Monday, March 23, 2009
The Gritty Portrait
Using hard light and postproduction to re-create a popular “edgy” look
“I’m good,” he responds. “Keep on shooting.” Knowing Patrick, even if his arms were exploding, he’d say, “Keep on shooting.” I fire off a few more frames. Patrick has climbed eight feet off the ground into a crack on an orange sandstone wall. I’m trying to create an interesting rock-climbing image, something beyond the normal “being there” climbing shot. Patrick is decked out in all the right gear, even though he doesn’t need a rope or harness to climb this face. Photographing Patrick in the available light would be a nice shot, but I want to create an image with more impact. I need to add mood and drama, something to convey tension that matches the high-risk activity. And that means using hard, nondiffused light and a little postproduction to create a gritty portrait.
THE RIGHT EFFECT?
One concept I always remember when shooting is to use technique to achieve vision, not for technique’s sake alone. In other words, don’t get out all the new “flash toys” (what my wife calls the massive pile of gear in my office) unless they help you create the image you have in mind. I’ll be the first to admit I love lighting, and I can spend hours experimenting with new techniques. I’ll always master a technique before using it seriously in my images, and only when the technique adds to the total image.
Once you’ve decided you want that gritty look, you need three elements for success: a good location and subject, hard-edged light and image-editing software like Photoshop or Lightroom to add the final touch.
FIND THE LOCATION AND SUBJECT
Choosing the right subject and location is an important step in creating a strong portrait. If you just put your subject against a random background, the image may be okay, but chances are it could be better. I seek out locations and models that work well together. Sometimes I’ll see an incredible location while driving around town. Imagine a scenic bend in a river with interesting rocks and frothy water—a perfect location to shoot a fly-fishing portrait. Now all I need to do is find the right model.
One example I’ve used in this article is an image of Jess, photographed against a vintage car that may remind some of us of classic drive-in restaurants and Friday nights with friends, maybe even a first date. By photographing Jess in this location, I add more meaning to the image than if she was photographed against a plain background. Her expression and pose are important, too. I want her expression to reinforce the same feeling created by the location, not go against it. A playful, fun smile works well here.
Page 1 of 3