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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 two artists: David Cargill, a Beaumont sculptor who works with bronze and marble, and Charles Stagg, another Beaumont sculptor but in recycled and found materials. Chris takes their portraits and spends time discussing the composition and lighting in each session.
Chris also reviews the photos he took, and discusses the gear he used and the lessons he learned while visiting with and photographing these artists.
Chris Orwig: Well, thank you, and um, we've taken some good pictures. Keith, I am calling you in. Come on in. I have this idea, if you're up for it. I am going to set my digital cameras down for a minute and have you coach me through, kind of one-on-one teaching right now, and do some shooting with the Hasselblad. Keith Carter: With actual film? Chris Orwig: Yes, actual film. Keith Carter: Well, be still my beating heart. (laughter) Chris Orwig: So I am going to grab it. Keith Carter: Okay. That means you only have twelve exposures. Chris Orwig: That's right. Keith Carter: Instead of 2,400. Chris Orwig: I do have a bag of film though. Keith Carter: We are into discipline now. Focus.
Chris Orwig: Discipline, this is where photography happens. Keith Carter: This is the way we came up. Chris Orwig: Right, right. (laughter) Keith Carter: So what speed are you using? What ISO? Chris Orwig: We are using Tri-X. We have-- Keith Carter: 400? Chris Orwig: Yeah. Keith Carter: Okay, and you're going to rate it at 400? Chris Orwig: I am going to rate it at 320. Keith Carter: Okay, and we have a mixture of florescent and daylight, and black and white is very nice light. So, okay. You want me to tell you what I would do? Chris Orwig: Yeah, yeah and kind of coach me through creating a photograph. In a sense, yeah-- Keith Carter: In your style or my style? Chris Orwig: It's up to you.
Chris Orwig: I want to grow as a photographer, so yeah, help me out. Keith Carter: I am going to call you grasshopper now. Chris Orwig: Okay, okay. Can I call you sensei then? Keith Carter: You can. Chris Orwig: Okay. Keith Carter: Well, what I would do, I think, is I wouldn't do this. I like this upturned Martin Luther King head, and I like this angle, and what I would do is either move that or get right behind those, and I'd look down. Come over here. I am going to show you. This is what I would do.
Chris Orwig: Get right in there. Keith Carter: Yeah, you see the two heads together? An interesting use of depth of field, I would use this angle, and I'll put David between the two of them. Chris Orwig: Okay. Let's try this. So David, if you wouldn't mind standing between those? Keith Carter: Okay, I would do several here. Can we get--come right between. When I make portraits, I touch them, male or female. I will just say "I want you to stand here," that kind of thing, even if I don't know what I am doing. It makes them think I know what I am doing, most of the time.
I would go back and look through my camera. I would use Martin Luther King in the foreground. I would use this head in the background, David in the middleground, and then I would probably play around with different focus. I would focus on him first, once I got the composition I liked. Keith Carter: You're using the square I assume. Chris Orwig: Right. Keith Carter: And then I would do it wrong. I would focus on Martin Luther King, and have him out of focus. And then I would do it wrong again, and I'd focus on the one in back. And I'd choose later, but this is an interesting motif.
I would probably just do it from here, bust up, say. I'd be ruthless with space. This is it! Chris Orwig: Come on over here then. Come on over here with me. Keith Carter: That's what I would do. Chris Orwig: So I am over here in this space, and tell me what you're seeing from this perspective. Keith Carter: Well, I wouldn't have all that tool. I have short depth of field. I wouldn't have all that stuff in the background in focus. I'd ask, if it was possible, could we move this out a little bit? David Cargill: Sure! Let's pull it. I am scared it'll fall. Keith Carter: Pull? Okay, let's get it back.
Keith Carter: I would arrange this where I like the composition. I wouldn't be afraid to at least to ask to do whatever. So get him in a position you like. Let me tell you the two most important words, I think, in portraiture with people who aren't photographed all the time, celebrity portraiture, or what have you, is get comfortable, right? Just get comfortable. If you had ten minutes to stand there and you are going to actually work on there, how would you stand? This is a portrait stance now.
He is like that, and that's nice! But there might be other things. That side, you are really just--if you were doing something there, what would you do? Chris Orwig: So let me try it then. Let me try this, Keith. Keith Carter: That's what I want. Chris Orwig: So Dave, would you come out here a little bit. Chris Orwig: So I am going to say, I am going to try this thing with depth of field. If you could scoot in here? Keith Carter: Yeah, I would just arrange him. Chris Orwig: Then in my language I might say, I think this looks cool, maybe if we can put this, the tape out of there, but the hammer is nice. I like the hammer a lot.
Yeah, that's great! And let's do one with your hands on the table, and I am going to come over here then. You see my meter reading there. I haven't set things up yet. Keith Carter: I would do this also from a lower angle. I am going to give it to you. I'd probably crop his head off a little bit, and I am going to move this out a little bit more. I think your suggestion of moving this stuff out of the way is a good suggestion. Chris Orwig: Okay. Keith Carter: But I would probably have it, right, here we go! Chris Orwig: There is something right behind you, see. Keith Carter: I would probably have it-- David Cargill: And you can turn this. Keith Carter: Yeah, anything you want, but, yeah.
Chris Orwig: I like that turn. Keith Carter: It's like a trinity here. You have got these three things going, three heads. Chris Orwig: Okay. Keith Carter: And you can manipulate the depth of field. Keith Carter: That would interest me in this space. Chris Orwig: Right. Chris Orwig: So let's try one. So then let's talk about metering, Keith. Keith Carter: Well, I would probably, in this light, I would do one or two things. If I really had my equipment--I carry a gray card. If I have time, I would probably do a gray card reading, a reflected-light reading. However, this is all very even.
I would probably just go ahead and use an incident-light reading. Chris Orwig: Right, for f2.8 at-- Keith Carter: It's saying a 30th. Does that read right? Chris Orwig: Yeah, yeah. Okay. Keith Carter: That's what I would do. Keith Carter: I use to practice all of the time-- I still do it occasionally--on being able to hand-hold the Hasselblad easily at a 15th of a second. I can hold it, on a good day, at an 8th of a second without bracing myself and without a tripod.
But I like that low-level light. Chris Orwig: Okay. So come over here. So what I am looking through my camera is--and David, thanks for your participation in this, I appreciate it-- So then, I am going to try this Keith. So I am looking through. I like what I see. I see a lot of brightness with those windows in the background, which I am a little bit concerned about. Keith Carter: Well, then I might try and get up a little higher and look down. Keith Carter: But I'd do this first. Chris Orwig: Okay, work this. Keith Carter: My idea is, okay, so if you've got 24 exposures. I am going to make 3 or 4 of like this, and then I am going to change it, and then I am gong to make 3 or 4, and I am going to change it.
Chris Orwig: And then do you mind looking at me? Yeah. Keith Carter: What I would do? Keith Carter: I think you look way too stilted. I think you should knock it off. (laughter) If you are going to stand here, you stand here. You don't look like that. I mean put your hands in your--you always put your hands in your--do something like that, yeah. And then I'd position him in here, but it's the heads I am interested in. The other thing I would try is I will turn him around where it wasn't even his face. Chris Orwig: Okay. Well, let's try this first one here.
Chris Orwig: So Keith, you step out of frame. Keith Carter: I'd have him look at the camera instead of looking at me. Chris Orwig: Look at me, and I will try-- Keith Carter: I wouldn't necessarily have his entire face showing. I'd cut it off with Martin Luther King. My theory is, give people credit for intelligence. I mean they can finish the picture. You don't have to have his entire face in there all the time. You can have the back of his head.
I mean that's my thing. Chris Orwig: So I want to get up a little bit. Keith Carter: Yeah, I'd try it. Chris Orwig: And Keith, talk to me about communicating with the person you are photographing. I remember yesterday one of the things I heard you saying a lot was, every time you made a movement, you said it. You said, I am going to move back. I am going to stand up. Keith Carter: Well, I say that because it lets them know what I am doing. But half of the time I will blather like an idiot all the time because it helps me to work, and sometimes I won't say anything once I know what I have, because then they will get into their own sort of quiet place where, as we discussed, they have to look, because it's just not natural to have three or four cameras Keith Carter: pointed at you. Chris Orwig: Right.
Chris Orwig: Let's try one here. Keith, if you wouldn't mind scooting over, and then David, if you would just take a half a step that way. Perfect! Actually, a little bit back the other way. Right there. Keith Carter: But the key are those three heads. I would make everything revolve around that. Chris Orwig: Looking back towards me. So Keith, I am liking this a lot without the windows behind it, and I have done a couple focusing on different aspects of the frame, and then you started talking about experimenting more, tilting or-- Keith Carter: Well, I would tilt a little bit.
Keith Carter: I would experiment with the focus. Chris Orwig: Yeah, I have done that. I have gotten the three-- Keith Carter: I would turn him around and get--let's try that. Chris Orwig: Okay, let's try that. Keith Carter: Just or as he turned, I would be looking through the camera and see if you like something. Now, turn back around please, facing him. Now, slowly just turn back around. I would just try and see what it looked like, if it was worth doing. Turn your body please.
The key is to not make it look stilted, but it's kind of a different look at things. Sometimes it don't work, but it's always worth looking at it. Chris Orwig: It didn't captivate me. So let's try this. What about with your hands on this piece here, almost like you are working the clay a little bit, and I don't know exactly how. Yeah, like that. I like that. That was very cool. I'm on frame 9, Keith. Then back towards me, David, yeah.
And one more picture I would like to make--and Keith, keep helping me out here, this is great--is I really like you started to work the clay because that to me is--so one picture I want is to pull that out and get him little bit more behind it. Keith Carter: Oh! Good. That's a good idea, okay. Here we go, come toward me. Chris Orwig: Right there, yeah. Then if you would come behind it. Yeah, we just work on it, just with your hands on there, however you work it.
How long does a piece like this take you when you are? David Cargill: Well, I don't know. Chris Orwig: Yeah! Chris Orwig: In closing, David, appreciate it! Super inspiring to be here. It makes me want to create something with my hands and experiment with wood and clay and rock, so thank you. I really appreciate it. And Keith, thanks for the one-on-one photography lesson, and do you guys have any closing thoughts or any last things that you'd like to either leave me with or leave us with? Keith Carter: Well, I think it's just one of the great miracles and wonderful thing about being human is to have a friend for over a half-a-century.
Chris Orwig: That's the best thing I can say. David Cargill: That's true! Chris Orwig: Well, said!
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