Exercise: Review A Portrait Sequence
Set p a portrait session in a formal, structured way, so that you have a consistent setting and framing. Plan to take a considerable number of images in order to explore all the possibilities and fine nuances of expression – at least 20. The essential element is that you concentrate fully on the person’s varying expression, gesture and pose, assessing it from frame to frame in order to select what you consider to be the best of the sequence.
Immediately after the session, write down as well as you remember the frame by frame progress of your subject’s expression, noting which you felt at the time ere the best. At what point did you decide that it was time to stop shooting, and why?
Next, in your computer software, review the images a second time and rate them as follows: a) not good, b) acceptable, c) good, d) best single shot, according to your judgement. Note how this later review differed, if at all, from the way you saw it at the time of shooting.
I’ve found getting subjects to pose for these exercises difficult and therefore I’ve made the most of what shoots I’ve managed to organise and use them for several exercises. The final images will have a similar appearance to each other as they were done during the same session whilst the subject participated in the same activity; never-the-less the lessons learnt are still valid for each exercise, it just meant that I had to be aware of the various requirements of each exercise as I progressed through the shoot.
The sequence of images I’ve made for this exercise have also been used to produce the work for the ‘Project: Activity, Exercise: An Active Portrait’, where y friend Bob was playing a game of cards with me. During the one and a half hours we played I managed to shoot off 113 frames, which certainly meets the criteria ‘Plan to take a considerable number of images in order to explore all the possibilities and fine nuances of expression – at least 20.’ To write notes about each frame immediately after the session was reduced to commenting on the beginning, middle and end, and the memorable individual images.
Bob is one of those people who isn’t rabidly against his picture being taken, but at the same time he isn’t entirely comfortable with it either and the twenty or so weren’t showing a particularly attractive expression for a portrait. After that point he became less aware of the camera and the images began to show changes in expression, posture and gesture. There were about 6 memorable images during the shoot where I thought I’d managed to capture something memorable. The final 15 – 20 minutes of our get-together, when we were just talking in general and packing up, became less animated in terms of expression and gesture, although they didn’t seem as stoic as the first twenty or so.
My later review on the computer revealed what I’d suspected about the period sequences, pose, expression and gesture, but the best images turned out to be slightly different only in-as-much as I chose an image slightly further along than the one I’d originally suspected might be the one; why? It just had a slightly different expression and spoke more to me than the original.
The images I’d remembered directly after the shoot as being the ones to look for turned out to be 4 out of 6, and I found a further 4 that didn’t appear to be good in the in-camera review; this I put down to the fact that the screen on the camera is too small to really show clear enough detail to make good decision, another reason not to edit in-camera. The 2 images I discarded from my recollections were scrapped because the movement blur within them was greater than I would consider acceptable for a portrait, fine for scrapbook image but unacceptable as a wall-hanger.
My final choice for this exercise was:
Why this one? To me it shows Bob as he looks most of the time, it has some action in it which gives the image motion and interest and finally the highlights in his glasses and on his head make it less flat than the others. I’m not entirely satisfied that this is the best image I could create simply because I’m using only the light that was available and to get a fast enough shutter speed to slow down the action to acceptable blur levels it meant using ISO 3200 which means noise. In the other images I’ve used from the series I’ve noticed that although I’ve managed to reduce the noise it’s still evident on-screen in full screen, but luckily not on prints, which turn out very acceptable.
It’s quite amazing the number of different positions, gestures and facial expressions a person makes when sat for a long period and this has led me to realise that perhaps one of the best ways to get good portraits is to have sessions like these so that the subject can relax and become used to the camera and the event. If on the other hand the subject wants a more formal approach and pose then a different technique will be required to get them to relax and forget the camera, as I think it’s that which will make the difference between an alright image and a really good one.