Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Learning Portraits

Have heard it said that fear is a stronger motivator than pleasure. It stops us from doing so many things we want to do but won't because we are afraid of failing. 

Some might say after experiencing too many failures, one learns to quit trying. That may be, but my view is, having experienced many different types of failures more than once, you can learn to look past your fear of it. After all, it never was the end of the world, just a bump in the road.

So many cliches can be quoted about success and failure, but suffice it to say
 overcoming one's fear of failure is a great trait to have. 

Am saying this to admit to having a fear of taking portraits. As I delve deeper into photography the more that fear of having to work up close with people... all their personalities...  grew. Never have I work with models in my photography because I am uncomfortable in telling them how or where to pose, what to do or not do.  Even asking their permission to take their photo. Is it fear of rejection...?  WOW, hadn't thought much about that since dating days many decades ago. 

While still recovering from the accident, am pushing myself in new directions with my photography. Subject matter that is new to me but old hat to professional photographers.  But PORTRAITS.... ah, risk failure?  Really need to try it, but....      whimp! Just do it!

What you are about to see here are both portrait failures and a few photos I like. If I did not show you the failures too I would not be completely honest with you or myself.

A Model?  Who will be my model(s)? A family friend has twin daughters that I took snapshots of a year or so ago in New Mexico came to mind. What better than to take photos of someone familiar. Asked our friend if she, her twin girls and her mother could maybe be models for my learning experience. We agreed to take the photos in their home.

Recently have been studying using natural light for all types of photography including portraits. Fits in great with my equipment limitations as I do not have a photo studio with lots of professional lighting gear. Just a camera and a tripod.

 I called to set up the photo session on a moments notice because the sun was bright that day. In the afternoon it would at the right angle where I wanted it. Arriving with just a tripod and camera, am sure they had their doubts. They suggested they sit outside, using the natural light and green outdoor space in their back yard as their previous photographers had done. Declining that offer, I said I wanted to look around their home to find a slightly darken room with afternoon light coming in thru a window.
The den will work.

First model, started with Daughter #1. Photographer failure!  Am not happy with the pose or the shots because mentally I was still thinking in that old school mode of posing and lighting people. It even looks like your typical graduation photo, only worse. Stale, lacking any personal feeling. This image did not do this beautiful young lady any justice. Makes her look much older than she is. Operator error. While the subject is beautiful the photo is bad.

Sorry #1, can we try again another day? She agreed.

With Daughter #2, I loosened up, got more experimental, her photos took on a more daring look. Found the right amount of natural light, let shadows play across her face, creating dimension, a little mystery, bringing out more of her playful personality.

Another shot of Daughter #2 captured less mystery, more relaxed, but still interesting light and shadow play. Pros would call pix of daughter #2 a head shot, not a portrait. 
Am learning here... or so I thought. 
Now...on to Model #3, their mother.

Model #3, Mother, I completely lost the light and mood. There is a challenge in using only natural light, in that it is not constant. It comes and goes. Clouds block the light, maybe they will reopen, maybe not. After reviewing Mother's photos, they were all thrown in the trash. Could not capture her.  She agreed to allow me to try another day. 

Mother returned to the kitchen, on to the next model...

Now Model #4, while situating this elegant lady the bright natural light came back. Quickly clicking away, was able to capture the radiance and smile of her beauty before the light faded again. 

Final model, #5, the grandmother. We are still using the same window, same seat, same light streaming in, but this model was not warming up to the photographer. 
Was suspicious, not trusting. 
The eyes..., "What do you think you are doing in my home?"

Then came a break, one of her granddaughters cracked a joke, she looked up and laughed.  
Click. Got it.  

After the session we retired to the kitchen, visiting while the meal was being prepared. Here my old standby style of photography kicked in... tell a story with the photo.  Something I am very comfortable with and know what to do.  No posing. Just capturing people going about what they do every day.

Title this photo:  Grandma's Snap Peas.

As is the case 99% of the time, one's fears and apprehensions are all imagined.
 The portrait session turned out well for my first practice. No one died. 

A few good photos were captured, a lot was learned. 
Gaining confidence I can do better the next time.

Doing these exercises will make me a better photographer when I get back on the road.

Ride safe my friend,



  1. Portraits....seems difficult....learning through your efforts....still don't see them in my future though.

    Back when I was in major #2 (photojournalism) of eventually 5 majors in college (yep, I ended up in the five year plan) of the things I learned was the best pictures of people are candid ones where they're (in best case) not even aware they're being get the real person then it seems.

    People act different when a camera is pointed at them, something very true in my case, which is why I'm usually the one pointing the camera.

    1. Five majors huh? and a devotee of a dated design Russian sidecar rig... not sure how to interpret that.

  2. Felt really bad I did not get at least one decent photo of the mother...

    Three techniques I use to get those natural shots when traveling: 1) set the camera on the tabletop in an outdoor cafe next to my coffee, then snap photos of passerbys without lifting the camera up. Tilt the rear screen up so I can see where I am aiming. 2) If I see someone coming my way I want to get a photo of, I'll pretend to be taking a photo of a building ahead of them and let them walk into the frame before snapping the photo. 3) Using a telephoto lens, I can catch people unsuspecting from a distance.

  3. Love photography, but I prefer to shoot landscape and city skylines at night. Portrait photography seems too complicated and gear essentials seems a bit too much.

  4. Thanks for joining in Kolfa, Traveling by motorcycle doesn't give us that extra trunk space for camera gear, does it? Experimenting in the various aspects of photography with minimalist equipment can be a challenge. Our challenge is to work around our equipment limitations and exploit what it can do well.


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