Portrait and Studio Photography does not come easy to me. I am much more comfortable shooting animals, landscapes, flowers, pets (I adore shooting pets!), sports and taking candid shots. That is perhaps the reason why it took me so long to tackle it.
My initial attempts to write about Classical Portraits and Semiotics was published a while back and can be read here. These initial posts were exploratory. I was dipping my little toes in a whole new side of photography that was pretty new to me.
For sometime I wanted to do a studio retake of Leonardo Da Vinci’s Monalisa. Da Vinci has long fascinated me, I’m convinced (and have no evidence whatsoever) that he must have been bipolar! He was just so clever, a painter, an engineer, an inventor, a mathematician, a scientist, the list goes on.
I tried my own version of Mona Lisa at home (read my post here) and had much fun BUT I felt I could and should do more. I could do better. I wanted to do better.
I carried on researching and loved the link between Rembrandt Lighting and Hollywood Portraits that was particularly fashionable during the Golden Age of Hollywood. Again, I had to remind myself that the brief we were given was for a classical inspired studio photo and not a Hollywood shot. I decided to save that for another day.
The Rembrandt Light: the one thing Mona Lisa does not have
To achieve the ‘Rembrandt Look’ one half of the models face needs to be in full illumination whilst the other half (usually the side furthest away from the camera) is in partial shadow, with a very distinct illuminated triangle under the eye on the shadowed side. Rembrandt lighting was “coined” after the master himself, Rembrandt, the famous 17th century Dutch Painter, who used this lighting technique to such great effect in his works of art.
There are plenty of amazing examples of Rembrandt’s work, in fact all one has to do is type ‘Chiaroscuro’ and stunning images by Rembrandt, Leonardo Da Vinci and Caravaggio are sure to fill the screen.
That said, I wanted something a little different for my portrait and as I researched for the ‘perfect painting’ for me I came across ‘The Femme Dans Un Manteau’ by Etienne Adolph Piot a French painter who became famous in Paris during the mid/late 1800s for painting wealthy, young and beautiful debutantes.
Contrary to the original painting, my model was a little older and I wanted a portrait that would enhance that. I also liked the idea of her wearing a spot of colour and sheen in her hood.
Having had a chance to help with the set up of other people’s project I was quite confident in setting up my own lighting this time, but I must confess when offered help I was also glad to receive it!
At first, I tried to follow the classical Rembrandt Lighting set up as shown below then adjusted it to give me the ‘look’ I was after.
The beauty dish was set up in the right direction and one of my helpers was holding the snoot just at the right position for me to capture the ‘chiaroscuro’ effect on Anna, my model. The light catching on her hood also made the colour pop (I was worried because chiaroscuro can be unforgiving with colours!) but I was pleased with set up.
Having taken ‘the shot’ we tried to experiment a little with colour gels but quickly dropped that idea.
With Health & Safety adhered to, the shoot went very well. I really enjoyed the session and was pleased with the result.
I would like to point out at this stage that my choice of model and pose were inspired by the classical painting and in any way made to be an exact copy. I made amendments on my set up on purpose so it would be my own take on the painting and not a copy of someone else’s work.
Personally, I rather like how it turned out.
Thanks for reading this far!
P1, P2, P3, P4, M1, M2, M3
References for Classical Portrait Assignment in Studio:
Further to my last post on Still Life (see here) I wanted to write one last post on this subject before I moving on just to remind me how far I have come on this project, what I have learned and how I can use this experience in future shoots of a similar nature.
It took me pretty much the entire term to explore this theme and find a Classical Painting of Still Life that inspired me. At first I considered Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, then thought of Cezanne’s Apples but nothing was grabbing me.
Having seen Georgia O’Keefee’s work at the Tate Modern I kept thinking about doing my own shoot based on her incredible work and decided to attempt a photographic interpretation of it at home to see whether or not it would work.
With that in mind, and having done a fair amount of research online, I visited New Covent Garden Flower Marked looking for fresh flowers that resembled the female reproductive organ. Although there was plenty of choice I decided to buy Giant Italian Poppies, Orchids, Parrot Tulips and Single Tulips to carry out my test shoot at home.
Armed with a Small Portable Home Studio and 2 lights I set up the scene of my first attempt. It certainly took a fair few shots for me to figure out the best way to illuminate my subject and dramatise certain elements of the shoot i.e. the fine hairs on the petals, the way the light cast on the petals creating curves and shadows in between the petals.
At first the light was too harsh so I adjusted the strength of my flash and eventually got rid of it altogether, choosing instead a longer exposure. To avoid any possible camera shake I used a tripod and timer.
I was very pleased indeed with the result BUT realised that whilst the shoot had been a success it didn’t adhere to the assignment and it was not a true Still Life Shoot. It was time to reconsider my thinking and refocus on the assignment brief.
Time was certainly flying by and Easter was fast approaching. That’s when I decided to look into still life that included images of eggs and found there was plenty to use as inspiration.
The Technical and Practical Aspects of the Assignment:
I set the scene at college with a range of eggs in different colours and sizes. I also got fresh pasta, a pasta-making machine and a few props. My set up was meant to be soft, simple, classical and without too many distractions. I wanted to work with materials that would not cause reflection. I also wanted to include texture and muted tones in my photos.
For studio light I used a large soft box, turned the light down and asked help in partially blocking it to make it look like my set up was by a window.
Health and Safety was also paramount in this exercise as there was hazard everywhere i.e. wires, hot bulbs, trip hazards, etc. All was tucked away and kept safe during all shoots. In class Health & Safety is always a concerned with so many of us working in what can be almost pitch black. Before turning the main lights of the studio off we always make sure any potential hazard is dealt with swiftly and accordingly.
As far as self-evaluation is concerned, I had to print my photos a couple of times but eventually I was very pleased with the result and my college mates decided which photo I should submit as my final image.
I certainly came to understand studio lighting a little more and actually took to helping my fellow students with their own lighting and set up. Standing back from shooting to help others with their work was actually great experience for me as I could focus on the set up and not in taking photos.
It is pretty clear that no matter how much research I do or how many photography books I read, nothing beats getting ‘my hands dirty’ regardless of whether or not I am taking my own photos or helping others take theirs. All experience is great experience not matter now mundane it seems.
There is something new to learn every day, with every shoot and I still have plenty to learn.
As I prepare to fine tune my own interpretation of Classical Portraits and shoot my Latino Mona Lisa I felt I needed to explore the work of Leonardo Da Vinci a bit further. Perhaps I need to justify to myself why his work appeals to me and what it is about him as an artist that I resonate with.
I was brought up a Roman Catholic and Da Vinci’s Last Supper was always, of course, the only ‘painting’ we had by the dinner table… quite frankly I always associated with food and not art – yes, shoot me now.
Ok, I admit I have a soft spot for Da Vinci and he is why:
a) He had a brilliant mind. He was an artist, an sculptor, an engineer, a scientist and an inventor. I was lucky enough to see some of the things he worked on, his notebooks, sketches, etc in an exhibition in Rome a couple of hours ago.
b) Initially a well known painter of Al Fresco he moved to Florence circa 1499 (he painted the mural of the Last Supper in a monastery in there). It was whilst living in Florence that Da Vinci painted many portraits, unfortunately his only surviving work is the famous Mona Lisa
On close examination, The Last Supper was meticulously planned and features plenty of semiotics from mathematical symbolism to Judas holding a small bag (no doubt reference to his payment for betraying Jesus). Judas is also the only disciple cast in a shadow. The painting also features plenty of still life ie lace, bread, etc.
c) I saw the Mona Lisa when I visited the Louvre a few years ago and I can honestly say no picture does it justice. The way Da Vinci brought her to life, the way he highlighted in all the right places, his placement of ‘light’ was striking. I almost felt I was looking right into her yes. Sadly, it was covered in a layer of vanish and as it ages its making the colours dull and covering it with a hint of yellow. I hope it can be restored at some point.
As far as technicalities is concerned and according to BBC Science, Leonardo used a technique known as Sfumato – the blurring of sharp edges by blending colours – to leave the corners of the eyes and the mouth in shadow. It is this technique that makes the Mona Lisa‘s expression ambiguous.
The background of the painting has been made to look more hazy, with fewer distinct outlines than the foreground. This technique is known as aerial perspective, and Leonardo was one of the first painters to use it to give his paintings more depth.
After visiting Kingston Cemetery & Crematorium last week I went back there today to take my first set of photos for the Cruel and Tender Assignment.
I felt very welcome and was blessed with the most gorgeous golden light so I decided to start by walking around the grounds, getting to know the area, finding the right angles, direction of light, etc.
My reason for choosing to photograph Kingston Cemetery & Crematorium was based on the inevitable feeling of loss we all experience at some point in our lives. That, in my view, represents the ‘Cruel’ part of my assignment.
While spending some time talking to the staff there and getting to know what goes on behind the scenes, I learned that their role is much greater than just that of carrying on with the tasks involving the actual cremation or indeed grave digging.
Their role involves the utmost respect for the grieving families, sure the chapel needs to be pristine for each service, the flowers carefully positioned, the right music ready to play BUT what struck me the most was the incredibly composed way in which the staff conducts themselves in the face of the pain of those saying their final goodbyes. This, in my view, is what cover the ‘Tender’ part of my assignment.
The tenderness and kindness needed to handle such raw emotions was evident all around me. Talking to a member of staff I learned of the trust and understanding that is built over time between them and the relatives who come to visit KCC.
From a more technical point of view, visiting KCC shortly after sunrise (8:30ish in the morning) gave the an amazing opportunity to capture some rather atmospheric shots with the grounds bathed in a mixture of golden light, frost and lifting mist. The location was full of beautiful shadows evoking a sense of peace, sad, eerie beauty.
To photograph inside the chapel, I started by using my faithful 10-18mm wide angle lens but I felt that my 24-105mm lens gave me the advantage of larger aperture, reduced noise and allowed for more clarity. That said, I would have benefited from taking the shots with a tripod and the reason for not using it was that this was my first visit to the chapel and I had no idea of what to expect.
By the end of my visit I was pleased to have chosen this location and am very much looking forward to going back for my next set of photographs. This time I want to visit at the end of the day so I can shoot the light from a different direction.
Cruel and Tender… sounds almost like the last time I went home to see my dying Nan. Cruel because I knew I had come home to say goodbye. Tender because she had no idea she was dying.
Ageing is a terrible thing. Not because of the wrinkles and fragility of the body as it ages but because of the scary thought that time is running out. One may cease to exist at a moment’s notice or not even that.
The cruelty happens not when the departed are gone. It takes place slowly and painfully everyday for all of those who are left behind attempting to carry on with the lives once the dreaded events have taken place.
What has this got to do with my assignment? I have decided to photograph the dying, the ageing, the ones who have lived so much yet their brains have given up and they live day-by-day without any idea of who those occasional visitors are.
Their faces might look familiar but dementia sufferers aren’t capable of reaching far enough into their memories to recognise those visitors who are in fact their loved ones.
Is there anything more cruel that looking at someone knowing full well they have no recollection of you? The tender part is our own reaction when placed in that situation. We need to be strong, yet kind, tender and above all loving.
Yes, for the Cruel and Tender Assignment I am photographing the dying, the dead and/or their space.
A Poem for The Queen Bee
My memory of you will stay,
I will love you to my dying day,
The heart of my passion, in you, it lies,
We all miss you desperately, that’s why we cry.
In memory of my grandmother who passed away on 9th January 2017.
As part of my research for Project 2 I’m trying to find out more about the Semiotics of Photography. In lame terms (and as i understand it) it relates to the study of meaning. It looks at how we attach meaning to the real world, to words, images and sounds.
Semiotics was invented by Ferdinand de Saussure, a Swiss linguist, who argued that the written and visual language are a system of signs divided into two parts;
A Signifier and Signified.
The Signifier is the form of the message, so in photography it will be an image that we see that is easily recognisable and the Signified is the concept of the signifier and what it represents.
Take this photo of Che Guevara (by Alberto Korda), for example. Arguably one of the most iconic portraits in modern history, it shows Che as a young Cuban revolutionary (Signifier) at a funeral service for the 136 people who were killed when a French ship carrying arms to Havana was sabotaged and blown-up by America. Cuba and US ended diplomatic relations soon after.
However, to many Cubans, Che Guevara’s implacable stare captured in this photo symbolised the struggle of the Cuban people against the US and the anti-capitalism sentiment that followed.
This photo perpetuates Che Guevara as the face of revolution, the opposition to capitalism and imperialism. His beret links him to the common man and his faraway look (some say) is not unlike that in depictions of the Buddha or Christ. In short, it represents the rise of the people against the establishment.
On a less somber note and more up to date ‘photo analysis’ JLo and Drake recently posted in their Instagram account.
According to ‘The Sun’ (pls don’t shoot me!) here’s what the photo means:
But Funkmaster Flex claims the date is loaded with significance for the pair – and may suggest Drake was taking a dig at his old rival. There has been bad blood between the pair for years, and they previously clashed at a club in Las Vegas in 2014. Funkmaster Flex is adamant Drake knowingly took a dig at his nemesis over his new romance with Combs‘ ex-girlfriend.
In a series of posts on Twitter, he wrote: “JLo? That’s the get back for a punch in the face? “Took me all day to figure this out!…“Doggy saved the pic for the anniversary and everything!!! Haaaa! Wow! Sensitive new n**** fail!”
It seems that the hidden meanings in photography is more common than we think, which is why my research must continue. I promise there will be no more mentioning of The Sun tho!
For the past 4 years I have witnessed how joining the Kingston Royal Marine Cadets Detachment has had a very positive impact in the lives of some of the youngsters who regularly attend the parades.
One cadet in particular, Patrick (not his real name) is a textbook example of how being at the unit gives these kids an encouraging, structured environment in which they can thrive. Patrick has often said that the unit ‘saved him’ because it gave him something to belong to and kept him off the streets.
Patrick is one of the many cadets across the country who come from fragmented, broken homes without much direction or guidance. Joining the Cadets means that youngsters such as Patrick, can take part in a huge range of activities, competitions and exercises carefully crafted to teach them self-reliance, team work, discipline, leadership and the value of dedication. In short, it prepares them to deal with whatever life sends their way.
Whilst this all sound awfully exciting, the truth is that working as a team often means doing very mundane tasks like washing up, putting up tents (see photo mosaic above), sweeping the deck after events, setting up the unit for visitors, etc.
That said, there are times when being a Royal Marine Cadet is very exciting indeed! Some of the duties Cadets are often asked to perform include the Carpet Guard during the London’s Lord Mayor Show, field craft exercises, weapons handling as well as water born activities such as sailing and canoeing.
It turns out that being a Royal Marine Cadet gives these youngsters such a great experience that the cadets leave at 18yrs old but soon return as Staff Volunteers. Some even return years later and bring their own children with them. P1, P2
Lens Based Image Making Attempts:
Since I was given this assignment I have been testing different lenses and how they would affect my big day (I knew right away that I was going to shoot the Cadets on Remembrance weekend). Here is how I went about researching different photographic methods:
Method 1: first I tried shooting with my iPhone (see Taking Photos with my iPhone) and I soon found out that it was never going to suffice. It was a good try tho. P1, P2
Method 2: Following my failed attempt at Lens Based Image Making using my iPhone, I tried to photograph a family event without flash. I knew my Canon 7D Mark ii was particularly good for low light conditions so decided to use it with my 24-105mm lens and went bowling. The result wasn’t incredible but I was rather pleased with it, click here to see the photos – Bowling and Making MemoriesP1,P2
Method 3: For the sake of this project I bought a new lens… ok, ok I admit I had been secretly saving for a Canon 70-300mm for a long time! The ‘Darling’ turned out to be a dream come true and I have taken her out many many times including on a beautiful Sunday morning so I could shoot the rutting season in Richmond Park, here is the link to the photos I took on that day – Easy Like Sunday Morning
I did shortlist the ‘Darling’ for my assignment, as I knew I would. P1, P2
The Final 5 Images:
The was always aware the Parade passes by so quickly and I was anxious at first. To calm the nerves and prepare for the task I took a series of test shots to try and get ready. Although the weather was glorious I was positioned in a narrow street between tall buildings and plenty of shadows.
The clouds were coming and going between strong sunlight. I really didn’t want to take chances with the shutter speed so I decided to set my Canon 7D Mark ii to AV so I could control the aperture (the f/stop) & ISO and hoped the camera would properly expose my shots.
The shots taken inside the Unit were much easier to plan as the light was constant. I needed a high ISO number but with slower shutter speed it was possible to take good shots without the need for flash (I forgot the batteries!).
I particularly like my last image as it is a close up of the Globe and Laurel Lapel Badge. Globe and Laurel being the emblem of the Royal Marines. I like the depth of field and the contrast between the gold of of the badge and the darkness of the uniform.
P1, P2, P3, P4, P5
Image 1: TS Steadfast Band
Image 2: Laying the Remembrance Wreath One Last Time
Image 3: The Ex-TA Soldier, The Ex-Royal Marine Commando, The Ex-Cadet (soon to join the Royal Marines) and the Ex-US Army Serviceman.
Image 4:Like Father, Like Son
Image 5: The Globe and Laurel Lapel Badge
Ok so I’ve just spent the best part of 2hrs writing my research but wordpress didn’t let me save it… I thought I had published it and guess what? I can’t see a thing! Arggggghhhhhh… *takes a deep breath and decides to try again*
As I was saying, whilst researching for this project I came across some great methods for making lens based images (i.e. using different lenses, different cameras, printing in different papers, sizes and colours). Needless to say, I came across some great photographers too, here are just some of my favourites:
Johnny Tang: 35mm film, clone photography and film influences
A fine art photographer who became known as “The Clone Photography Magician” who only shoots in 35mm film, Tang never quite knows if his ideas and set ups will work until it is developed and made digital.
His work is unusual, original and requires great skill both in setting up the scene and shooting it. Tang works is mainly based in self portraiture so he has an assistant who shoots his scenes for him as the poses.
His images remind me of the feature movies The Matrix and Inception. On my next visit to Boston I will make sure I visit the Hallway Gallery where his work is often featured.
Best known as the man who ‘discovered Yellowstone’ he was also an environmentalist. His images are celebrated and recognised around the world for being full of detail and depth. His photography was mainly done using a large format camera and often considered ‘bulky, old-fashioned and clumsy’ by the new wave of ‘point and shoot’ photographers.
Adams achieved a great deal of contrast in his images by using a technique called Zone System, which he developed to determine proper exposure and adjust the contrast of his final prints.
Lee Miller: That bathtub, War Times and Women in the Front Line
Whilst I could spends all the time in the world talking about amazing photographers, I wanted to redirect my research towards military photography and link it to the subject of my assignment (The Seacadets Kingston). I decided to research the work of Lee Miller.
An American photographer who worked for British Vogue during the Second World War, Miller, was at first a model but soon moved to work behind the camera.
On the outbreak of war in 1939, Miller offered to work as a photographer for Vogue – an offer that was initially rejected. Instead, she was taken on as a studio assistant. But as the magazine’s male photographers left on war service, she began to take on much of Vogue‘s fashion and lifestyle photography.
As the war escalated and the government recognised that women could and indeed needed to play a bigger role in society Lee was accredited in the US Army as a War Correspondent for Conde Nast.
A photograph of Miller in the bathtub of Adolf Hitler’s apartment in Munich is one of the most iconic images from the Miller–Scherman partnership (David E. Scherman was working alongside Miller at the time).
Research Photographs of the Sea Cadets
As I mentioned at the beginning of this Page, I have been personally involved with the Kingston Sea Cadets for over 4 years. During this time I have taken endless photographs of the cadets doing exercises, parades and special events. Here are just some of my many shots:
Research Photograph of the Location
I have been lucky enough to live in Kingston for the past 14 years and know it well. When I photograph the cadets I find out before hand where the parade will take place (when it is outside the Unit) and arrive early to scout for the best spots.
Shooting outside can be challenging with the weather playing its part and I often have to prepare carefully. Here are a few of the things I keep in mind:
The Weather – do I need a Polariser? Flash? Tripod? Which lens to take i.e. Wide angle? Zoom? Prime lens for optimum aperture? Will I be sheltered from the elements or need to take extra camera gear to cover in the event of rain/snow/sleet?
The location itself – arrive early, preempt where the Cadets will look best from? Find where the traffic will be coming from (sometimes the traffic is suspended especially for the Parade). Will the Cadets be coming from round the corner? If yes, find the best angles.