Sunday, February 08, 2015

Think Small for Daylight Portraits

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How often are we encouraged to think big? Big thinking is how so many of humanity's achievements have been, well, have been achieved. And it's not just humanity's achievements that have been achieved by thinking big. Same holds true for many of photography's achievements. After all, photographers see the "big picture," don't they? Literally, I mean.  Being photographers, we often photograph those big pictures. Especially, photographers of the landscape photography variety.

Portrait photographers, on the other hand, whether they're shooting sexy pretty girls or smiling, "trust me," head shots of local realtors or car salesman also think big -- big regarding gear, lighting, technique, and more -- but they don't often photograph big. You know, the way a landscape shooter thinks and photographs big. If or when they do, their subjects might be reduced to the size of  small mammals like mice or squirrels perspective wise.  Not often a good thing for the purposes of most portraits. Course, it depends on the portrait.

Whenever I'm driving locally in my car -- and by "locally" I mean within a relatively short distance of home, say 15 or 20 miles or so -- I'm always keeping an eye out for potentially cool spots to shoot. Always. Spots to shoot portraits at, that is, whether I have a shoot coming up or not. BTW, I don't exclusively shoot scantily-clad or unclad women so the spots I'm on the lookout for can be quite public. The helpful thing about most portraiture is that many of those spots I might come across while driving don't need to be "big picture" spots. They can (and often are) small picture spots. That's because, when I consider my probable framing for such portraits, I don't need a lot of space or otherwise "big picture" real estate. I only need a background that is no bigger than my frame when framing my shots and, frankly, that isn't often very big.

For the above reason, the potentially cool spots I keep an eye out for are small picture spots. Yep. When looking for good places to shoot outdoors in daylight, I think small. How small? No bigger than my average framing small... which generally isn't very big. When I spot a spot that might make a good spot to shoot, I have two major criteria for those spots. Two criteria that makes or breaks a spot as a good spot or not.  Here's my two criteria:

1. The Environment Itself: The physical spot itself in terms of it's immediate environment and how cool of a background it might or might not represent.  And not just the background! Sometimes, often in fact, I'm looking for those combo background/foreground cool spots to shoot. I love putting interesting foreground elements in photos when they're appropriate for the portraits. 

This first criteria isn't always or necessarily a deal-breaker in terms of the attractiveness of the backgrounds and foregrounds. That's because I might (and often will) be shooting with a very short depth of field.  The backgrounds and/or foregrounds become so much less important if they're going to be blurry, out of focus, and (intentionally) filled with bokehliciousness, assuming I'm shooting with a lens that  produces fairly nice bokeh the way my Canon 70-200 L lens does. (Note: Currently, my 70-200 is the only zoom lens I own. It's also the only telephoto lens I own and I own a half-dozen or so lenses. Therefore, my 70-200 is often my go-to lens for a lot of portraits I shoot these days. Not all of them, but many, perhaps most of them.)

2. The Position of the Sun: The position of the sun relative to my potentially cool, small-picture, possible spots to shoot portraits at is generally my number one consideration for those sorts of cool places to shoot. For me, it doesn't matter how cool, environmentally cool, a spot might be. If I'm going to be shooting there in daylight I want the sun to be where I want it to be at the time I choose to shoot there.

That often means terrific morning-shoot spots aren't the same great spots for late-afternoon shoots. Sure,  I can make do with strobes. I often use strobes for, at a minimum, some subtle fill even when the natural light in a given spot is quite pretty or very useable. Doing so, I suppose, is simply how I roll. But even then, I rarely want to use more than a single strobe. That's because I'm already shooting with two light sources: my strobe and the sun. And because the sun is one of my light sources, either as a main light or an accent light, I want it to be where I want it to be and not simply there or anywhere for its ambient-light light-producing qualities.

I have a list in my head of some fairly cool, make that cool-n-easy places to shoot. They're not year-round cool though. That's because, as you know, the sun isn't in the same place in the sky at different times of the year.  Good places to shoot in the summer months, i.e., places where the sun is where I want it to be either in the morning or later in the afternoon, aren't always such good places to shoot in the winter months because that old sun refuses to stay in the same approximate places in the sky, relative to a daylight shooting location, year round. Bummer in some ways. Oh well.  A photographer's gotta do what he or she's gotta do.

So, there's Jimmy's advice for today: When selecting possibly terrific spots to shoot your daylight portraits, think small, not big. Unless, of course, you're going to shoot big, wide, however you want to describe it.  If/when that's the case, go ahead and think big!

The image at the top is one from a daylight set I shot for a clothing designer's line. Apparently, I decided not to roll the way I generally roll, lighting wise, that day. No strobes used! The image is entirely lit by the sun, using it for direct-light highlights, as well as via bouncing in the sunlight via a reflector.

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