Narrative Portraiture: Foundations of Portraiture
Illustration by John Hersey

Photo review: Composition examples


From:

Narrative Portraiture: Foundations of Portraiture

with Chris Orwig

Video: Photo review: Composition examples

In the next couple of movies we're going to look at two different sets of photographs and discuss how we can work with composition in order to communicate something different. So here in this first movie, we will go ahead and turn off the lights and we are going to look at a slideshow of photographs. Now these photographs are portraits I captured of Shawn Stussy. Shawn is a really fascinating person, an amazing artist. Well I am going to start off by taking a look at him in his studio. So go ahead and take a look at this first image and here you can see him surrounded by some of his tools on a workbench and he is constantly creating.

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Watch the Online Video Course Narrative Portraiture: Foundations of Portraiture
1h 44m Beginner May 27, 2011

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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 first installment, Chris lays the groundwork for the series. The course begins with a discussion of portraiture and the characteristics that make an effective, story-filled portrait. Chris then explains the importance of establishing a connection with a subject and identifying those details that will help tell his or her story. Next, he explores elements such as location, natural lighting, and composition. The course concludes with an exploration of gear: the creative options that various lenses and cameras provide, and techniques for shooting efficiently and unobtrusively.

Topics include:
  • The elements of narrative portraiture
  • Choosing locations and working with natural light
  • Connecting with your subject to better tell a story
  • Composition strategies
  • Choosing lenses and selecting gear for a shoot
  • Camera-handling tips
Subject:
Photography
Author:
Chris Orwig

Photo review: Composition examples

In the next couple of movies we're going to look at two different sets of photographs and discuss how we can work with composition in order to communicate something different. So here in this first movie, we will go ahead and turn off the lights and we are going to look at a slideshow of photographs. Now these photographs are portraits I captured of Shawn Stussy. Shawn is a really fascinating person, an amazing artist. Well I am going to start off by taking a look at him in his studio. So go ahead and take a look at this first image and here you can see him surrounded by some of his tools on a workbench and he is constantly creating.

I started off depicting Shawn inside window light and I like this, but I wanted to create images that were a little bit more simple. I wanted to do something that had a bit more of an edge to it. We're right in front of his studio is a concrete wall and a concrete driveway. Now visually it's not very interesting. But I knew that it would allow for some interesting opportunities to communicate different things in a pretty open space using open shade. Let's take a look. Now here in this first image, he is leaning against the wall and you can see there's this wind surfboard that he is building right next. It's really a geometric shape and form is really important in this context.

In another photograph I'm using that same wall but this time I asked him to sit on a bike. I brought my camera down low and by focusing on the bike rather than him, he falls out of focus. The next image you can almost see the bike behind him. I asked him to stand up and to raise up his hands and I did a couple of different things with his hand positioning here till I got something that I thought was kind of interesting and again I'm working within the confines of the space that I have. What's interesting about these images is that I am capturing these in a very simple way.

Simple camera, simple lens. 50 millimeter lens, open shade, working within a defined space. In the next image that we will see here I brought the bike forward. Now he fell back. Again the bike is in focus; he's a little bit more out of focus. In this photograph I removed the bike and he's getting a little bit away from the wall and then I decided to move in closer on this next shot and here you can see that I'm really a close. I like this image. I feel like there is strength. I like that there is some imperfection in the frame.

Next, moving into some other spaces down the wall just a few feet, there were some stairs and you can see next to it there is a door that's open. We will talk about that second but I like the graphic nature of the stairs. I had him sit looking up to one corner of that front parking area. In the next image I put him on that shelf right in front of the door with the gate there. I love how the lights really draw attention to the subject in the middle of the frame. My camera position as you'll notice is pretty low. I'm probably kneeling down looking up at him.

In his neck shot again I worked with the wall, went back to that. Again the line is leading into him but I'm low to the ground and I realized I liked that lower camera position. Then I decided to work back into that studio space. In this case I closed the door and there he is inside of that shape. when you are working with composition, you are asking yourself how can I use scale, how can I relate the subject to the space, how do they fit inside a space? Not just in front of it but really inside of it. So I started to wonder if I could modify this. Here's the next image where I dropped down a bit lower, had him raise his arms, and then one more where I positioned the surfboard behind him within that space.

So again the point here isn't to say that each of these images are great and you should do these things. Rather it's to get you thinking about how composition is about changing your position, where you're standing, your camera position, and also your subject and there are so many different stories you can convey by simply moving your subject or you and your camera.

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