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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.
Chris Orwig: One of things that I'd like to do after I've scouted a location is while that location is still fresh in my mind is to begin to think of images that I want to create. Because a lot of times when you're shooting, what you're doing is your processing a ton. And I always want to go in to shoot with some ideas, something that I want to try to accomplish. Now of course, you have to react to what's happening, but it's helpful to have some behind the scenes thoughts. So what I do is after I've scout a location I pull out my journal or a sketchpad and I sketch out some ideas. So last night what I did was I sketched out these different ideas.
One was I wanted to create an image, which I'm kind of calling walking the line, kind of balancing on that center line. Really taking advantage of this linear aspect of the bridge and all those lines and the shapes and the forms that, that creates. Another one was perhaps a vertical shot where the shoulder, he is leaning on shoulder. So it's not so straight up and down, but there is some kind of lean or different expression with that. Another shot that I thought would be fun was to get off access. There is so much symmetry there on the bridge, but to do something where you're just a little bit off, so the lines are just kind of an abstraction versus maybe a leading line.
And then a fourth idea that I had was something perhaps a little bit whimsical where he was jumping, where it wasn't so much that the bridge was prominent, but rather his movement was what was visually interesting. Now again, what I do is I have these things in my mind and they don't necessarily force me in a certain direction. Rather they kind of lead me on, they give me some ideas. So that when I'm shooting, while that seems like a natural process, I have some ideas. I have something to pull out of my back pocket. Hey, let's try this. Let's go for this idea or this concept.
And I find that by sketching down some thoughts it can really help you out. What's fascinating too is to go back and look at your images and compare them to your sketches. And sometimes what this can do is it can just give you a way to review your work, because I don't know about you, but sometimes I look at my images and I say I don't know that's good or bad or I don't know if I got everything I wanted, but it kind of gives you a little bit of a road map. And says, yeah that was good or gosh, I wish I would've sketched this thought or that thought, and then sometimes I'll actually sketch the shots that I missed.
What that does is it helps me develop and grow so that as I approach a new location, I'm always thinking about okay what else can I do? How else can I approach a situation? How else can I create an image that has some purpose, or plot, or story, or that says something? So it's not just an environment and the environment is irrelevant, but rather so that I'm taking advantage of the environment in a unique and distinct way.
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