I headed over to Precision Camera this past Saturday, mainly to ogle the new Olympus OM-D. Precision was having a mini-photo expo and they had a bunch of camera vendors as well as classes going on at their store. Going to these things is always a nice diversion and something photo-relatd to do on the weekend. And while I have more than enough equipment, it is aways nice to look at what’s new and dream a little bit. You know you’ve been going to these things too much when the Sony rep and Canon rep recognize you and the Olympus Rep even knows your name. Being the only full service camera store left in Austin, you end up running into a lot of friends. I ran into Gary, my Black and White film, Leica shooting friend as well as Kirk Tuck, professional photographer and super blogger, at the store. After an hour or so (hard to tell because I always experience time wraps in camera stores), I decided to leave the store when I got sucked into a portrait shooting class that was happening just outside. Local, professional photographer and humanitarian, Randy Kerr, was teaching a small group how to see the light and make great looking portraits.
I’m not sure when the class started but I ended up partaking for the last part of the demonstration. Randy had a model perfectly positioned under a covered walkway in front of the camera store. And though it was midday, the harsh light was blocked by the overhead structure and we got great bounce light off the parked cars. Laura was there, nicely dressed and posing quietly by the pillar. Not wanting to lose a model shooting opportunity, I decided to hang out a little longer to do some shooting. I had two cameras with me, the Olympus E-P3 with the Lumix 14mm lens and the Olympus E-PL1 with the Lumix 20mm. I was really wishing I had my Olympus 45mm f1.8 lens with me, It’s my go to lens for portraits. Between the two, I was going to use my 20mm f1.7 for the portraits. There was enough distractions around (did I tell you we were shooting next to a parking lot) that I didn’t want to use my wide-angle. That’s where a 90mm equivalent lens will nicely isolate the subject and would be easier to omit or blur away unpleasant surroundings.
Most of the people in class appeared to be beginners. Some were still figuring out the balance between shutter speed, aperture and ISO. Randy went beyond the basics and talked about how to see the light and how to connect with the people being photographed. The class made me realize that I’ve come a long way since I got serious into photography but that I still have a long way to go. Sure, aperture, shutter speed, ISO, focal length, all that is second nature to me, now. But that is just the plumbing of photography, the mechanics. It’s important stuff to know but it’s just the first step in creating a great photograph. Layer in good composition and good lighting above the basics and you get a decent technical photograph. To make a really great photograph, you ultimately have to connect with the person you are shooting. This is what I’m trying to work on. Not to say I’ve mastered all the basics just yet, I know I haven’t. Listening to Randy was a learning experience since I can now concentrate more on the artistry and the emotional parts of the lesson, and not just the plumbing.
And yet, despite my gains, I’m still working on same basic things like controlling the background in my portraits. I’ve gotten better at looking at the subject but, at times, I don’t pay enough attention to the background. Are there distracting shapes and colors? Is the background brighter or darker than the foreground? You can see by the 2/3 length portrait above, that the covered hallway in front of the camera store is not the ideal place for a photo shoot. But I started to maneuver my camera around to both nicely frame Laura but also get a less distracting background. I moved in closer to eliminate more the side elements.
I got rid of the distracting window signage but still had the white ceiling and crooked lines in the back. I finally discovered that if I shift my camera towards the pillars at the right angle, I could use the two closest pillars to form a backdrop eliminating most of the distractions. The last two images did this the best, though not perfectly. In the photo immediately below, you can still see some terra-cotta color in between the two pillars. You can still see the gray floor in the bottom right corner. The last image almost got it right, from a background point of view. Of course the foreground, the image of the person, is ultimately the most important. I failed to combine my favorite expression, the one at the top of the post, with the best background. I don’t aways like the smiling portraits because it’s hard to get a natural looking smile but Laura got it perfect. She has such a natural, un-model like feel and I’m starting to gravitate towards this kind of look. It’s fun, at times, to take pictures of the typical model poses but, in the end, they look really staged. My skill level is not there to elicit a natural response from all my subjects. I can’t take any credit for this shoot either. It was all Laura. Now, if I can get that natural simile and kind looking eyes in all my portraits…. that would be an accomplishment that I would be proud of.
I took these photographs with my Olympus E-PL1 with the Panasonic Lumix 20mm f1.7. Please make sure to click on a photograph to see a larger image and hover over the photo to see the exposure details.
See more images taken with the Olympus E-PL1 at mostlyfotos, my one photograph per day photo blog.