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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.
So far we have taken some time to talk about composition. How we can use different types of composition to create different stories, to tell different aspects of a particular location. Well, there is another advantage to using composition and that is to position your subject in a unique way. For example, you can have your subject stand here or you could have them perhaps move next to a railing. When they do that, what it does is it allows them to move and if they have something to set their hand on, it can be really helpful. So if there's something they can do with their hands, get them moving, reposition them, so that it allows some some of that tension that we all hold in our bodies when we stand in front of a camera, to go.
Well, we want to come up with some devices to reposition people,so that they move, so that they breathe. And another thing you can do with their hands is just say, hey, put your hands behind your back. Or if you are standing in the spot, where would you naturally put your hands or cross your arms. Even if you don't want a picture like this, have them do it, because it creates a little bit of tension and then have them let it go. Again, as we're repositioning people, we're thinking about this compositionally. But even more I think we are thinking about how it puts a subject at ease, how it gets them to begin to get a little bit more natural, and so often in portraiture, we ask people to pretend.
I don't think that's quite the right way to go about it. Yes, we need to direct them and we need to draw things out of them, but if you have a musician, have them hold the guitar, have them do what they do naturally, and by doing that, rather than faking it, it takes on a different authentic feel. Now there are times when you want to say okay, I am going to do something a little bit different. I know you play the guitar, but how about if we try this? And you call it out. Another thing that you can do in regards to posing is to have them look away. For example, when you are always making straight eye contact, a lot of times you are holding intention, you're thinking about something, you are becoming self-conscious. You can say, you know what, why don't you move a little bit, look down at the ground and then when you look back up, I'll take a picture? And you get a different look from someone in that context.
So again, as we are thinking about composition, we're also starting to tie in some other concepts. We're thinking about how that person fits within a larger context and not just geometrically and how they fit within lines and how we can create something that looks interesting, but also how we can create an authentic mood or way of depicting that person, so it looks more natural and ultimately, so that it creates a more compelling frame.
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