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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.
After having made this photograph, I was ready to move on, to move on to something different. And as I thought a little bit about Keith, I thought a lot about all of these different things that he had around his home and his studio. There is so much texture and depth. There are so many interesting details. I wanted to try to bring something into the picture. Rather than just having Keith stand there, I wanted some element or item, and I was talking to Keith about this. And he said, let me grab my mandolin, and this was one of the pictures that was made.
And sometimes by bringing in a prop, it can give the subject something different to do, and it can give you some different ideas--in this case, blocking a lot of his face and just his eyes peering over the edge of the mandolin. This particular perspective to me is intriguing. It's a quiet photograph. Again, I just photographed in natural light underneath that overhang, a little bit brighter on the left side of the picture. It's a calm photograph, and really this next segment of the photo shoot, I'll call it mandolin segment, was all about working with this prop and trying to keep that flow going.
One of the things that I find to be helpful is to just keep moving. You know, there is only so many pictures that you can create in one spot. That being said, sometimes it's worthwhile to stop and really work a location and try out different ideas. So we walked on; we walked to the front of the house. I asked Keith to sit down here with the mandolin on his lap, a completely different expression in this photograph. And then we walked around the front of the house and to the side of it, and I found this interesting blue door, something I hadn't noticed previously.
I liked the idea of the frame. I liked all of the blues and also the color of the background. And here was one of those moments where I decided to kind of settle in, almost to try to figure out how to work with this space, to try to take different types of photographs. Here's one that's pulled back and then another one a bit more close. Here is another picture even closer. In this case, it's too close. it doesn't really work with his fingers been cropped off, but I wanted to create something that was more simple.
And so I was working with this location. I asked him to set down his mandolin. And here I have this diptych, these two pictures side by side. And with this set up the way it is, his eye is looking from one frame to another, it really directs a viewer. They first look at this picture on the left, and then they look over to the photograph on the right. And a lot of times when you're creating portraits you think about how can they work together, also how would they stand by themselves? Here we see this picture standing alone.
Now all a sudden, you notice the tilt of the lines and his head and his face and his expression, it's different. Here's another diptych, two pictures side by side. And these two pictures, they make me smile. I like them. I like this one on the left and here on the left, he's laughing, his eyes are closed, and it happens a lot when you laugh. You kind of laugh and your eyes close, and what I like about that is that it's an honest expression. In portraiture, they'll always tell you the subject's eye should be opened.
They should be looking at the camera. but I found well, that's an important rule, and that's helpful maybe guide, it's not always true. Expression is always more important than a rule. I also like his natural leaning smile over here. I think the fact that he's leaning against the wall and smiling is different than if you're standing straight and smiling. Again, it's that lean that makes things a little more natural, a little more authentic. And it's the color and tones that intrigued me in this place.
But of course, I have to experiment with this. I have to think about well, what if I convert this to black and white? Here're some of these same images now in black & white. They become more quiet. There's a different mood or tone or feeling when you convert to black and white. Again, these pictures we've seen before, but there is something different there. And this particular photograph I like the posture and position, but for me, it was a bit too busy. The headroom above was a bit distracting, so I craft it after the fact in post-production.
I like this crop a lot more because it's simple. It's graphic. It feels more strong. So often, you'll hear photography instructors encourage you and they'll say, you know you should always compose on camera. You should always crop with the way that you compose. And that's true. That's something to aspire to, but what I've found is that you don't always get it, like I didn't get it here. I wanted to get close, but it's just, the weight wasn't right and after the fact this balanced things out.
You have to almost pay attention to that gut feeling when you're working in post-production and saying okay, this doesn't quite work for me. What can I do to change it? Is it modifying the way the image looks or maybe it's recomposing so to speak after the fact. Well, this picture wraps up that mandolin segment of the photo shoot, and with these photographs, the photo shoot was officially over. I captured some images in a few different locations inside a studio, outdoors, and also with the mandolin, and I really set out to capture a bit of who Keith is and to capture bit of his personality.
And at this point, again, having work through those different situations, I felt okay about it. I captured a few different types of images. I wasn't sure what I captured, but the shoot was a wrap.
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