Exercise: An active portrait

For this exercise, I photographed my subject teaching bread making. I found it quite difficult as I naturally framed the shots to include the action the subject was preoccupied with. Ultimately I ended up with some interesting shots that revealed more natural – less ‘staged’ – expressions than I was used to. As per the exercise I’ve included most photos without the action but a couple of context shots as a lead in .


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Exercise: An active portrait

Exercise: Review a portrait sequence

For this activity, I chose to incorporate Richard Avedon’s method of eliciting expression from the subject. I had my subject sat down on a neutral background using available natural light. I prefocused and adjusted the settings and loaded my SLR camera with a roll of film. I had the camera mounted on a tripod and I used a cable release or just stood above the camera staring at the subject with one hand on the shutter button. My objective was to shoot the roll of film in under an hour without talking to or communicating with the subject. The process became a study in the nuances of expression and it was interesting to see how my subject’s expression fluctuated over the course of an hour. Afterwards my subject had said how she had got lost in her own train of thought, forgetting sometimes that she was sitting in front of a camera. It was a very strange experience for me also, the usual concerns over composition, settings, and focus were totally absent and I was left to focus totally on my subject’s expression. Whilst I was not speaking to the subject, I felt that my own gaze and the camera certainly influenced the subject’s expression, and the lack of verbal and visual communication from the photographer allowed her to concentrate on her own thoughts.

Reviewing the sequence, I found some shots that revealed quite serious expressions, and others showed more light hearted moments. The range of expressions was very interesting especially since I had not communicated with the subject at all over the course of the sequence. As per the brief, I have rated the photos from ‘not good’ to ‘best single shot’ – the first shot below being ‘not good’, the last shot being what I consider the best.





Exercise: Review a portrait sequence

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

Exercise: Portrait – Scale and Setting

This first exercise was a very useful refresher for differing approaches to portrait framing. I found a couple of the frames much more challenging to compose than the other two. I chose not to keep with the same composition and moved my subject and camera around the setting. I set out to capture the portraits all in one location, but decided that the first location wasn’t working for me. I therefore shot one portrait there and shot the other free later that day at a different location. Here are the results starting with the first cropped in on the face. I used the same subject for each image and used film for all of them.





This was the best of the selection of the close in cropped shots. I had the model facing the soft evening light which created some nice light around the cheek bones on the right side of her face, and strong shadows in the centre. I don’t really feel this was all that effective for this kind of shot. I used colour film on a 35mm camera for this shot, and converted to black and white in PS as the colours in the background were distracting too much from the subject’s face.


This was my favourite from the head and shoulders selection. I adjusted my position to the model’s left side so that her face would be positioned at more of an angle from the sun. I used black and white film on a 120 camera for this shot. The 120 camera is a 6×6 camera, so the square crop gives a different feel to the frame than the 35mm camera. It is a bit less busy, but I might have positioned the model slightly more to the left.



This was taken earlier that day (in the morning). I used a hallway with large windows for (what I hoped) soft window light. This is the torso shot and brings the hands and more of the body into play. It isn’t cropped at the waist as I didn’t like the effect cutting off the left arm had on the image. The legs and lower body aren’t really much of a factor as I lost most of the detail in the dress. This was also shot on black and white film on a 6×6 120 camera.


This full body shot returns to the second location. I cropped out the feet as I didn’t think they brought much else to the frame and I didn’t want to step back too far. One of the main problems for me in executing full body portraits is losing that “contact” with the model’s facial expressions, and it is sometimes hard to bring some impact back into the frame with an effective pose. For this I also used black and white film on a 6×6 120 camera.

So the pick of the sequence for me are certainly the head/shoulders and torso shots. The head and shoulders shot feels a more natural composition in contrast to the full body shot, which I feel is a bit wooden. Likewise the close up shot of the face is ineffective, partly from a technical side (lighting doesn’t quite hit it) and doesn’t feel quite as expressive as the two I have outlined as most effective. The torso shot is well balanced, the model is wearing a jet black dress which is complimented by the strong shadows in the frame especially on the background. The pose works, the mood created by the contrast calls for a stronger pose and the fact that she is looking out of the shot at something we can’t see cultivates a sense of mystery and ambiguity. The head and shoulders is very different however, the composition is safe but perhaps could have done with a few adjustments, but we are close enough to feel the model’s expression and connect with her looking straight down the lens.

This was the first exercise for me and I’m very much looking forward to the next ones in preparation for the assignment!

Exercise: Portrait – Scale and Setting

Welcome to the your OCA Learning Log!

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This blog is now structured with the essential categories required for you to post Assignments and Projects in for your learning log entries. It is intended to just help you get started with your OCA Learning log, and you may wish to customise it to suit your particular course.

Although we have provided the essential categories needed for your learning log, you will still need to set up your ‘Main’ menu through the Appearance section of the Dashboard, under the Menus section. Just select the menu you want to edit (Main) and then under the Categories ‘All’ menu, tick each category that you would like to be viewable through your blog’s menus and click the ‘Add to menu’ button. You can then drag and drop each item into hierarchies of menus and sub menus, as below in the ‘Menu Structure’ pane:



When making new posts, you just need to add a tick next to each category that the post relates to. The categories options can be found in the right-hand column whenever you create or edit a post.


You can select more than one category if appropriate; for example,  your first Assignment can be categorised under Assignments, Assignment 1, and Part 1.  Make sure you tag a post with at least one category, or it may not be visible through your blog’s navigation.

To learn how to keep a blog, the WordPress help pages are invaluable as a learning resource: http://en.support.wordpress.com/


We would like to thank OCA Photography tutor Robert Enoch for providing this template for OCA students to use to get started with their Learning (b)logs.



Welcome to the your OCA Learning Log!