Faces and the Portrait

All images in this article are my own, as I lack the rights to publish work from the artists discussed.

“To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them that they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed. Just as a camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a subliminal murder – a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time.” 
― Susan Sontag (1977)

Wrinkles tell stories!

I hope the above is wrong! I have photographed a lot of faces, mainly of strangers. A portrait is a special moment, and a collaboration between the subject and photographer (Lowe, P., 2016). The purpose of a portrait is to portray the character, or essence of a subject. As viewers, we like to read into a face, delving into every crease and wrinkle, layering each image with our own notions of the stories the subject may have to tell and the lives they may have led.

The peaceful expression contrasts starkly with the tattoos

Street Portraits are a niche of Street Photography (Gibson, G., 2011), and moments captured should be fleeting, natural and with minimal direction from the photographer. For an image to stand as a portrait a connection between subject and photographer must be made. A candid headshot may be Street, but it is not Portraiture and for this reason, portraits are often viewed as a marginal genre of Street Photography.

There are two bodies of art that come to mind when I think of candid people photography. Bruce Gilden is probably the most prolific photographer of the candid head-shot. Gilden’s style is quick and in your face, often there is no permission sought or given. However, it is perhaps the work of Philip_Lorca diCorcia’s project ‘heads’ (2000 – 2001) that most vividly captures the concept of candidness. For the ‘Heads’ project, diCorcia set up a hidden camera with a telephoto zoom and a flash rig. Often subjects were unaware their image was ever taken. The faces captured are isolated against an unexposed backgrounds, highlighting each persons features and expression. The viewer is left with a distinct feeling of voyeurism.

Cobbler, Hongzhen Old Street

There are many decisions to be made when capturing a portrait. One primary decision is the aperture. A wide aperture of 2..2 and below will blur out the background and isolate the subject. The image is free of distractions and can the viewer can focus purely on the subject. A smaller aperture will leave more of the frame in focus. Leaving background (and often the foreground) in focus gives the viewer a sense of placement. Taking an image of a subject in their own familiar setting is termed an environmental portrait. On a personal note I find this one of the more challenging aspects of portrait photography as both the person and the surroundings need to balance, a cluttered environment will distract the viewer from the power of the subject.

At the start of this article, Sontag describes a portrait as a violation of the subject. I find this perspective a hard pill to swallow, particularly when taking into account Sontag’s long term relationship with Annie Leibovitz, who from my perspective is one of the greatest photographers alive and whose photos display incredible intimacy. I will end on a more positive note with a nod to Steve McCurry (2010), who states, ‘Most of my images are grounded in people. I look for the unguarded moment, the essential soul peeking out, experience etched on a person’s face’. I believe this is what we should aim to capture.

Thats all folks, keep clicking. Chris

References

Gibson G., (2016) ‘The Street Photographers Manual’, Thames and Hudson

Lowe P. (2016) ‘Photography Masterclass, Creative Techniques of 100 Great Photogaphers’, Thames and Hudson

McCurry S. (2010) Amateur Photographer, 13 Marh 2010, p.44

Sontag, S. (1977) ‘On Photography’, Penguin

Pace and Street Photography

This weekend I will be returning to KR Market, which is one of my favourite locations in Bangalore for shooting Street. The market is a vibrant and colourful place, full of noise and bustle. The location is a challenge, as I enjoy capturing clear lines and clutter-free images. Often, I come away with only few keepers. However, the location is steeped in history and I feel it is worthy of a photo-book at some stage. As I keep returning with similar photos, I feel a clear focus on my own skillset is required. This weekend I am going to focus on pace.

KR Market is full of colour!

Street Photographers work at different speeds. There are those who athletically dart from one corner to the next, taking photos and moving on fast. A energetic pace can help capture people unaware, resulting in a candid image as the subject has not had time to register the photographer. Working at this pace can also produce photos of a startled strangers, who were unprepared for a camera to suddenly be thrust into their faces.

The Decisive Moment

The next style of Street Photography has grown from Cartier-Bresson’s ‘decisive moment’. This style of shooting requires patience. The photographer finds an interesting frame, and imagines how it would look with the right person walking into shot. Then the photographer sits (or stands) and waits until the image comes together. There are those who practice this skill so much their shoes grow roots and over time they turn to stone.

Wait for the right guy (or girl) to come along.

My own pace is probably somewhere in-between. I lack the energy for the high pace Parkour style photography and do not have the patience to stand waiting for the perfect frame. However, my meandering style is failing to bring home the proverbial bacon. This weekend I will embrace stillness, I will find that backdrop, chill the heck out and wait for my shot. I will create images that will put my name next to Bresson’s when discussion one again turns to the decisive moment.

Or maybe not…

A Challenge

On that note, I challenge you to go out and shoot at a different pace. Try going to the extremes and seeing how your photos look when you change your speed. Feel free to email any photos and I can feature them on this blog. As always, let me know what you think in the comments below.

Take care and keep clicking,

Chris

Thinking on Bokeh, Blur and Backgrounds.

This article is aimed at newbie and intermediate photographers. Here we will look at the importance of thinking about the backgrounds of your photos.

A blurred background makes a subject ‘pop’. Shot at F1.8.

The Basics of Bokeh

Bokeh (pronounced Bo-kay) is the area around the subject of a photo that is out of focus. This is often used in portraiture, as having the background out of focus makes the subject ‘pop’ out of the photo. Here is what Bokeh looks like with nothing else.

Photo by Val Vesa.

Now I rarely go out looking for Bokeh in my photos, as it is generally not relevant to Street Photographers. However, here is one of my images where a little Bokeh crept into the frame. In this example I was not interested the the background. The ‘joke’ of the image is captured with the inclusion of both the cigarette smoke and the pollution mask.

Take off your pollution mask when smoking!

Background Blur

This paragraph is a very rough guide on blurring the background of a photo. The above photo was taken early in the morning. The aperture of my camera was set to 1.8. Setting the aperture to a low number means that the lens opens as far as it will go (the smaller the number, the bigger the ‘hole’ in the lens.) The effect on the photo is to blur out the background. To create background blur, put your camera in aperture priority mode and set your f-stop to the smallest number. If your lens opens as wide as f2.2, you should start seeing the effect. If you want great blur or Bokeh, purchase a full-frame camera and a lens that opens to f1.2. Don’t expect much change from $6000. Kit lenses often only open to f5.6, which is generally not going to blur out anything!

See that hole in the middle of the lens? You can make it bigger or smaller. The larger it is the more your background blurs. To make the hole larger, set your camera to f2.2 and below. To make the hole small, set your aperture to f8 and above. Making the hole smaller means that more of you image will be in focus.

Further Examples

Look at the two photos below, as they demonstrate two different ways to approach the background of a photo. The first photo, with the young children was shot at f2.2, and the second subject in the background lacks definition and is quite blurry; the leading subject is strong in the frame. In comparison, with the second image, I wanted the second person to remain in (relative) focus, as I was attracted to the way he was looking at the leading subject (the main person in this photo is the Mayor of the area I was visiting. He was very chatty and very stoned!). The effects are subtle, but different.

When you don’t need blur!

Over the weekend I went out on a mission to test the Kit lens bundled with the A7iii. The lens does not appear to get great reviews, and only opens to F3.5. However, it is light weight and unobtrusive, which suits my style. Let’s look at some of the situations where background blur is not required.

Fill The Frame

In the example below I have filled the frame completely. There is no background to blur out. Problem solved!

Fill the Frame

Blow out the Highlights

In the example below, the background was an uninteresting sky. There was nothing to add by including it, blurred or un-blurred. I exposed for the face and blew out the background completely.

Include the Background

Possibly the most relevant tactic for Street Photographers is to include the background. In Street Photography, the background can be equally, or more important than the subject. Shoot at 5.6-f.9 and make sure everything is sharp. In the photo below, I wanted to see the old bikes and some of the gritty alley. I possibly could have used a narrower aperture and kept the background even sharper. However, alleys can be dark and I needed as much light as could be captured.

Keep the background in focus.

Thinking About Backgrounds

One occurring question is what mode camera mode I favour. Generally when I am on a photo walk, my camera will be stuck in aperture priority mode. This is because the background of a photo is one of the key areas I focus my mind on before capturing an image. Do I want to see the background? Do I want to blur the background? Does it add, or take away something from the scene? Choosing the right f-stop plays a vital role in this decision and is certainly an area of photography that we should all work on mastering.

That is all for today folks. Keep Clicking,

Chris

Moving to the Sony A7iii for Street Photography

A move from Olympus Cameras.

This Christmas Santa delivered an A7iii. Actually, I got a good deal on it while stuck at Singapore Airport. Does this mean I am ditching my Olympus Em5ii forever? The M4/3 (Micro four thirds) system is flexible, lightweight, responsive and home to some great lenses. I am likely to keep the system as a high-end backup and a lightweight travel option. So why change systems?

KR Market (Bangalore) Sony A7iii + 50mm FE1.8
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Farewell 2018, Hello 2019…

Wishing all my readers a great new year, I hope it goes out with a bang. This month I have been busy with Wes Hardaker who has been guiding a select few photographers on the different applications of exposure control. I generally leave my camera set at -0.3, so it has been an education to finally play a little more with my exposure compensation dial.

New Zealand loves its Bees!

For my final challenge I was asked to create a set of Street Photos. However, I have been in the sleepy town of Blenheim in New Zealand. The town is great for wine, but a little quiet for Street Photography. I think I managed to pull of some work with at least an urban feel to it. All these photos are either very over or underexposed. Feel free to have a nose and leave a comment. This is me working outside of my comfort zone, something I will be trying to do more of in 2019!

Looking at 2019, I am hoping to do less social media, enter more competitions and work on making better images. I also have my first exhibition coming up in January, so watch this space.

Thanks to all of you who have been following this blog through 2018, I would be talking to myself without you.

Take care and keep clicking, Chris.

Best of 2018. Part 1

“Twelve significant photographs in any one year is a good crop.” – Ansel Adams

As the year comes to a close, I find myself reflecting on what I have achieved with my photography in 2018.  Today I scoured by hard drive for my favourite photos of the year. I will try and explain a little of what is behind each image. There will be six images in this post, and six in the next.

Varanasi

To get a good angle you sometimes need to fight for a spot. For this image I had to wade through the edges of the Ganges River to get around the crowd. A fast prime lens meant I was able to capture an image of good quality. While not ‘Street’ as many other images, it stands as a favourite.

Boy

This image falls short of being completely candid as this young boy was clearly posing for the camera. His mum was behind him in the shadow, and yanked him in after I captured this frame. While I often go out on photo walks, this image was taken while I was waiting for my Royal Enfield motorbike to be serviced.

Stone Mason, Bangalore

I love portraits, and this image has a back story. I was working on a project as part of the StepOutPhotography collective. The subject of my photo essay was the cemeteries in Bangalore. This stone mason was carving headstones outside the Muslim section of the burial ground.

Hindu Cemetery

This image was taken outside a Hindu burial ground. I like how the 3 men are passing the entrance. This was one of the final images of a days shooting.

Pattaya Ladyboy

Many of the ‘workers’ involved in Pattaya’s booming sex industry are reticent of being photographed. However, often the ladyboys were quite happy to pull a pose. I chose B+W for this image. There is a darker side to paradise!

Taxi Driver, Kolkata

Kolkata was my favourite location for photography this year. I woke up at 5am, shot like mad till 10am, and then crashed for the day. Candid photos can be a challenge in India, everyone likes to pose. Fortunately, this guy was to engrossed in the paper to notice me.

Keep an eye out for part 2!

Take Care and Keep Clicking, Chris

Ten Tips to Ignore

Bit of a fun article here. Don’t take these ideas too seriously. Hopefully the points made will make you think a little differently from everyone else. This post is inspired by my current thinking, which is that we have to do something different to stand out. If we all follow the same ‘rules’ then everything will look the same…

#9 Asking permission would have ruined this image.
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