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In the Narrative Portraiture series, photographer and teacher Chris Orwig explores how to use location and natural light to create images that tell stories about their subjects and produce a strong emotional connection.
In this installment, Chris travels to Texas to visit with Keith Carter, a fine art photographer and teacher, and has a conversation with Keith about his work, outlook on art and photography, and suggestion that photographers commit at least two years to a personal project.
The course continues with a pair of portrait shoots. Keith photographs Chris and describes his process and creative decisions along the way. Then the cameras are swapped and Chris creates a portrait of Keith.
Finally, Chris reviews the photography he took, and discusses the gear he used and the lessons he learned while visiting with and photographing Keith.
One of the things that you may have discovered is that after a significant event I really enjoy, spending some time with my journal and writing down my thoughts and ideas. And after having my portrait made by Keith, I did just that. I wrote down some of the lessons that I learned, some of the takeaways that I had. And I want to share few of those with you. One of the first things that I wrote down is that it's really helpful for the subject to provide them with some sort of visual or maybe even historical reference to the type of photographs that you want to make.
And one of the things that happens is as a photographer you have the strong visual idea in your mind, but the subject really doesn't have any clue what that is. And when Keith brought up this historical reference of these early photographs that were less vain, of the subject looking straight into the camera, I got it. I knew what he was going for. Another thing I wrote down was that it's important to vocalize your movements. You know a lot of times photography is problem solving, right? And sometimes when I am working with my camera, I am trying to solve a problem and thus I get really quiet.
Yet what I learned is it's helpful to vocalize those movements, to include the subject in that process. To say to them, I am going to change my camera position this way. I am going to step up on the ladder, try to create this type of image. I am tilting my camera to do this or that, to include them in that problem-solving process. Another note that I have here is that when you are collaborating or directing a subject, that words are really powerful. And some of those words that Keith shared with me were powerful.
He said, "Don't smile. You are fine. Don't worry about it. You can't do anything wrong." Those words put me at ease. They communicate to me that I can just be who I am. And the last note I have here has to do with posing. When you are trying to get to move or change position or to pose, showing is always more powerful than telling. In other words, rather than telling them from a distant how to move or change their look, it's always better to come up close and almost to step into their shoes.
And to assume that posture yourself. It makes it a bit more of a collaboration. While these are some of my lessons that I learned, but yet what's perhaps more important are your lessons. So what I encourage you to do is to take a few minutes to pull out a journal or a scratch piece of paper and write down some of those thoughts, ideas, or a lessons that struck a chord with you. And do that so you can reflect upon them, but also so that you can integrate those ideas into your own workflow.
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