Working with models

After having worked with portrait models for a little less than a year I would like to write about my approach and my experiences. 

When I shoot portraits I am currently limited to outdoor areas because I don’t have a studio and no lighting equipment. Apart from depending on the weather this does not seem a major disadvantage to me. I can work with natural light and using the streets and parks for shooting certainly works for me.  I would still like to have a place where I can create light and where I can set the atmosphere and have shooting conditions that I can determine myself. Maybe a little later,  currently I travel so much between Greece and New Zealand that it does not make sense to have a studio in one place anyway. 

But I mainly wanted to write about working with models. I currently only work with people that are no professional models. They are people that I either find in the streets or friends or acquaintances of mine. In other words, my models have only limited or no shooting experience which means that I should direct them and tell them what to do and how to pose.  And exactly that I don’t do. Very purposefully I don’t give them directions as to how to move, to strike a pose or to show a certain facial expression.   The reason is that I am interested in finding out who my models are as a person and I am trying to capture this person when I shoot. Poses or directions would only distract and lead us away from my goal. 

I tell my models before the shooting that I am not going to tell them what to do and how to behave. Instead of giving instructions I start having a talk with them. I ask them about their lives, about ideas, attitudes, things that they love or dislike. And I tell my story, tell them who I am, what I do, how I have developed my photography. It often develops into an exchange of experiences, of life stories and opinions. I learn a lot about my models and I love getting to know them a little. 

I do tell my models where I want us to go, where I think the light is good and what kind of backdrop I like and want to shoot them in. But from the moment we find a place it is mainly a situation of interaction and shooting the model during this interaction. A disadvantage is that during talking faces are very difficult to shoot, often features are distorted or eyes half closed. So I need to wait for little breaks between the interaction. This is actually nice because often I find that emotions from the last topic or sentences remain in the faces of my models which enhances their facial expression.  

It often is also interesting to watch with the camera what a person is doing with a certain situation. A few days ago I went with my model Ioanna to a long open air stairs in the neighborhood of Exarchia in Athens. From the stairs you have a look from above over a part of Athens. Ioanna sat down on the stairs spontaneously and watched the city with a kind of far away glance in her eyes. This coincided nicely with the talk we had about her traveling and living in many different places. And the pictures that I could take had a very special and particular mood.

Ioanna with the “far away glance” in her eyes

Ioanna with the “far away glance” in her eyes


Keeping the situation open and letting the model develop within this situation is something that I like very much. We create a little human laboratory situation where the interaction between photographer and model and the environment become the basis for visual story telling. 

Is it possible to grasp “the essence” of a person in a single picture? The question is more if we can even talk about “the “ essence of a human being. Every situation, every social interaction evokes a particular atmosphere which influences the mood of a model and his or her facial expression. Yes, there are recurring traits of character that we can try to find and to depict. But reducing a person on one single picture appears to be very difficult and even a bold task to me.  However, maybe that will change if I develop more experience over the time. 

During one photo shoot I take between 200 and 300 pictures of my model in different locations. I take about two hours for this task, a time that my (unpaid) models are usually willing to dedicate to the experience. Later when culling, curating and processing the pictures I reduce the number to 10 to 15 pictures that I process. After the processing I send the final JPEG versions of the images to my models via WeTransfer, together with a big thank you. 

I find the human interaction between myself and my models interesting and fascinating. This allows me to dip into the lives of people that I don’t know and have never met before. And it appears that even sometimes some lasting relationships or friendships can develop. This experience is at least as important as the photographic one and the pictures that we can create together.  

Motion blur (revised version)

I have been experimenting with motion blur (or intentional camera movement, ICM as it is called) for a while. You achieve this effect by using a relatively long exposure time (1/25 second or slower) and moving your camera in a planned and coordinated way when pressing the shutter release. Technically it is not easy to produce meaningful pictures because you need to calculate the visual path of the camera and the position of the object that you are aiming at. So consequently you often get pictures that do not show what you have envisaged. 

And to be clear. Motion blur does not mean that you shoot randomly into a crowd or at still objects. In order to achieve good pictures you should have a clear idea or vision of what you want to capture, which expression to achieve and how to move your camera to obtain your result. Otherwise you end up with chaotic pictures that don’t have any meaning or good visual impact. 

It took me a few attempts to get this ensemble right. Particularly the ducks posed a challenge.

It took me a few attempts to get this ensemble right. Particularly the ducks posed a challenge.


In Tokyo I returned to the technique of motion blur. An important reason was that I was not overly happy with the expression of my “still pictures” that I had taken in the first two days in the city. So I decided to take the plunge and shoot ICM only for the rest of my stay. That gave me the opportunity of trying out this style in many shots and to improve my technique. 

To my mind motion blur pictures have a deeper, a different expression than still photos. I find that they reveal a “reality behind the reality” that you can hardly find in the usual images with quick shutter release. Particularly when shooting people I find that their faces show treats that express something of their character that you only find when you use long exposure. 

Signs and gestures. Serendipity certainly plays a role, particularly in situations when you have “one shot” only. Here it played out very nicely for me.

Signs and gestures. Serendipity certainly plays a role, particularly in situations when you have “one shot” only. Here it played out very nicely for me.

 

I believe that motion blur is more demanding (and revealing) for the viewer too. As the viewer of these pictures you need to take more time.  A motion blur picture does not reveal its whole meaning at first glance, it requires the viewer to look longer and deeper.  As not all details are clearly visible the viewer’s imagination needs to add missing pieces. The missing clarity or details need to be filled up and this can only be done by the viewer’s mind.  In that way the viewer continues the story of the picture on his own mind.  Letting the overall impression sink in, letting the subconscious process what the eye sees may indeed reveal a deeper reality.

Of course any good or meaningful photograph requires the viewer to take time and to be present. And it makes him or her telling a story on their mind. However do I think that in motion blur pictures patience on the side of the viewer reveals more details and more meaning. The viewer actually needs to immerse himself deeper into what is happening in the picture. 

I know that motion blur “is not for everyone”. But this holds good for any type of artistic expression. You will always find people loving and others disliking a certain way of expressing something artistically. From that perspective motion blur is not different from any other photographic or artistic style. It is one way of expressing yourself. And to me it is a very appropriate way.

Flickr is regrettably not the ideal medium for motion blur. Viewers “flick” through the pictures very rapidly, spending hardly longer than 3 seconds on one image. Like any other social media platform Flickr is made for instant consumption and we as the producers and consumers at the same time usually  comply with this intention. I tend not to show all my ICM work on Flickr as it feels not always appropriate. Some pieces I show on my website only and I hope that the different, more private environment helps viewers to slow down and to take time for the work.

ICM is a very interesting and “different” way of making photographs. I will certainly continue following this path.

Motion Blur

I have been experimenting with motion blur (or intentional camera movement, ICM as it is called) in the past. You achieve this effect by using a relatively long exposure time (1/25 second or slower) and moving your camera in a planned and coordinated way when pressing the shutter release. Technically it is not easy to produce meaningful pictures because you need to calculate the visual path of the camera and the position of the object that you are aiming at. So consequently you often get pictures that do not show what you have envisaged. 

And to be clear. Motion blur does not mean that you shoot randomly into a crowd or at still objects. In order to achieve good pictures you should have a clear idea of what you want to capture and how to move your camera. Otherwise you end up with chaotic pictures that don’t have any meaning or good visual impact. 

In Tokyo I returned to the technique of motion blur. An important reason was that I was not overly happy with the expression of my “still pictures” that I had taken in the first two days in the city. So I decided to take the plunge and shoot ICM only for the rest of my stay. That gave me the opportunity of trying out this technique in many shots and to improve my technique. 

_DSC7436-1*.jpg

To my mind motion blur pictures have a deeper, a different expression than still photos. I find that they reveal a “reality behind the reality” that you can hardly find in the usual images with quick shutter release. Particularly when shooting people I find that their faces show treats that express something of their character that you only find when you use long exposure. 

_DSC6692-1.jpg


As the viewer of these pictures you need to take more time too. Following the lines, looking into each corner of the picture helps you getting the full expression of the picture. Letting the overall impression sink in, letting your subconscious process what you see may indeed reveal a deeper reality. Of course this applies on any photograph, however do I think that in motion blur pictures, patience on the side of the viewer reveals more details and more meaning. It feels as if I as the viewer immerse myself deeper into what is happening in the picture. 

Flickr is not the ideal medium for motion blur. We “flick” through the pictures very rapidly, spending hardly longer than 3 seconds on one image. But maybe sometimes it would be good to slow down and to force ourselves into a deeper experience with the pictures that we regard. Motion blur is a good occasion to start this attempt.


black and white

Yesterday I have been working on a street portrait picture of a beautiful woman. I processed this picture for hours in color, changed the skin color slightly, applied some frequency separation to clean and smoothen her skin (a technique I just had learned a few days ago), played with background luminosity and colors and created several versions of this one picture.

_DSC1159-FS5*.jpg



I was quite chuffed with myself because I had learned how to do these things in Photoshop (although I am certainly far away from mastery). And still, I had the feeling that something is missing. Maybe I over-processed my picture? Maybe I did not know exactly how to relate color and luminosity to each other? Maybe I am just not good enough? I couldn’t put my finger exactly on it but it felt as if something was wrong.

And then I just converted the picture into b&w. And I loved it. I loved the tones, the light fall-off between main subject and background, the skin texture (although there is clearly space for improvement). I loved the lines of her face and the blurred ones of the background. I loved the expression of the picture and her portrait. I really loved her in black and white.

_DSC1159-FS-B&W3*.jpg



So what? Do I need more proficiency at processing color pictures? More learning? More understanding of how to interpret a picture during post-processing? Yep, all of this, sure. I need to learn a lot. But maybe I just have to admit that I am a black and white photographer... :-)

Colours

Most of my pictures are in black and white. And this is for two main reasons. Firstly I think I can express myself a better way by creating contrasty black and white images. They come naturally to me and represent quite well what I want to express. Secondly (and that is at least equally important) this has to do with the fact that I find colour images more difficult to process and due to a lack of precessing skills on my side I just can't get them the way I want them. 

The latter is something that I am certainly not happy about. You don't want your artistic expression to be limited by lack of technical skills. And there is a clear need to fix this problem. In the past I have been struggling to use Photoshop mainly because it is not intuitive to me. I just couldn't retain the information of how to use certain tools because the workflow and particularly the logic of layer masks just doesn't make sense to me. 

And it seems that recently I've got a better grip on how to process pictures in PS. Maybe this is because they have developed their software further and have made it a little more user friendly. Maybe watching dozens of tutorials had an effect on my mind. Now I can even enjoy using certain tools like 'hue/saturation' adjustment layers. And Capture One provides quite a few great options for colour processing anyway.  

The result is that I have been trying it again and in the past days I have processed some colour pictures with results that are at least kind of acceptable. 

With regard to artistic expression I have clearly not yet found my purpose. What exactly do I want to say in a colour picture? It is obvious to me that I want to continue shooting and processing dark and contrasty pictures. I feel at home with this type of photography.  And eventually it is probably about developing series of pictures similar to the way I work with monochromes.

Some months ago I discovered the photographer Rémy Soubanère on Flickr. He is my current hero of dark colour photography. I love his pictures and the way he processes them. I don't want to emulate or copy his style but I find him highly inspirational. Here is the link to his Flickr page. https://www.flickr.com/photos/remysoubanere
And his website  http://remysoubanere.com

 As a result of all this I will be posting some colour pictures that I have taken and processed in the past few weeks. That's a starting point. And then we will see. 

About Processing

The more I take pictures and the more I develop a purposeful vision of photography the more I feel the need to process my pictures after just ‘taking’ and uploading them.  I want to make them mine. I want to add what I think helps them express my vision.  And I want to be able to evoke emotions in my viewers. 

All that can be done by getting the exposure right in camera, by framing, by applying rules of third and all the skills that we as photographers are supposed to have. But I think by focussing on the picture-taking process only we miss out on an essential aspect of creating pictures. The processing adds so much, the picture becomes different, more emotional, more purposeful by working on it in the computer (yes, the technical device that we need to work on our pictures puts me off, but this is the legitimate successor of the good old darkroom). 

And the more I think about processing and the more I do processing the more I come to the conclusion that the image developing process is supposed to transform a basic picture file into the final image.  And that includes changing it considerably. It means that the vision that I develop during the process is what guides me.  And it might well be that the picture will look completely different from the original photograph that I have taken with my camera. 

The photographer Juliana Gospodarou (http://blog.juliaannagospodarou.com) has developed a processing technique that she calls (en)Visionography. She uses purposeful processing in order to achieve a look that she calls emotional fine art photography. I just discovered her a few days ago and I don’t have a clear opinion on her ideas yet. I will need to look a little deeper and try to understand her vision and her technique. But her idea of detaching the final image from the source and of creating a new and independent piece of art in the process of development appeals to me. 

Apparently you need technical skills in order to process pictures on the computer. And according to Juliana you need particularly Photoshop skills. In the last few days I tried to get an idea of how to enhance my PS skills and I have to admit that I was not very successful. Online PS tutorials don’t give me the selective knowledge that fills my particular gaps. And I will need to take a closer look at what I need in order to develop my processing further.  And I think I will just start with the tutorials on her website and then take it from there. 

In the meantime I have tried to develop some iPhone images in Lightroom and PS. These pictures will eventual constitute a new mini series of the ‘modern world’. The development did not work well and so I eventually went back to the VSCO iPhone app and processed the pictures there. This is better than nothing but it does not satisfy me.  Still a lot to do and learn. 

 

About Light. And Darkness. And Light.

Light is life. Light generates life. And light makes photography possible.

I would like to write about what light means to me as a person and as a photographer. You might have noticed that in my photography I use light in a particular way. I juxtapose light with darkness. With a lot of darkness. A specific term for creating a space of darkness around light is ‘negative space’. I know a little about the theory of negative space. But when I take my photographs I am not applying any rules or theories. Light and darkness come intuitively to me. 

Over the years the meaning of light and darkness has changed to me. Was darkness a scary and menacing experience in the past so has it lost it’s frightening aspect. This has probably to do with my inner self that feels stable and in a light and bright space.

I know darkness. And its threatening aspects. And I have seen many people in desperation because of the darkness that they are wrapped into. But my personal experience is much more positive. Particularly over the last few years light prevails. 

Photographically I want to see the light. I want to make it visible. And the best way of making light obvious is to juxtapose it with darkness. The usual contrasts that the eye sees seem to be boring to me. I am just not interested in a scene with the usual tonalities of light and shadow. My eyes want more. More light. More contrast. So I create pictures where light becomes the dominant feature although it is surrounded by a lot of darkness. 

Often I work with electronic viewfinders that give me a real time image of the way the light behaves in the pictures that I am taking. And I adjust exposure time (and sometimes aperture) according to the impression that I have in the viewfinder. This is not the good old way of taking pictures and it is certainly not how I learned photography. But it is a very nice and direct way of assessing light and its effect on a picture.

My color association of light is ‘white’. To me it is a bright white light that shines on us, that guides us and that fulfills us spiritually. In photographic terms I am talking about high key. Very high key. The spirit of light to me is very, very bright. So high key pictures with only little shadows or darkness are a field that attracts me too. That is why you find high key pictures next to strong light / darkness contrasts in my work.

Yes, light is life. And it expresses hope and development. That is the intuitive force of my current photography.

(Thank you very much Noël for your comments that lead to these thoughts about light and darkness. The link to Noël's Flickr stream  https://www.flickr.com/photos/macnikon/  ).

Walking Meditation and Photography

Over the years I have been getting a little deeper into the practice of meditation. I started quite early with some attempts as a student when I found myself sitting cross-legged on a kitchen table late in the evening at my students' dormitory. And I was hoping nobody would pop in and discover me. 

After the early attempts I left meditation for quite a few years however turning to some infrequentpractice attempts every now and the. In recent years I re-discovered meditation, joined a Buddhist group and tried to get a better understanding of both Buddhism and meditation. I am in no way profound but I enjoy the experience of meditation. 

So where is the link to photography? Well, I found that I would love to have a more intuitive approach to photography. One where I m not "composing" pictures but where pictures "are occurring" to me.    I admired the early attempts of my daughter Lucia who at the age of 11 shot some wonderful abstracts out of nothing in my flat. And she just did it. She wasn'tconsidering any rules of composition. She let her intuition guide herself. 

So why not me as an adult? And I was wondering if I could combine my experience in meditation with the attempt of composing pictures in a more intuitive way. So far so good.  But how do you do that? And how do you remember to try it out? This was my first stepping stone. I just forgot about my plan when I started shooting. I got in my usual shooting mode and after the shooting session I was cross with myself when I hadn't tried the new plan. 

But one week ago it happened. I did think of it when I started shooting some flowers. So I tried a walking meditation in the park with my photographic targets. And then I let my feelings guide me into what and how to shoot. It was not spectacular but a very satisfying experience. It felt round and full and right. I have not reviewed the results yet as I want to have some distance to the shooting process before I do this. 

I will keep you posted. 

And for sure, I will try it again.