Portrait Shoot - My Favourite 10

Here's my selection, although I've also asked the model to choose her favourite 10 also. However, the aim of the project is to produce some composite images to support marketing messages and so the final 10 pieces will include a merge of two or more shots from the original 36.

These are the jpegs straight from the shoot without any photoshopping whatsoever - I'll save that for the final submission (three falls or a knock out!).

Here's my favourite 10. 

Portrait Shoot - The Final 36

Yep, that's right folks, from the original 240+ shots I've narrowed down to 36 - and to make it easy to view I've put them in a (slide show Joe?) - am I that obvious? (yes Joe).

I also know that I've got to get this down to 10 - that's the subject of my next blog.

Horst P Horst

Horst, 'the master of dramatic lighting'. and famous for his work in the field of fashion it was the image 'Minbocher Corset' that has become his motif. Indeed he chose the image for the cover of his autobiography 'Horst, His Work and his World'. The image has been labeled as conveying modesty, charm. Eros, humility, provocation and elegance.

There is an element of voyeurism as we look on the woman undressing. The lace ties tantalisingly invite us to help further, the arms raised awaiting our help - a firmly male perspective of course. For a woman the corset brings the hour glass so desired of the time and beautifully outlined here. On the left of the subject the shadow of the corset is contrasted by the light on the background. This is reversed on the right side, the light falls on the corset to contrast with the background. The lines of the hour glass are clearly defined. The light also illuminates the nape and back and shoulders, the parts of the female form that are least seen - hidden by the hair and dresses or blouses. The shadow falling from the structure leads our eye to the straps which lead us back to the subject. Nothing else distracts or subtracts from the image. The darker background supports the light on the subject.

A lot of post processing appears to have been done. On the model's left elbow (as we look) you can see a halo effect. Evidence of those skills of the master, dodging and burning in the darkroom.
So great inspiration for lighting, but is not the female as an object of beauty and desire that I seek. This inspiration is found elsewhere in Horst's work.

In the image above, again a fashion shoot, this time for a Mainbocher dress, the use of what I would call 'none lighting' gives the woman power. There she stands alone in the dark against a foreboding sky and she says I have no fear, try me, I am defiant, I am my own woman. The dress that the shoot is promoting has been clipped from the shoulder it increasingly fades. Where there is light shadow detail is minimal whilst there is the sufficient definition in the arms and the lines cast by the shadows to say I am a woman and my clothing is 'haute coutre'. The wearing of the hat signifies strength drawn from its masculine symbolism.

In this 1948 image from Vogue, the very elegant and sophisticated Gibson Girls (feminine personification of the time defined by the illustrator Charles Dana Gibson)  play with a miniature male begging for mercy - about to be prodded by a hairpin and is so insignificant that a 'spy' glass is required to even notice him. He himself looks an elegant fellow. Their is no suggestion of  class superiority. This is a man of class being 'toyed' with by women of class. The ladies expressions are a mix of amusement and aloofness. The plain white table cloth ensures nothing distracts from the darkly dressed male. So whilst miniature he contrasts well. The light is coming from the right illuminating the ladies faces (and evidenced by the magnifying glass's reflection on its holders chest). The dark hair of the Gibson girls, whilst purely coincidental, provides a strong contrast to the background and causes them to become the focus of our attention. Nothing distracts our eye or leads us way.

In the following image of the 'First Lady Nixon' the setting is immediately one of 'state'. Thus the subject is by association a 'stateswoman'. Her form of dress, hear and accessories help with that definition. The body language and expression say I am important. The use of foreground items (the pen is mightier than the sword) including a sophisticated quill provide supporting evidence of the importance of the subject. The subjects clothing palette aligns with the room. They are one. The ambient lighting helps to soften the room whilst in contrast, Strong lighting throws a strong shadow and suggest a person of strong character.

Katherine Hepburn's hand gesture, in the following image, suggests her self-confidence in accepting or rejecting ideas/opinions/requests. The light cast firmly on the face washes out signs of age and softens her (a sensitive consideration). Authority is drawn from the pose, dark clothing and strong shadows. Whilst Hepburn's head occupies the top right hand third of the image her extended arm allows her to dominate the space. Her lower body occupies the lower two thirds whilst her head is given the freedom of the upper third. For me, that triangle of chair is both distracting and disconcerting is this really where Horst wants to draw our eye?

It is the fur coat that gets all the attention in the following purely fashion shoot . The model is almost incidental. She needs to have all the attributes of a model yet she is almost not there herself. The light is cast on to the lower part of the coat (and on to the dress). Thus we look at the coat we notice the texture and lines, we notice its matching with the dress (another haute coutre moment). The reflected marble floor, not too much, just enough to say ostentation. The lines created along the left hand side cause our eye to look up and down (yes vertically) whilst the horizontal line says look upwards from the edge of the coat.

The following image perfectly captures its title 'Fur, Pearls & Diamonds.

The use of black clothing and the black hat (to display diamonds) along with a light background ensures that our eye looks at what the image is about. Its that simple. Front lighting is used to light the diamond on the hat, the diamonds on the ring on the hand, the pearls and of course the fur. At the same time the hat casts a shadow over the models face, allowing her beauty to come through but not her identity. It is said that the eyes are the window to the soul and this explains the hat's use for camouflage. It is perhaps the hat that is the stroke of genius here and not perhaps the lighting.

Here's a slide show of other Horst P Horst images that show the same themes of dark and light to represent strong female character/istics (and in almost everyone a hat!).

Bert Stern - Potrait Influence

Yep another iconic set for consideration. In what became known as 'The Last Sitting' with the shoots (three in total) for Vogue magazine occurring only weeks before Marilyn's death. During the shoots Stern captured both the Marilyn we knew and a Marilyn entirely different to the Silver Screen icon that the Western World became familiar with. Marilyn had for some time been expressing that she was a whole person with emotions, opinions, beliefs and values, that she was more than just an object of desire.

Stern had gone down the nudes route in the first session, however Vogue wasn't happy. It didn't want nudes and it didn't want colour. It wanted B&W, it wanted fashion. Hence another two sittings.

I open with the iconic 'crucifix' image. The idea came about simply because Vogues photography editor returned the transparencies to Stern with a 'x' to indicate not accepted. Perhaps the crucifix resonates with the idea of Marilyn's suicide as a form of self sacrifice. It has certainly become the 'signpost' for the collection from the three sittings.

It is the following image that gave Marilyn a sophistication that we don't readily associate her with. The black all covering dress, the hair tied up, looking away from the camera not being brash and sassy - being quite the opposite the antithesis of her own celebrity.

The lighting (seemingly side lit and slightly behind from the left, and rear lit from the right) has allowed the lines on her neck and shoulders to come through, giving a refined look (rather than the smooth washed out images that we usually see and that Stern himself repeats elsewhere. The pose provides a more angular look more fitting with today's models than the curvaceous models of the late 50's early 60's.

Here's a glamour pose to contrast that sophisticated shot. Light from the front to bring out highlights on the shoulder, breast, beads and face. There also seems to be a top light giving contrast to the hair. Almost washed out at the top but with the soft shadows bringing out the waves and very tips of the hair. The white background allows Marilyn to dominate the image. Notice how the hair almost merges with the background at the crown yet contrasts as we near the shoulder. 
It also does this from the front of the head to the back.

Same Marilyn, different woman?
Whilst a lot of post production here the image represents and entirely different aspect of Marilyn. Strongly back and side light Marilyn is in soft shadow. It is the 'robes' that grab our immediate attention. Ye we know it's a sheet but somehow the suggestion of Roman Goddess comes through. The hair is now yellow, whereas in the shots above it has been white and almost grey (adding to that look of refinement that I mentioned).

The hair over one eye also lends to the suggestion of having just bathed. Let's have a look at the original - an all together different message. Now we see that is a bed behind her, and she is just getting out of it in the middle of the day, look at her dishevelled hair - whatever has she been doing? The use of that back light gives us the most powerful message that we then start to add information to arrive at a value judgement.

And now elegance with playfulness. The hair, the jewelery, the ball gown all suggest a woman of importance, not just desire. The poses bring the playfulness of Marilyn back to the image.

The fully body shots lengthens her and suggest tallness (which is a body language signal for importance - studies have show that in business, tall and or handsome  people fair disproportionately better that the converse). Hollywood has and continues to match lead characters with supporting actors that support this thinking. Other uses included the 'shorter' character standing on out of sight objects to raise their stature.

Again we see the light from the left and slightly to the rear. The dress again takes predominance. The first two poses help to lengthen and slim the subject whilst the third is almost statuesque. In three of the image so far - unless you knew the collection - I believe you'd be hard pushed to suggest that this was Marilyn Monroe.

In the shot above Marilyn 'dressed up' to imitate Jackie Onassis. This time a diffused front light has been used to create texture in the white top. A top light creates reflections in the hair and bring out the texture of the lines and curls. The lighting this time does not 'wash out' Marilyn's skin - indeed the skins looks sallow and with hairs given strong imitations of a Southern European female. All that with lighting!

I like the following image not because it directly supports my theme but because it does indirectly. The images immediately resonate with the new Wave female icon of the late 70's early 80's Debbie Harry a.k.a. 'Blondie'. The physical similarities are obvious. It is the notion that the alluring 60's pose were deemed, during the height of punk rock and new wave' to represent a Woman doing her own thing, fronting an all male punk band, two fingers up to the establishment and perceptions of women as the 'tender' sex.

Whilst this was Stern's defining moment he did of course go on to produce significant other works including 'Lolita'. Similar to my use of Newton's work I am seeking to build a body of work to support my proposed them and not an exploration of the photographer's work.
Bert Stern's Website

Here's some more images from those famous sittings.

Helmut Newton - Portrait Inlfuences

Helmut Newton's 'They're coming" is a major influence on my final Portrait choice.

The images alone portray the very story - and that's the power of images of course. Whether this was Newton's intention is much debated. The sequence was given the title by Vogue after publication of the images in 1981. Newton certainly portrayed women as dominant and strong, never forgoing beauty and his personal attraction to stilettos and high heeled shoes - revealed in his own words "When I look at a woman," said Newton, "my first glance goes to her shoes and I hope that they are high. High heels make a woman very sexy and give her something threatening." It is also said that Newton took pictures only for his own pleasure and there was nothing altruistic in his work.

We can see that the almost exact replicas have different lighting. This is because Newton had used sunlight coming in through the windows. It does tell us that they were dressed for the first shot and naked for the second. On closer inspection the third model from the left has reversed her leg position.

The use of 'passive' backgrounds allows the models to fully dominate the image.

Horst P Hort's famous corset image portrays a time when the female form was desired but given trusses and girdles. Since Newton's image women have taken to gyms and sports once the reserve of men.

In my shoot I aim to show the transition of everyday women in to business. Whilst women have been in business for some time they have long been perceived individually as 'a woman in a man's world' (we can all hear the song).

Now women are entering in to the business world and bring their femininity with them. I aim to suggest that they should also bring their culture and every other facet of themselves to their work place. This will meet, and perhaps challenge, the call for diversity in the workplace.

Newton, of course is famed for his female nudes, adoration of the female form and controversial construction of images including guns, implied lesbianism and sado masochism. My portrait choice is about about emancipation and liberation. For this reason I will limit exploration of Newton's images to a slide show.

I have selected images that I believe show women as strong characters. Adopting poses that at the time would be considered very masculine - drinking beer at a fast food stand, touting guns and wearing masks or heavy work boots, mastering wild dogs - all with confident body language (eye contact, tilt of the head, pointing of the legs and toes, facial expressions - it's all there), .

N.B. This not a censorship, editorial or moral decision, simply that the images do not further support my intended outcomes.

Newton also worked in colour but it is these B&W images that most resonate with my own theme.

The images are all strongly lit with the light almost washing out the features. Perhaps a tip of the hat by Newton towards modern airbrushing, a desire for perfection in the female form.

Glenn Karlsen - Portrait Influence

Three things appeal to me about Glenn Karlsen - i) his images (naturally), ii) his open admission of using photoshop's full utility to create draw dropping images and iii) his humility/ Lets start with that humility here's his quote directly lifted from his own website http://www.glennkarlsen.com/ "I sometimes do test shoots for free if it's also something in it for me. If you need photo's for your portfolio please contact me and we might figure something out "

Karlsen's openness about post processing shows a shift from 'purist' school of thought to acceptance of a new era that could usher in a major shift in photography. I like it, it's inspiring. As you'll read later, Karlsten's posing of images is quite classical - it's the 'polishing' that makes them stand out.

Here's the one thing that disappoints me - he's a Man Utd fan (in Norway - a Liverpool stronghold). Well now that's out of the way we can get back to being professional (kind of). Hey, he's just accepted my link on Facebook - good man.

Karlsen is very open with his images - see a full portfolio on facebook Glenn Karlsen on Facebook.

This amazing band image was used in November 2009's Digital SLR magazine.

The image achieves a 3D quality to it. You know immediately that this is a rock band - expressions, clothing, hairstyle and dark colours. Amazing depth without colour saturation. Whilst the image creates a unique placement (in water - and you can just imagine that they are actually kneeling down) there is nothing to distract from them they are the focus - the lead singer as always at the front. There's a clever twist here. The natural light is behind them yet they are all well lit up (certainly after Karlsen's clever post processing) but we know light has been put on them from about '4 o clock' as we look at the image. Not too bright as it would have washed out the reflections on the water.

In a 'Creative Digital Techniques' feature entitled 'Hyper-Real Portraits', Karlsen set out a 12 step to achieving this, his trademark 'polished' style.
It's a complex approach - using many layers and tools (including the High Pass Filter) -  that starts off by reducing contrast and saturation before moving on to blow out the shadows and bring out the highlights. In truth I've tried the process and can say it's not intuitive and it's not clear why you are using the tools in the order/combination given. It's advanced stuff. But then that's why Karlsen is a sought after photographer, particularly in the areas of advertising and music (band promotion).

Keeping it simple I can say that bringing out highlights on the skin, the reflections on the water and the detail in the shadows whilst, essentially, applying the reverse to the sky, clothes and hair - are the trademarks of the technique.

Glenn does a lot of work in his native Norway - particularly with bands and musicians. Here's one of his well know shots along with a shot of the lighting set up.

The shot uses very strong lines that encourage our eye to travel though the photograph, noticing each person.

The lighting used an ABR800(Ringflash) in a 56 Moon unit. Notice the 4x3 configuration of chairs that gives greater depth to the image. The viewpoint helps to create the 3d effect, and look at the distance Karlsen is from the subject.

The image makes use of classic composition - thirds - look where the main body of the subject is. The almost greyscale colour scheme gives strong contrast allowing the people to stand out, if somewhat subtly.

The lines of the chair arms sync with the lines of the promenade on which they are seated. The horizon stays 'horizontal' and along with the lines of the sea and the armchairs armrests draw us through the image front to back so that we take note of all the characters. Notice how light hits two places - the floor right in front of the subjects - casting hard low shadows that root the chairs to the ground and a fairly hard light at head & chest height, giving good reason to wear those masks.

I also like the reflections on the visors - I bet the Karlsen Technique came in to play here too.

In the following shot Karlsen also shows how he set up another outdoor shot using an umbrella diffuser to put some soft light on the lower part of the body.

Now we know it's not the same shot as above - position has changed, but look at that light reflecting from head to foot. The muscles are well defined in the legs, the sky gives the feel of a challenge. The landscape reminiscent of the Tour de France. This picture says this guy is very serious about his racing. Again a 3D effect focuses us on the subject, no distracting lines. Background soft and dark. The sun used to back light. The view point is low allowing the subject to be in the commanding position. Altogether perfect stuff.

Here's a photoshow (is that slide show Joe?) of Karlsen's work that I have organised in themes of my own choosing. starting with the solo male poses we move in to bands - notice how the template is hands in pocket, attitude expressions, front lighting to create sharp highlights, as we move from the bands back to the solo artists the use of 'dual image' occurs. Is this pure creativity at work or do the subjects involved require something more? The slide show then moves to show an increased use of texture. However, these are not chronological. The use of texture seems to add some gravitas (roughness) to what might otherwise be 'soft images'. The young man, by the use of texture, is transported from 'boy band' territory to 'rock singer' status. This is similar for the female, what might otherwise be a quite feminine shot is given 'edge' by the texture.

Karlsen also puts his subjects in commanding positions usually shooting from a low position. There is very little movement in Karlsen's images allowing the subjects themselves to be predominant (or does this show his control of the shoot?) Knowing that Karlsen is big on 'post processing' it is likely that he knows exactly where he wants highlights and shadows to fall and looks to control them entirely. The punk trio are shown moving and this does add to the vibrancy of what we might expect a punk band to be about.

Shadows and colour saturation play supporting roles in Karlsen's images. Brick and sky (with sky a very recurring theme) are used to give subtle texture and strong ambiance to his images.

Jonathan Klein: Photos that changed the world

WARNING: This video contains graphic images which some may find disconcerting.

It's here because it supports my portrait choice. About how images can affect how we respond to  the world. In my photo shoot, admittedly less globally significant, I am taking the idea of showing  images (with text) that cause us to challenge our own beliefs, values and conceptions. 

I take the idea of one person, a female and show aspects of gender, race and culture. Does our understanding (projection of our beliefs, values expectations) change according to what we see? Can images help us to reconcile our conflicting opinions? Can images by themselves become a call for action, whether on a 'mass movement' scale or a more subtle, personal, individual shift of opinion. With the latter, can such small individual shifts in beliefs combine to cause a shift in collective beliefs? Just from images?