Exercise: Eye contact and expression

I skipped the active portrait exercise in order to wait for the subject I wanted to photograph to be available. Coming into this exercise was quite a relief, as it played to my strengths and experience in this field before. I made a series on my digital camera on a white background flooded with window light. I overexposed slightly to create more of a fresh, richer looking series of portraits. I chatted to the subject and carefully managed the expression and eye contact.

The results were quite variable as you can see below, and I was happy with the shots. I did go against the tripod instruction and pulled back for more of the torso in some of the frames. This doesn’t lessen the impact of the facial expression for me, whereas a full body shot might have done.

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Exercise: Eye contact and expression

Exercise: Experimenting with light

For this exercise, I enlisted the help of a friend, Nina, who had modelled for me before. I decided on two different locations with varying light situations – my living room and a nearby park. I used a couple of modifiers, a reflector and diffuser.

I have picked four images which I think show different lighting effects. The first image uses the window light in my living room.


I had the subject sat in a chair facing the window. I used my incident meter for the skin tones, and then underexposed by 1 stop. This blacked out the background wall (which is white but I think reflects the light as grey on film). I used my 6×6 camera for this shot, as I like the strong off centre compositions you can achieve with this format. The strongest point of this shot for me is the strength of the pose, which perhaps is not the most feminine pose. I think it emphasises the high contrast look of the shot. Perhaps the weak point is the loss of detail in the shadow areas, although I don’t think this compromises the impact of the image.

The second photograph is also in my living room. I had the subject placed on the wall in front of a piece of white drawing paper pinned to the wall. The window was to her right and a reflector placed to her left, at a 45 degree angle. I opted for my digital camera so I could test the results better.



I had the strong window light balanced by the reflector on her left which helped fill out some of the shadows on her left side. This achieved a more even exposure on her face than what I had been getting without the reflector. In Lightroom I used the adjustment brush to blow out the background to a more pure white. I like the results, more of a conventional headshot, but satisfying to know that I achieved it with minimal gear.

For the next shot, I had the subject sit under a diffuser. This modifier helped spread an even light over her body producing a satisfying glow that is particularly nice in black and white.


The final image was taken in the same park under some trees.


Unfortunately, the day had become quite overcast by this point. There wasn’t a great deal of difference between the light under the canopy of the trees and the light outside. I think on a different day with different weather (i.e. a sunny, clear day) I would have had found it easier to find variable light. With the locations I chose beforehand, I was quite limited by the weather conditions. Perhaps if I had allowed for overcast weather and selected an additional location, I might have been able to get more varied shots.

Exercise: Experimenting with light

Exercise: Thinking about location

For this exercise, I scouted 4 different locations. The first location was some marsh land. I used some Kodak Portra film on my Rolleiflex to elicit great natural looking tones in gorgeous soft evening light. I shot the model from a few metres back to give the scene a bit more context, but the low angle I shot from along with the square format shot gave the model more prominence than there might have been. I feel overall there is balance between the model and background.

For the next shot, I had my model stand in some bamboo. I’ve always been a fan of playing around with depth of field for impact in a portrait shot. This was a tricky shot because the textures created by the bamboo on the right side of the frame could have been drawn the viewer’s gaze far too much. However I had the model turn towards the evening light, and this contrast between the rest of the frame weights the viewer’s attention back to the model. This was shot with a 50mm lens.

The third image was shot in an underpass. I picked it as a location as I found the interplay between the strong shadows created by the bridge interesting. However I quickly realised that I’d made a mistake with composition when I first saw the results. The light at the other end of the tunnel created too much of a competing anchor point in the portraits. I used a 50mm lens again with a roll of Tungsten film (hence the bluish hue) which I was going to use for the final location.

The final image is in a night market on Tungsten film with a 50mm lens. This was an opportunity to play around with single artificial light sources for dramatic effect. I really like the results of some of the shots, and the image I’ve chosen is uncropped and is straight from the film scan. I kept the large negative space in the frame as I feel it serves to emphasise the light falling on the model. I had the model position her chin upwards towards the light to catch her expression and create a focal point.

Exercise: Thinking about location