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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.
After I scout a location and start to previsualize some ideas or think of some images that I want to create in that context, the next step is to think about what gear do I want to bring? One of the ways I like to think about gear is that your lenses have different personalities. And so kind of going through the lenses that I thought about working with first was a wide-angle lens. I love wide-angle lenses whenever you have lines or arcs or shapes. I just think there is something intriguing about that and kind of opening up the perspective, having that wider perspectivee, can kind of draw you in. Now this lens is risky when photographing people.
This is a 16-35 millimeter lens, because it there is going to be distortion when you're shooting at anything really less than 35. And you don't typically want distortion. Yet if you place a person near the subject or the center of the frame there is going to be less distortion there. So I'm kind of taking about that saying, this is risky, but it's a risk I want to take, because this len's personality, it just loves those wide-open spaces when there are leading lines. Another lens I wanted to use was a 50 millimeter, a normal perspective. And there is something that's kind of exquisite about that normal perspective.
It's kind of how your eye sees, except that it blocks other things out of the frame. And that normal perspective, I think if you do it right and there are people who do it who really inspire me, somehow it can make the normal interesting or intriguing. Because you're not relying on something that's exaggerated like a wide-angle lens or something that has compression, maybe more like a zoom lens. It has that normal perspective. It's almost an honest lens in the sense. Another lens I want to work with was 85 millimeter and I love that one for portraits, because it just create this distinct look, the way people look at it.
A larger zoom compresses things. It brings it closer together so the bridge will appear as if it's closer to Jared, closer to the subject. I also like using this lens, because I'm able to use a really shallow depth of field, where I could have his eyes and focus and then just a hint of the arc of the towers of the bridge in the background. So that the Brooklyn Bridge doesn't become overstated. And that's essential, right? Because you want to tell the story, but you don't want to tell too much of the story. And I feel like this lens does a great job at that,. It helps me get close I can shoot without being too far away, maybe an arm or two arms length away or further back, but it helps me minimize the background.
It reduces and simplifies in a distinct way. Another camera I want to bring was a Hasselblad. With this camera I'm using triax black- and-white film and for me it's just an essential in a location like this. When I think of New York photography, like the classic iconic photography, what comes to mind are those strong black-and-white images. And the Brooklyn Bridge is such an iconic structure and Jared is such a fascinating person. He has this charisma, this strength about him, and I want to try to capture a bit of that. I also really like that square format.
Jared and I were talking about that while we were shooting. One of things that I said is that the rectangular format, let's say of these camera bodies, it's kind of like a major scale and you can play it well, but that square format it's like a minor scale. And if you play a minor scale well, it's just adds that intrigue. It's like there is something different. There is some kind of different resolution. It connects with your soul. It's like that jazz song that's not quite resolved, but it is and it just draws you in and in. So I like to think of that camera and that lens as the combination that does that for me.
It also really slows me down. What's fascinating when you shoot with say like the Canon 5D Mark II, you shoot a lot. You push the button frequently and you shoot it and then you see something instantly, versus the Hasselblad. You crank, you look, you push the button and after you do that everything goes black. You don't see anything. So you're actually looking into blackness. And for me it's almost like poetry where there is a line and then a line break. And that line break is like? There is something beautiful about it then you look up and you see the world again, you crank it again and look through it a second time.
And so again each of these cameras have different, in a sense, personalities or perspectives and what I want to do with photography is I want to use gear in a way that helps me tell more of what I feel and what I see. And so therefore I'm going to choose gear not because a lens is supposedly great, because it's reviewed well or something, but because it really taps into a particular way to tell a particular story.
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