Photography composition: Working toward the final image
When I first immersed myself in photography way way back, it took me a while to realize that what I see in a magazine or book, isn’t necessarily the first image. Those incredible images that can inspire us, (or even make us just want to give up photography), most often are not fully-formed masterpieces. Most often, the photograph that we as the viewer are presented with, are but one of a series. One photograph that stood out, or where the elements in the photograph were controlled by the photographer. And even with the work of hardcore photo-journalists, what we see, have been “controlled” and “adjusted”, even if only in terms of lens choice and composition.
With that realization, I felt less intimidated by the great photographs that I saw. They had become more accessible in a way, and more attainable to me as a new photographer.
Photographs with impact or appeal could come to be because of serendipity or foresight and careful planning by the photographer. Quite often it’s just recognizing the potential of a scene, and working with it to finesse the elements, such as the composition or lighting or, with portraits, the pose.
So it is with this photograph of Jessica Joy, taken just before we started the photo-shoot mentioned in the article, colored gels with flash photography. The final result shown here, is a little bit of everything – a wonderful subject, an opportunity, and then over the course of several photographs, finessing it.
While I really like this image, and think of this as the final image that I want to present, it didn’t just “happen” as the first and only image. There was an entire sequence leading up to it. It is this first recognition of a potentially good photograph, and then the thought-process in the sequence, that I want to show here.
This photograph is one of the last photographs in the series, and another that I really like.
But this is where we started – the first image. In the dressing area of the studio, there was this usual mirror with the lightbulbs around it. I asked Jessica to turn to her side so I could see her profile. Since I didn’t intend using any other light, other than the bunch of lights behind her, I thought this would probably be more of a sillhouette than a well-lit nuanced portrait where she is looking towards the camera.
So that’s the first test shot with her jacket still on. The jacket was too bulky and too noticeable. I wanted the portrait to be about her.
With the jacket off, I thought we could simplify it even more by slipping the straps off her shoulders.
I really like this photo, but I can see her brightly lit arm reflected in the mirror … as well as myself. Moving to my left would’ve solved that.
What was missing though was a certain mood. The photo lacked a sense of mystery. I asked Jessica to turn around, and look to her left. I had her bring her hand into the frame, to add more of that sensuality to the image.
However, her reflection in the mirror was too distracting. It was just too bright, even with the abstraction that a black and white image brings.
Lighting & Design for Portrait Photography
Lighting & Design is a follow-up of sorts to Direction & Quality of Light. It’s a slightly eclectic mix, discussing the thought-process with various scenarios shooting portraits. The examples use available light, bounce flash, off-camera flash as well as studio lighting.
The idea is that in every one of the 60 sections, there is something to be learnt and applied, regardless of your level as a photographer or where you shoot – all shaped to form a cohesive narrative arc throughout the book.
Here’s a series of three images as I tried to hide the reflections. The hot-spots in the mirror were distracting in two of the images.
It needed me to move subtly to the side, and also have Jessica rotate ever so slightly towards the camera … and there we have it!
The photo above still had that reflection of her in the mirror that was distracting. A slight change in pose hid that … and there is the final image.
Paradoxically enough, I ended up liking the cooler, blue-tinted B&W version better. It just had that appealing air of sensual mystery about it.
With this I wanted to show that when you recognize the potential in a scene or the potential with a certain subject – whether a landscape, or architecture, or a portrait – that we shouldn’t just be happy with the first few images. Often enough, we can easily finesse the image until we have something that *really* works. Just don’t give up too early.
Camera settings & photo gear (or equivalents) used during this photo session
- 1/200 @ f/1.8 @ 1600 ISO
- And since I shot these images at f/1.8 these more affordable optics would’ve worked just as well:
Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G / Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM