One of my aims for 2017 is to develop my portrait photography skills. It's an area I'm particularly interested in - after all, people are an endlessly fascinating subject - but for a relatively new photographer it can be challenging to get started in this field. It's a classic catch-22 situation - it's hard to get work without a portfolio, but it's nearly impossible to put a portfolio together if you're not getting the work.
One (partial) answer to this quandary is to take part in workshops. As well as picking up tips from more established photographers, you also end up with a memory card full of images, one or two of which can go into your portfolio. At the beginning of the year, I booked myself on two different portrait workshops; the first was an urban portrait workshop using natural light, followed by a two-day studio session a few weeks later.
The urban portrait day was put together by Going Digital (the same franchise that ran the steampunk-themed workshop I attended last year). This time I headed down to London to take photos of a model at various locations along the South Bank and in the graffiti-covered tunnels underneath Waterloo station.
The weather gods kindly sent us a bright but overcast day - ideal for outdoor photography as the cloud cover means the sky acts as a giant softbox, providing a gentle, even light and avoiding harsh shadows. The day kicked off in the cafe of the National Theatre, where I met the course tutor, Tish Hornsbury, and the other workshop attendees. After a short introductory session we were introduced to our model for the day, Alex Watson of The Model House.
Alex was a great model, lots of fun to work with and adept at somehow making our inexpert posing suggestions look good. We started off looking for locations around the back of the National Theatre...
As is usually the case when you have a bunch of people taking photos, we attracted a fair bit of attention from passers-by. One of the guys working on a nearby building site was particularly keen to get involved, so we took the opportunity to grab a bonus model!
Next, we headed into the tunnel beneath Waterloo station. The graffiti-covered walls here provided some great, colourful backgrounds, although the low light levels and the odd colours (both from the lights themselves and the reflections coming off the painted walls) made it a challenge to capture a natural-looking portrait.
Due to time constraints, we only had time to use on-camera flash. With longer to set things up and get a better balance between lighting the model and lighting her surroundings, you could get some outstanding photos here.
To round off the day, we ended up back on the South Bank, taking shots along the Thames. I like that in the photo above, the London Eye is reflected in Alex's sunglasses. If anyone asks, that was entirely deliberate and not at all just a happy accident, okay?!
The studio workshop was run by the Royal Photographic Society. The tutor for this one was Chris Burfoot, and our model was Hannah. It was held in the beautiful village of Lacock, although we spent most of our time in a little hall, only escaping at lunchtime to soak up a bit of the glorious spring sunshine. Set over two days, the mini-course started off with the simplest one-light shots and built to a full studio setup. The workshop was also my first opportunity to try out my new Fujifilm XF50-140mm F2.8 lens.
We looked at all sorts of lighting options - starting with umbrellas (shoot-through or bounce/reflect), softboxes, grids, snoots, beauty dishes, reflectors and diffusers. The course was supported by Broncolor so the studio lights we used were supplied by them. This meant we got to test a pretty high-end setup (a basic Broncolor kit will set you back a couple of thousand pounds), but a lot of the principles are the same even if you're using a humble flash gun.
These two workshops were useful to do so close together, as between them they covered most of the important aspects of portrait photography. And more than anything, they demonstrated that from a minimal, natural light approach where you're very responsive to the surroundings, all the way to a full studio setup where you have control over pretty much everything, one of the most important things is quickly developing a rapport with your subject.