My last day of shooting for the Penrith Lakes Development Corporation project today.
Over the past month or so I have photographed 35 people who have played an integral part in the development of the Penrith Lakes scheme. These portraits will form part of a visual display at a handing over event in November, along with becoming a book of images and an exhibition of work.
This work was commissioned to celebrate the end of mining the Lakes and the valuable contribution of so many of the workers.
I’m very excited about the whole project and happy with the results from the weeks of shooting.
For the technically minded – each of the shots involved setting up three Elinchrom BX500s with 21 degree reflectors. As I needed to photograph each of the subjects at varying times of day from 9am to 4pm and anytime in between I wanted the lighting of the subject to be consistent as much as possible, therefore the three lights and reflectors.
The black and white images were captured in an old storage shed. These ‘hero’ shots are consistent in appearance and lighting and intended as an exhibition body of work.
The colour images will make up the book along with a brief bio for each participant.
I placed one light on camera axis and the other two out of frame over each shoulder of the subject. Large diffusers were also used to remove hard shadows from the sun.
Plant operator ‘Bluey’ with his excavator, Penrith Lakes Scheme.
Retired worker Harry in front of the old 5130 excavator, Penrith Lakes Scheme.
Rob pictured in front of the weir, Penrith Lakes Scheme.
Vegetation rehabilitation worker Richard pictured with some of the trees he helped plant over 10 years ago, Penrith Lakes Scheme.
Jim Stokes in front of the former Holchim site, Penrith Lakes Scheme.
Worker in front of final mine cut, Penrith Lakes Scheme.
Here is a tip for looking your best in your family portrait photograph. Your mum will love it!
Did you know that a direct gaze and a smile are considered most attractive to the viewer? I read in a psychology journal from the Psychology School of Aberdeen that an averted gaze without a smile is perceived as more attractive than an averted gaze with a smile. In addition to this the study found that a direct gaze without a smile was less attractive than a direct gaze with a smile.
This all sounds fairly obvious I know, but it is surprising how powerful this information is when you are shooting a portrait of somebody.
When my clients view their family portrait images they inevitably have ‘favourites’ and they are more often than not those images that have them or their family smiling and looking at the camera. This information allows me to concentrate on capturing these types of images on the portrait shoot and not spending time on averted gazes (even if I like them).
The only time I would bend this rule is when shooting groups or couples looking at each other such as with a wedding couple or family. The interaction between people can be attractive in itself and make for beautiful candid images.
Look at the examples below and draw your own conclusions.
Direct gaze and smile give this image an attractive feel.
The Happy Couple looking at each other makes for an intimate feeling to the image.
Direct gaze without a smile can give a particular feel to the image.
A mix of direct and in-direct gaze helps draw the viewers eye through the image toward the baby with the ‘most’ attractive gaze.
While we may have a friend with a camera, or good old Uncle Harry or Aunty Betty with their you-beaut camera and lens package to help record our special day, there is a lot to be said for having a professional there to ensure the job is does well.
I recall seeing an advertisement for Kodak film many years ago which had a line that read something like “a great family portrait isn’t expensive, its priceless!”.
Another advertisement Kodak used had words to the effect, “capture the moment now, and enjoy it over and over.”
Photographing a wedding recently I was struck by how many of the guests had their cameras and phones out snapping away at the happy couple as the event unfolded.
I wondered how many of those images would be “up on Facebook” before the end of the reception, shared with friends across the country or across the world.
These days we all have a digital camera of some description, whether it be a digital SLR or a compact camera or even our phone. One way or another we are able to take a photograph and record a moment for posterity.
Many of these images are snapshots or happy-snaps designed to make a quick record of an event and share it with friends or family via Facebook or Flickr, while others are often more considered moments destined for an album or frame.
I recently received this feedback from a client who had commissioned a portrait with her family to give as a gift to their mother for her 60th birthday.
“Just wanted to pass on a huge THANK YOU! The photos were beautiful. My mum cried when she saw them.”
I love being a portrait photographer, sometimes it doesn’t feel like work, especially when the result has such an effect on people.
Getting back to the Kodak advertisement – what makes us cry tears of joy when we see a beautiful family portrait? Moreover what makes a beautiful family portrait, and how do you choose a photographer to create it?
The photographers I’m most influenced by have a gift for seeing a moment before it happens, they have wonderful anticipation for what is about to happen and incredible skill to capture that moment.
These are skills which take years to develop, through experience, knowledge and practice.
Having patience and anticipation helps to capture beautiful moments
I model my own work practice on these principles. I have been photographing people for 20 years and feel I have a keen sense of how people respond to being photographed.
The most difficult part of a good family portrait shoot is creating the right environment for something to happen. I like an outdoor location as I feel it helps this process by providing an open space not enclosed by walls. Out in the elements my clients feel the environment around them, they can explore and be themselves, if its cold they can cuddle into each other, its a physical event.
What follows is anticipation and patience – being ready for that moment goes a long way to producing unique and beautiful images to enjoy over and over.
What is the best camera or lens is like trying to answer the “how long is a piece of string?” question.
I’m often asked to recommend a camera or lens for somebody starting out in photography – I find it difficult to give a definitive answer most of the time as the choices are so numerous.
Nikon or Canon – Ford or Holden?
What camera is best is a bit like the Ford and Holden debate. You’re either a Nikon user or a Canon user. While there are other brands, when it comes to DSLR these are the two big brands.
I use Nikon, not because I don’t like Canon or because I drive a Holden, just because it was the camera I was given to use when I started my career and I’ve continued to use them for nearly 20 years.
I have driven both Holden and Ford in the past but now have a love of French cars, which is beside the point…
I have photographer friends who swear by Canon and won’t consider using anything else. Each to their own I reckon as long as you get the shot – right?
Starting out in photography can be an expensive exercise and the initial outlay can be huge if you haven’t done your homework.
The great thing is you can always add to your kit over time as you improve and develop your skills.
Most manufacturers these days have cameras at many different price-points, with 1 or 2 zoom lenses which cover focal lengths anywhere from 18mm up to 200 or 300mm. This sort of focal range should cover most people for most photographic subjects and situations.
The “disadvantage” for want of a better word with these zoom lenses is they are not particularly “fast” and don’t always have the best optics or elements. For most of us that won’t matter and won’t be noticeable, but for the serious amateur wanting to go to the next level you might consider investing in some “nice glass” and getting either a few fixed focal length lenses or a zoom with a consistent F-stop of 2.8 for serious speed and shallow depth of field.
Fixed focal length or zoom?
Again there are two schools of thought about fixed focal length and zoom lenses. Fixed focal length means your lens is 28mm or 35mm or 50mm or whatever focal length and thats it. There is no zooming from 28 up to 50mm or vice-versa. Some say fixed focal length is old-school and the technology in zoom lenses these days means there is very little blur, quality loss or vignetting like there use to be with some zoom lenses.
I like fixed focal length lenses because I like to be involved in the shoot. By that I mean if i’m too far from the subject I physically need to move, I can’t zoom-in as this changes the focal length and therefore the effect I want. I will often change lenses 5 or 6 times during a shoot as I strive to create the image I want. I could use zoom lenses and not have to change them so often but I choose not to.
Zoom lenses are great for particular applications – wedding photography and press photography both spring to mind. Both of these disciplines often involve capturing moments very quickly as they happen and zoom lenses are ideal for this sort of thing. One doesn’t have time to fiddle around changing a lens during a wedding or a press event as the moment can pass and you’ve missed it!
You need to move fast at a wedding to not miss the moment
What do I use?
I use Nikon gear. I have worked as a press photographer and used zoom lenses, typically 18-55mm and 70-200mm both f2.8 and both perfect for that sort of work.
Now I use fixed focal length lens for most of what I do – for family portraits and commercial portraits I most often shoot with my 85mm or my 135mm depending on the outdoor location. I might also use a 24mm or 50mm to include the background into the shot.
The correct focal length can help you achieve the result you want
What should you choose?
Obviously we’re all driven by our budget so far be it for me to suggest anybody go out and spend thousands on a kit you might not benefit from.
Try to invest most of your budget in your lenses as these can last a lifetime if cared for well. Camera bodies generally don’t last forever with most DSLR’s having a finite number of shutter-releases before they need replacing. (I’ve heard it can range from 100,000 up to 200,000 depending on the brand and model)
Your lens choice will depend on what you want to photograph most. For portrait photography choose a lens with a focal length from 80mm up, to help you isolate your subject from the background, landscape photography will require wide angles, for sport you’ll want telephoto from 200mm or 300mm.
Wide angle lens for landscape photography - Bermagui Point
Then there are specific purpose lenses like macro photography and tilt/shift lenses for architecture.
Once you have your camera and lenses you can start to think about lights – speedlights and strobes. But thats for another post…
The most important thing in my opinion is to gain an understanding of what effect you can achieve by using different focal lengths. Zooming your lens shouldn’t just be about getting closer or further back from the subject, it should be about creating an image with particular subject matter and compositional elements linked to your choice of focal length.
Try to choose the correct lens for the subject and regardless of your choice of camera learn to use it, read the manual or take a course, the reward for effort can be ten-fold and your next lens or camera purchase will be an informed one.
I like to use outdoor locations for my portrait shoots as I believe it helps create a better working environment and therefore better images.
However it is not as simple as just going down to the local park with your camera and your kids and snapping away. I thought I’d share some tips on how to go about planning a successful photo-shoot.
The right time of day
Choosing the right time of day is a big consideration. This can depend on who you are photographing – whether it be your toddlers or your teenagers or even your partner or pet. Most toddlers “perform” best earlier in the day so might benefit from an early morning shoot.
The “golden hour” is just before sunset when the light conditions are generally considered best for producing wonderful atmosphere. While we would all like to have our photo-shoots at this time one needs to be a little flexible when it comes to youngsters.
When I’m teaching others to use their camera one of the most important elements of composition I like to stress is background – background, background, background! There it is stressed.
Look for clean backgrounds for your shots. This can mean moving yourself or your subject to eliminate that tree branch poking up behind their head, or that telegraph pole or whatever element is going to distract the viewer from enjoying your composition.
Use foliage to frame or border your subject. Sometimes you can use a leafy branch or a tree trunk to create a frame around your subject. Branches and leaves can also make points of interest for your subject to look at or reach for.
If you are using the shade of a leafy tree you might bring your subject out the edge of the foliage and give yourself a nice deep, dark background by exposing for the subjects face and therefore under-exposing the shade under the tree.
Use foliage to frame your subject
Be aware of dappled light falling through leaves on trees. Turning your subject to face away from the sun will prevent them having dappled spots of light and shade on their faces.
As the sun sets you can use the soft light much like a lamp or strobe light by positioning your subject relative to the light and giving them that golden glow from the sunset. Remember to look at where shadows are falling on the face to keep it sympathetic.
Advanced users might think about using a reflector or diffuser to further control the light outdoors.
One of the most common questions I’m asked is what should we wear? Dress for the season is my best advice. Out in the park you can all wear jeans and a smart collared shirt. Toddlers look great in jeans and button-up shirts for the boys and long floral dresses for the girls. Most of all remember to wear something warm if the season dictates it. There is nothing worse than having your subject all hunched up and shivering because they haven’t worn warm clothes.
Set a shallow depth of field with a low aperture to help isolate your subject from the background. Not only does this create a blurry background it can help “clean-up” that background. Remember how important background is?
Keep your shutter speed high enough to stop the action. Kids like to wriggle and run around so you’ll need a fast enough shutter speed to capture that movement without your shot looking blurry or out of focus.
Shallow depth of field can isolate your subject from the background
Make an event of it
Take a picnic with you! Try to make the visit to the park about having fun with your family not just about having some photos taken. If you put too much emphasis on the event and the photos this can often lead to disappointment when you struggle to get “that shot” you have in mind.
Your photography should be about enjoying your craft or hobby, so if you don’t get the shot you want today, you can always come back next week and when you do come back you’ll be armed with all the knowledge you earned the first time.
A mixed bag of rain, sun and wind did nothing to deter another great crowd at this years Leura Spring Fair.
Although for us stall-holders our gazebos needed sandbagging to stop them blowing away!
My weekend involved meeting people, eating delicious fresh food and generally enjoying the wonderful atmosphere.
From my point of view it was a success, I have work booked well into November. A lot of work goes into the preparation for the Fair and it can all come unstuck if the weather isn’t kind.
I had a display of some of my most recent framed and mounted images.
Acrylic mounting provides a modern high—gloss finish
Of particular interest to many visitors was the acrylic mounted image of two young brothers arm in arm amidst autumn leaves. It was my favourite image from that shoot and I think looks amazing mounted on acrylic.
To answer some of the questions about the mounting, the image is adhered to the back of the acrylic and gives the image a high gloss finish with a back-lit effect due to the whole thing sitting proud of your wall due to the method of “hanging” with 4 small polished bolts in each corner.
It is very modern form of image display and quite a head-turner. I’ve had a number of clients request this method for their images and it was by far the most commented upon image over the weekend.
Detail of the hanging method with 4 polished bolts
I’ve just had my website made over by somebody truly brilliant!
The difference between my old website (which I proudly claim to have created myself) and the new site, is like before and after shots for a protein powder supplement.
You know those shots you see of some poor overweight fellow before he takes the powder and then again after with the six-pack and massive arms hanging from his chiseled torso?
That chiseled torso and six-pack is my new website and its all thanks to the brilliance of graphic designer Hugh Todd of www.constructedmeaning.com
Hugh is truly one of the most humble and gifted people I have ever met… not to mention being a mind reader!
I gave Hugh a fairly ambitious and somewhat vague brief for how I wanted the site to look and he took my ideas and concepts and created something amazing beyond what I could even imagine.
I’ve always been a bit of a perfectionist and consequently reluctant to hand over my work to somebody else in the belief that only I can do it the way I want it. I’m happy to admit I was wrong about this.
The site shows off my work, its easy to navigate and the user experience is a pleasant one… at least thats what I think.
Its that time of year again, Leura Spring Fair and it is raining!
That won’t dampen my spirits, I love the Leura Spring Fair and look forward to it every year. I have an exhibit of my latest portraits and am particularly looking forward to meeting visitors and talented exhibitors.
Last year was a great success for me with an overwhelming response to my exhibit – and I came away with a beautiful Adirondack chair hand-made by fellow from Lithgow. It has pride of place in our front yard and many a sunset has been enjoyed whilst sat in it.
This Leura Fair I have a special offer of a free enlargement to the value of $160 with every Portrait Commission for October and November.
To claim your free enlargement, simply come up and see me at the Fair or email me through my website and mention the Leura Spring Fair offer when you book.