Alun is a keen amateur photographer. His articles emphasise composition and aesthetics - how to get the most from a photo opportunity
INTRODUCTION - THE VALUE OF STUDIO EVENINGS
This is the second page in what will eventually become a series of articles looking at various different themes of photographic subject matter. (The first covered plants and flowers). In this page I look at camera club and studio work, and most specifically, the studio model. And the page is intended for anyone who has never before tried this genre of photography, or who may simply wish to gain ideas to improve their portraiture and their photographs of people.
For amateur photographers who want to share their hobby with like-minded individuals, or who wish to gain advice or inspiration from other enthusiasts in the local community, the place to go is the local photographic society or camera club. Most clubs of this kind will hold regular weekly meetings with lectures, competitions and discussions on all different aspects of the subject. However, for those who actively take photos, one function of the local photographic society which may be particularly welcome, is that it can provide easy and affordable group access to the professional studio.
In my photography I have always tended to concentrate on composition of images under conditions of natural light in which I could see exactly what I was photographing. I would never claim to be technically proficient with arranging lights and calculating exposures in the studio, and therefore a whole area of this hobby would have been lost to me were it not for the existence of the local camera club. Such groups can give tuition in the use of studio lighting systems, and most will hold occasional events, usually in the evenings, when members can utilise this equipment to photograph whatever the theme of the sessions might be.
INTRODUCTION TO THE SUBJECT MATTER
The theme of a studio session can vary. A popular choice is an evening for photography of 'still life' (inanimate arrangements of objects such as the classic artist's 'bowl of fruit'). Once in my time as a camera club member, the subject matter was a selection of pet reptiles which someone brought along. And some evenings which are dedicated to photographic techniques are useful. Most commonly, however, the subject would be a human model.
Why? Well I guess the reasons are obvious. It's easy for anyone to find subjects for architectural or landscape or still life or even for natural history photography. You can just go out into the town or the countryside and shoot away at the buildings, mountains or flowers. But it's not so easy for the majority of amateurs to get our friends or relatives to pose in imaginative ways for portraits or for fashion, much less glamour or figure studies; both the photographer and the potential subject will often be self-conscious, the subject will not know how to pose, and the photographer may find it difficult to give instruction for anything other than a straight 'passport' style formal pose. The solution is to hire a professional model, who knows what he or she is doing.
Models do come in all shapes, sizes, ages and sexes, but it will not be a surprise to learn that in what still tends to be a male dominated hobby (at least as far as the majority of camera clubs are concerned) the most popular and frequent choice is the attractive female model. And that is fine. We would all love to create imaginative, powerful and thought-provoking art, but most fundamentally we all want to produce attractive pieces of work - be it a pretty flower, a scenic country view, a beautiful building, or an attractive girl's face. The photographs on this page represent my attempts at this subject, taken on studio sessions at the camera clubs of which I have been a member.
- All photos on this page are the work of the author of this article.
THE STUDIO ENVIRONMENT
Usually amateur sessions with models will be group affairs (unless of course one chooses to hire the studio for exclusive use). Of course for the more experienced portrait, fashion and glamour photographer, working solo may be best to create a good one-to-one working relationship with a model, but for the rest of us, photography in a group session has clear advantages. Dealing with a professional model can be daunting, and one advantage of a group session involving fellow club members is that the atmosphere is likely to be friendly and more relaxed for all involved. Confidence may be gained from the approach of others who are more experienced in this kind of photography, and one can glean ideas through observation. Lighting is arranged for the photographers by whoever runs the studio or organises the event.
All that is left for the photographers to decide is the exact effect they are looking for, and how best to convey that to the model.
TALKING TO THE MODEL
Not my strong point! Being naturally introverted, it isn’t easy talking to a perfect stranger, possibly in a state of some undress, trying to get them to pose in a manner which you think is attractive. One feels inhibited and awkward - indeed, probably a lot more awkward than the model, who as a professional or semi-professional will have a great deal more experience and much better ideas than you do. However one thing the model cannot know, is exactly what effect you are after.
Best for the novice to think out a few ideas beforehand, learn from others who are taking photos, and perhaps rely on the model to come up with suggestions, and then just subtly alter the pose to create the most effective or dramatic look. Much of course will also depend on what props, if any, are available. Above all, try to relax. All you are trying to do is take good photos.
HEAD AND SHOULDERS
People photography and portraiture is not the easiest of subjects to do well. One of the problems is that we are used to seeing people in motion, and in three dimensions, and constantly changing their expressions. Captured in a split moment of time, a photo can leave a model in an unattractive pose, with arms or legs awkwardly arranged or cut out of the frame at the wrists or ankles, possibly with very unsightly shadows cast by the nose or the chin, or with strange facial expressions.
One solution is to concentrate on head and shoulder shots - for the novice there's much less to think about without arms and legs to worry about. it creates a much simpler composition, and in some ways a more powerful shot - the face is the part of the human anatomy which most immediately attracts our attention, and which of course best expresses emotion.
THE EYES HAVE IT
If the face is what first attracts our attention, the part of the face which most draws our eyes - are the model's own eyes - particularly if the model is looking at the camera. It should be possible in a studio session to achieve perfect focus across the image, but come what may, the eyes are the place to try to ensure that focusing is pin sharp.
Of course the same rule applies to outdoor photography. Usually In a studio, the photographer can employ a small aperture on the lens allowing a great depth of focus so everything is sharp - but outdoors there may be a desire to have a very narrow depth of field to ensure the background is out of focus and therefore not distracting. Even so, making certain the eyes are focused sharply really is the prime consideration in all forms of people photography with the possible exception of action shots.
The background can be an important part of any photographic study such as a portrait. In the studio of course, the entire background can be stage managed. It can compliment the subject matter if it consists of props which reflect the model’s activity, or if the background colour or style reflects the model’s mood or personality. However, more often than not for the novice amateur, backgrounds prove a distraction taking the eye away from the subject of the photograph and sometimes completely spoiling what might otherwise be a good shot, as in the classic outdoors 'tree growing out of the model's head' effect. The easy solution in the studio is to remove any source of distraction and use a plain or patterned backdrop with perhaps just one prop ( a chair for the model to sit on, or something to hold in the hand). Most studios will have a range of backdrop canvases and props, or if a 'themed' shoot is planned, then various suitable props can be hired accordingly.
Posing has already been mentioned in connection with many of the photos on this page, but it is all too easy for the pose to look forced, unnatural and uncomfortable - particularly so, if the photographer doesn't have a clue about the kind of effect they want, or if the model is a novice, or if there is no communication between photographer and model. Before a first session, it's a good idea to take a look through the glossy magazines and get a few ideas from the work of experienced models and professional photographers.
Sometimes, a portrait will look best and most natural, if the model seems totally unaware of the camera, lost in her own thoughts or activities. I think the image opposite works in this way.
IF YOU WISH TO KNOW MORE ...
AFTER SESSION PHOTO MANIPULATION
Once upon a time, manipulation of photos was the sole preserve of the professional or the dedicated amateur with his own darkroom. Nowadays we have it easy, and anyone with a basic photo manipulation programme can do all kinds of things to change their images, whether it is to compose the subject matter rather better through cropping, or to subtly alter the intensity of colour or brightness, or whether it is to create artistic special effects.
In the example shown here, the pose of the girl lent itself to a variety of effects of which I have shown a few. To do this I have employed a fairly simple programme; Photoshop Elements is a more basic version of the professional Photoshop, and at a fraction of the cost. This page is not a tutorial on photo manipulation, so all I have done in the illustrations below is to post ten examples of manipulated images, and the titular description of the major effect or effects employed in Photoshop Elements (though in most cases subsidiary manipulation such as alteration of brightness and contrast or colour saturation has also been used). Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so it's for you the reader to decide for yourself if you think all or any of the manipulations work. I like them but I wonder if anyone else does? There's a poll at the end, and please feel free to comment, good or bad. I should say that although I spent quite a few hours experimenting with each and every effect available, the actual creation of each image below would have taken less than a minute.
Image manipulation is fun. Give it a try and see what effects you can achieve.
PERSONAL VIEWS AND CONCLUSIONS REGARDING CAMERA CLUBS, STUDIOS AND MODEL PHOTOGRAPHY
In all I've only attended about a dozen of these studio sessions, and these photos are a representative selection from those sessions. Today, I do not belong to a camera club as various factors in my life caused me to lose a degree of motivation and interest. For the past few years my photography has been largely confined to records of my travel and vacations. However, this hobby is rewarding in so many ways and I must make the effort to once again diversify the range of photography I do. Camera clubs can help rekindle this motivation and open new doors for anybody who wishes to try new areas of photography.
My apologies for only including female models on this page. Not unnaturally they attracted me the most, and they were the models most frequently employed, but the basic ideas on composition, posing and technique would apply to any human subjects including family and friends. (Though possibly some of the costume ideas would need to be modified!)
Photography of the kind illustrated here can be an enjoyable and highly creative art form, and one which so many would not have easy access to without the resources and assistance of the local camera club, and the models they hire.