show you a person at their best at that one particular point in time.
As a photographer its my goal to make interesting portraits. Sometimes you get really lucky with a subject.
I met Charlie outside of a restaurant (domestic – http://wvdomestic.com/) in Shepherdstown, WV just after lunch. The restaurant’s owner was sitting outside taking a break and I asked him if I could take his picture (that’s another post for another day). He graciously accepted but he also said that I should really be taking pictures of the other gentleman sitting outside, Charlie.
Charlie wanted to have his picture taken. He had a story to tell and he made it easy for me to tell it. As a photographer there is nothing better than having an interesting subject who wants to be photographed and is completely comfortable in front of the camera. In this case Charlie, a now retired photojournalist, loves meeting new people and talking photography and this image tells his story.