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In the Narrative Portraiture series, photographer and teacher Chris Orwig explores the use of elements such as location and natural light to create images that tell stories about their subjects and produce a strong emotional connection.
In this installment of the series, Chris shows how to incorporate aspects of a location, such as architecture, natural light, and even passersby, to create authentic, story-filled portraits.
The course begins with a photo shoot on the Brooklyn Bridge. Chris emphasizes the importance of directing and collaborating with a subject and of being responsive to changing lighting and location conditions. After the shoot, Chris discusses the preparation that goes into on-location shoots, from choosing camera gear to storyboarding. Next, he reviews the images from the shoot and mentions the post-processing techniques that he employed to make them more effective. The course also includes several assignments aimed at reinforcing the concepts Chris describes.
The course concludes with an on-location family portrait shoot and a look at the special considerations that go into group shots.
Chris Orwig: What are the ages of the kids? Jared Mason: Uh, 9, 8 and 3. Chris Orwig: Yeah, right there. 9, 8, 3, okay. Chris Orwig: And they are all into music too, right? Jared Mason: Yes. Chris Orwig: They have the -- Jared Mason: Yeah, if they apply themselves, they will be playing circles around me in no time. Chris Orwig: That's great! After you get through the first few images, one of the next things that you want to try to do is to figure out how you can work your way towards the area where you really want to create photographs.
So in this case, I knew we needed to travel across the bridge. Chris Orwig: Yeah. Jared Mason: So, maybe that prompted them, the classical string instruments. Chris Orwig: Yeah. Jared Mason: Warm, mellow, rich instruments. Chris Orwig: I also noticed that Jared had brought this really colorful jacket. And whenever someone brings something to a shoot, you jump on it. You take advantage of it. Because the best portrait shoots I believe are collaboration between the photographer and the subject.
That's why two photographers will photograph the same person and they will come up with completely different results. And so here Jared had this jacket. I didn't know what to do with it. I couldn't set it down. So I said, hey, can I try it on and notice we are about the same size and I am kind of trying to connect with him, talking about the jacket, we were having a bit of fun. I'm also trying to think about how does this jacket fit into this context? While it's interesting, it's too colorful for the images that I want to create.
I am trying to create a photograph on the Brooklyn Bridge that is iconic, authentic, that's strong. And whenever you take photographs or make photographs in situations where they are these really strong locations that have been photographed a thousand times, what you want to do of course is not copy what someone else has done. You don't want to make trite photographs. You want to make photos that somehow contribute to the already existing large body of photography for that spot and that's what I wanted to do.
And I knew that the jacket didn't fit in, and again the whole time I'm trying to think about what type of images do I want to make, how can I work with this context, how can we collaborate? Because good portraits aren't the result of just the photographer, rather it's two people together. It's what the subject brings, what the photographer brings and what happens in that moment. Jared Mason: With the family or-- Jared Mason: It's crazy but I was walking? Chris Orwig: Yeah? Jared Mason: Kind of looking around, going wow, look at this.
Someone notified me that I was walking from that wrong side. Chris Orwig: Oh, yeah, yeah! Jared Mason: That I am used to, you know, you want to stay right usually. Chris Orwig: Right, right. Now, on our way to the area of the bridge where it was well lit, there was a construction zone. I wanted to take advantage of that. A lot of times you can get so focused on where you need to go, you forget to take advantage of what's right there. What was interesting about that zone is there are metal walls, sometimes there was light bouncing off one wall to another, but either way again, you're making your way through the shoot figuratively and in this case literally down the bridge, working our way towards an area of the bridge which had more light, more interesting architecture and whatnot, to make the photographs that matched the type that I wanted to make, that told the stories that I was interested in telling.
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