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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 themes that has surfaced throughout this course is the whole idea of creating images that match your own vision and voice, and a big part of that is post-production. It's working in Photoshop or Lightroom. So what I want to do is talk a little bit about that process. Now, my intent here isn't to teach Photoshop or Lightroom. There are plenty of other courses on that topic. Rather, what I want to do is just go through a few photographs that I captured when I was visiting Keith that I think are a bit representational, the type of adjustments or changes that I have made to the photographs in order to clarify what I want to communicate.
Well, with this first picture of Keith's living room, you can see this is the photograph straight out of the camera. It looks really good. The exposure is fine, the image is nice. But what I want to do is just warm it up, add a little bit of contrast and brightness and a little bit of saturation. Make the image come alive. Here is another photograph. This is one of Keith holding the mandolin. Again, the photograph is straight out of the camera. In this case, I think the picture is okay, but it's not really doing much for me in color.
So what I did was I converted it to black and white, and I changed the overall tonality, burning and dodging in different areas in order to draw the focus to Keith and to his eyes and also to that bright area on the guitar. Another version of this image which I liked was a tighter crop, in this case a square crop, which almost removes all of those other unnecessary details. I share this image with you because it illustrates that whole thought process, starting with an image and then having the vision for where it could go, perhaps in black and white or perhaps cropping it.
In this photograph here, we see Keith leaning on the wall. What about converting this one to black and white? Well, the straight black-and- white conversion is kind of flat. It's uninteresting. I need more push, more contrast, more depth, and so you can add that, say in Lightroom, by giving it just a bit more texture and feeling. One of the things that I've found is that working with Photoshop and Lightroom, often it's the subtle changes that really mean everything. In this next picture, you can see Keith holding this faceless statue head.
Here is the photograph straight out of the camera. In this case, what I decided to do is just crop it just a little bit and brighten the image up, warm those colors up, so we have a little bit more of this warm-blue thing going on. Again, here is that before and then now the after. The image feels a bit more vivid and alive. Here is another photograph shot in the same way. This is the image straight out of the camera. When you see those photographs, when you are capturing them in RAW, straight out of the camera, you have to brace yourself. Brace yourself for it not looking great.
It looks a little too flat, but that's no big deal. All that it takes again perhaps is a little cropping, warming the image up, adding contrast and tone, creating that mood which matches your own vision and voice. Then here, we can see those two photographs side by side. They have a bit more vitality and life. Then in this last picture you can see Keith in his studio. Again, this is a photograph as it appeared straight out of the camera. All that I needed to do was just to make some really simple adjustments.
One of the reasons why I wanted to show you these images is just to illustrate some of the ways that I work with Photoshop and Lightroom. And often, when creating images, it's not necessary that you are relying on Photoshop or Lightroom, but rather, you are using those tools to amplify your voice, just to bring the image a little bit further. What I find is by having that focus, that perspective, of using those tools as a way to complete the image, many times it can help you create better and stronger pictures.
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