Friday, 30 March 2012

3 simple steps to Great Location Portraiture

More shallow DoF Olympic Golden greats - this one is my Favourite.

It is not fair, and one should not have a 'favourite' but in the whole 'Olympic Golden Greats' series this is mine.

Bob Braithwaite won Olympic Gold for trap shooting at the 1968 Olympics and held the world record for 4years.

All while he was a full time vetinary in rural Lancashire.

He is a wonderful Gentleman.

A life artist.

When Lan Bui and I went to see him to shoot stills and a video, we anticipated we would be there for the morning, we stayed there until way after dark.

Such is the measure of the man.

Have a look at the short video which formed part of the exhibition at the John Lewis Stratford store, sponsored by Manfrotto, it will give you some idea of his philosophy, one could do a lot worse than be inspired by his approach.


I know I was.

This interview was in the days before the Canon C300 and we shot it on a Canon XF305 and a Canon 5dmkII with a 100mm 'L' series Macro.

But where to shoot him?

Bob is not in his first flush of youth, infact he is the oldest surviving British Olympic Gold Medalist, and his mobility is limited.

Bob agreed to be photographed there, in the same Olympic blazer he wore in 1968, when he was in his 40's.

As with all my environmental portraits, the sitter is the very last element I introduce to a scene.

I treat them all very much the same and it is a 3 step process, very much 'jigsaw' like in nature.

1. Identify your 'blank canvas'

Ideally this should be the day before the shoot, but we were shooting in the North of England so this was not practical, so we used Google street view to give us some sort of idea of the terrain on this occasion it did not reveal the exact 'spot' that we would use but it gave us some sort of idea, if you don't do so already use this amazing and powerful location scouting tool.

We did checked the back garden which he was able to get to, but is was not suitable at all.

On checking the front of the house there was a quiet road which curved beautifully away, with a beautiful stone wall running alongside, and a gently sloping hill on the left.

Pretty much ideal for  my Phase One DF with a P65+ back shot at F2.8 on the Schneider LS 110mm.

With every location portrait, I establish my 'blank canvas' which I'm going to put the sitter in.



I like to do this on my own with time to think, analysing the scene in detail, but it's not always possible....

I often find that the 'blank canvas' shot is an interesting shooting it's own right too.

2. Use a 'stand in' who is NOT the model

This is very important

By testing all your your set up of lighting, exposure and pose on someone who is not the sitter you are keeping your model fresh and keen.

We all know how long it can take to set a shot up....getting everything spot on.

I used Lan Bui of the Bui Brothers as a stand in, who shot the video with me, even though he is a year or two younger and a foot or so shorter than Bob.





When I have worked my shot out exactly I introduce my tethered setup on the Gitzo tripod so once I have my 'blank canvas' I don't lose it.

If you use your model for this, they get bored, cold (on this occasion at least) and the shoot loses energy.

And you lose your shot.

This way you can commit to your model spending as little time as possible being photographed.

Using this technique I have managed to shoot many a 60 second celebrity or corporate portrait.

3. Introduce the sitter

By this point all the really hard work has been done and you project the impression of being a 'Pro' and in all probability you will pick up up more work this way.

Who would you employ, a photographer who faff's around eating into your precious time or a shooter who can execute a top quality portrait in moments, with little impact on your day?

The image that we project of ourselves is important, and this should not only be viewed as tool for getting more work.

Better thought out photography means less retouching, more profit and higher standards of your own photography, which is ultimately more rewarding and satisfying.

Interestingly, I initially asked Bob to pose with his Gold medal, which he did reluctantly.......he really wasn't comfortable doing this.





So we shot him without his medal and it made quite a difference to his expression, more relaxed and natural I think.




If you get the chance to 'give back' to someone who has given their time for free do so.

I shot this really quick portrait of Bob, his wife and daughter.



A great little memento of a pretty involved shoot on a cold, cold day.

Finally the lighting.

I wanted to light this shot in a very subtle way, so I used my Elinchrom Quadra with a Chimera Medium soft box at a little more than half a stop over ambient as the key light coming in from camera right.

I also used a super subtle back light way, way over into the muddiest field ever....Lan waded out with the Quadra and a small Chimera soft box and I very carefully talked him in on the correct angle from the position that Bob would be taking.

You can most probably tell that all of this took quite sometime.

Worth it I think.

2 comments:

Murray Laidlaw said...

Good natural portrait and a lovely video, he comes across as a really nice bloke. I can see just from this short clip how you could stay and chat for hours.

Drew Gardner said...

Thanks Murray

A really amazing Gentleman.

The video was really just the tip of the iceberg, one could have made a complete documentary about him.

Have a great weekend

Drew