It’s currently 1:42am on Saturday, December 31st, 2016.
When I was little, the countdown to Christmas went by in the time it took you to blink. Then before you knew it you were counting down the days until New Year, and until you had to go back to school, and that seemed to go even faster.
But I’m grown now, and the end of 2016 feels like these last few months have staggered and almost crawled to the end.
2016 will probably not be looked on fondly when people look back years from now. I can practically feel the echoing wave of collective sighs of relief when the clock ticks over around the world into the near year. To a lot of people, 2016 has felt like one long drawn out ending. We’re all holding our breath.
Good things happened; of course they always do. It can take longer to look for them sometimes. I feel like this year my photography finally took a step forward – it’s closer to where I want it to look, feel. I’m still not there (I’ll never feel quite “there”, I don’t even know where “there” is) but it definitely took a leap over the seemingly immovable static I had been feeling.
I was privileged to get to work with incredible people, to be supported by incredible people. I was able to push myself way out of my comfort zone and found I liked it; no, I loved it. Even when I hated it, even when I was scared of it, I loved it.
2016 firmly cemented in my mind that portraiture is where my heart and soul is; it’s where I feel strongest, where I feel the most afraid, where I feel the most exhilarated. I was so, so fortunate I had such a wealth of amazing people that helped cement that for me.
But 2016 was an ending for me too. I don’t know what the future will bring, and it was an ending for me thinking that if I just sit back and be patient enough things will happen. I have to stop thinking that way. I need to become proactive and make things happen. Patience is a virtue, but so is passion and movement and action. If I really want this as much as I claim I do, I need to go out and get it.
I don’t know how.
I will still tell myself I’m not good enough.
But I won’t listen anymore.
It’s now 2:22am, Saturday December 31, 2016. I’ll go to bed, wake up, and it will be the last day of this crazy, unrepeatable year.
A couple of weeks ago, my Aunt told me about an art show they were having at one of the residential aged care facilities where she works. The residents who were having their art work displayed were going to have photos to go alongside their biographies, and she asked me if I would be willing to take them.
I went today, and while I can’t show any of the photos for privacy reasons, I thought I would write a little bit about the experience, because it was so different to any other portraits I have taken. So I apologise if this ends up being a bit TL;DR with no photos to break it up. I’ll try and be succinct!
On the weekend, I was lucky enough to get to do a cosplay shoot with Angie, Brooke and their good friend Benson at the Australian Movie & Comic Expo in Melbourne. They were cosplaying Bulma, Chi-Chi, and the Ox-King respectively, all characters from DragonBallZ. This was challenging, because I don’t know anything about these characters! But it actually turned into something of a blessing, because while they could take control of the posing and the way they wanted the shoot to look, I took care of the technical side.
The day before in Melbourne had been bright and sunny, but overnight it had gotten overcast. This was actually better photography-wise, because it meant a softer, diffused light with less harsh shadowing. Except it was windy. Exceptionally windy. If it was possible to physically harm the wind, I think by the end of us shooting outside Brooke would have tried. I tried to reason that the wind would make it look more realistic with the movement of material and hair, but I don’t know if she believed me.
We did the bulk of the shoot outside after finding a grassed area surrounded by tall shrubs. It had the advantage of both looking good in the photos and hiding the surrounding cars, trucks, buildings of the Melbourne Showgrounds.
Brooke, Angie and Benson started bouncing ideas around and started posing. The settings were relatively straightforward and I actually shot everything about 1/2 – 1 stop under so I could work with boosting in post. I also tried using the “shady” white balance setting this time around, whereas I usually keep the white balance on auto and fix it later.
There were certain poses that were “must haves” for them; ones inspired by things on the show they’d seen. But other than that it was just them bouncing ideas around. When we couldn’t take the wind anymore, we all went inside to see what we could get inside the pavilion under lights.
Naturally, the change in environment meant changing the exposure settings. I put the white balance back on auto, slowed the shutter speed slightly, widened the aperture slightly and boosted the ISO. The main thing I wanted was a wider aperture to get a shallow depth of field because I didn’t want too much of the background to be in focus (eg. all the people milling around), but not too shallow to make focus difficult.
I actually really liked the effect if I crouched low and shot up, as it caught the lighting and lines running along the ceiling and I thought it was a cool effect.
Editing was another challenge for me, because I knew that since these were anime characters it would lend itself to a more vibrant, saturated colour edit but I still wanted to avoid blowing out the highlights. Shooting slightly underexposed helped with that. In Lightroom I boosted the saturation slightly, then after importing into Photoshop I played with the curves and levels to boost the light. I made sure to keep the light on their face, and tried to slightly burn the backgrounds. I also used the lasso tool to select certain specific colour aspects of the photo; Angie’s hair and Brooke’s dress. Then I would use a selective colour mask and boost the cyan / magenta levels respectively. This helped make those two areas stand out brightly without sacrificing the rest of the photos (eg. especially skin tone).
I was so proud of how these turned out but the thing that really stood out to me was how much fun it was – and how they looked like they were having fun. I truly believe that if you’re subjects are relaxed and having fun and you are, it will come out in the photos and I think this is a good example of that.
I’m so lucky to have such talented people who want me to photograph them.
I have been wanting to take a historically based portrait of my niece Makayla for awhile, ever since I took her photo for the Exposure contest last year. I feel like she has a particular look that is quite timeless and ethereal and I thought it would be interesting to play with.
We found a Renaissance Maiden costume online (I cannot sew, and I don’t really know anyone who can) and so we decided to set up my lights and try taking some photos today. It wasn’t ideal – the weather has been crazy here, and it was really, really windy. There was nowhere really inside that we could set everything up, so I ended up having to try to make space on the patio outside. In between gusts of wind, we hung up the brown material backdrop and weighted it down to stop it from blowing everywhere (did I mention I really need a proper setup? I really need a proper setup). It was kind of misshapen, and what little sunlight backlit it in such a way that you could see the railing behind the material. I just hoped that I could stand Makayla on something tall enough so that she was in front of part of the material that didn’t have any shadows, lines, or weird looking creases.
My sister helped by doing Makayla’s hair and getting her ready, and then helped hold down the light (so windy …). I just used the one light setup with my Elinchrom Rx4 flash head and a 66cm softbox, camera left, quite close to Makayla to diffuse the light.
I had actually planned to try a butterfly lighting setup, and I probably will next time since I have already convinced my sister and Makayla that we should try again when it’s less windy.
I was actually quite surprised how the photos ended up turning out. I think I was better at directing Makayla this time; still not perfect, but everytime I’m doing it I think I’m improving. There are definite poses I had hoped to do that I didn’t get to, so I will try them next time.
I really like how rich the backdrop material can look with a light vignette in post. I very lightly adjusted the temperature and added the vignette, but other than that they didn’t require a great deal of editing. I knew roughly how I wanted them to look, and I thought they turned out quite well!
Makayla is actually really, really patient with me photographing her which I’m hugely grateful for. Now that I have done this style once, I can try again hopefully with some different poses and maybe an alternate lighting setup.