Join Paul Taggart for an in-depth discussion in this video Scouting the location for the portraits of performers, part of Storytelling through Unconventional Portraiture.
- When I first arrived at this location, I was really excited about this tent. This is where we're going to be spending almost our entire time photographing this project. And it's not just one location, but it's a lot of locations. So the first thing I wanted to do, even though I wasn't actually making portraits, or even had a model in front of me, I just wanted to get my camera on the tent. I wanted to walk around this space, see how light hits the different sides of it, see if there's things that aren't even on the tent. Maybe it's just around the grass on the outside, or the nails going into the ground, or the ratchet straps.
There's also a ticket booth on one side that could be a really cool location. The first thing I want to do when I arrive is just start taking pictures that I won't be using them for anything, but it's getting me and my camera familiar with the space. It's also how I get the gears rolling in my mind about stylistically what I want this project to look like. Before I even arrived at this location, I knew I was photographing a circus. I'd been to their website, I'd done a little bit of research. And I knew I was coming to this story or this project with a bag of my own sort of visual library going on in my head.
There's movies that I used to watch when I was a kid that were black and white about the circus. When I was in high school, I was kind of obsessed with the old Fellini films. There's a movie called "I Am Cuba" that wasn't about the circus, but it was black and white and shot very dramatically. And all of these sort of visual spices are running through my head when I think of portraiture, and when I think of circus. So, in photographing this project, I've already decided that I don't want it to be color. I want it to be a black and white project. That sort of decision has been confirmed now that I'm here and I see how bright these colors are, how saturated this location is.
It's almost too easy to rely on the green, green grass and the bright red tent and the interior being so blue. And I don't want to rely on the color as a crutch. I want to kind of experiment and give a shout out to the movies that I liked as a kid. So, this project for me is going to be about form and design and bold images that are black and white and really pop. So I'm documenting this circus as a photo essay, but a very particular kind of photo essay.
I'm going to try to tell the story of this place and these people through just portraiture. And that's kind of a complicated thing because it's not real simple. When you say, I'm going to take a portrait to different people, that might mean different things. A portrait could be what happens when you go to the DMV and you get your driver's license picture taken. Or you're sitting in school and you have a yearbook photo. That's a portrait. There's artist portraiture like Richard Avedon's work. Annie Lebowitz's, which is very different than Richard Avedon's work.
A portrait can be defined in a lot of ways, but simply put, it's just a photograph of someone's face. Or, in an even broader sense, it's a photograph that represents somebody. Right off the bat, when I was thinking about photographing a clown, the things that I'm thinking of is big ball noses and huge, huge shoes. And for me, a portrait could be just a picture of a clown's two feet sticking out, the funny shoes. Or just a silhouette shot of no defining elements in the face, but just a silhouette of a clown with that big nose.
I don't know what I'm going to find on the inside of the tent when I meet these characters, but I'm going to go about this in a very liberal way and sort of let them dictate what kind of portraits I'm going to take. But no matter what, I'm coming at this as journalist, and I'm always excited about all the life that happens, all of the energy around. So, I'm going to try to place these people in moments so we get all of that energy, and it's not just a static moment. I want to have all of that life. While walking around the tent, I'm already noticing some very cool things about this location.
It's huge, which means, in itself, this tent is one of my main characters to this story. Whether I might have portrait of just the tent, or I might be putting a lot of my characters in front of it. And when I say I'm going to put a character in front of this tent, that's not one shot. I could probably make 20, 30 different backdrops out of just the exterior of this tent by making decisions of which side to photograph them on, how far away from the tent I want the subject. Say, from like where I'm standing now, if I did a portrait, you get the entirety of this tent in your frame.
If I walk all the way back to where those stars are, and you don't see the top of the tent, now we basically have a backdrop. A very cool, kind of gritty backdrop with just stars going through the background. Without a doubt, I'm going to utelize that space. I'm going to try a couple things though just so I have options. I do have a couple backdrops that I've brought with me that I'll hang on the outside of the tent. I think that's probably going to be a little bit too formal, but we're going to try it out. You never know, sometimes some characters are so big, their performances are so big, you've got to quiet it down by putting them in front of a flat backdrop.
So I've made a couple decisions about how I'm going to make this photo essay. Now I just need to go into the tent, meet the characters, and really determine where we're going to go next.
In this course, photojournalist Paul Taggart shows how using different types of portrait photography and selecting subjects that visually add to the narrative can tell a full and colorful story.
- Scouting locations
- Posing portraits
- Emphasizing costume or clothing
- Sequencing portraits
- Building a portrait story