Photography

Art Show Portraits

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!

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Angie and Brooke and Benson // DragonBallZ Cosplay

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.

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Too windy for Brooke!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Capture

The last couple of weeks, I’ve posted some photos of Misha Collins I was lucky enough to take in Vancouver this past August. I’ve been overwhelmed with how kind everyone has been about them, especially when people say things like “I feel like I’m actually seeing Misha for the first time.”

To me, that’s astonishing. Honestly, he was always one of the hardest people for me to photograph. I never felt like I was quite capturing him, not in the same way as other people. I felt like I missed the mark more often than not. But it’s consistently been a comment since I put out the portraits I took in Vancouver, and I’ve been wondering why.

Misha Collins, Vancouver 2016

Misha Collins, Vancouver 2016

Portraiture is this weirdly intimate thing. What you’re essentially doing is you’re asking someone to open up to you. Unless it’s a brief where you are creating a character (like a themed photoshoot, like a cosplay shoot) you are asking someone to bare who they are to you. This is over and above any qualms a person may have about having their photo taken anyway. Anyone who doesn’t like having their photo taken knows what a horrifying thing it can be – staring at an impersonal lens staring back at you. Are you smiling too much? Not enough? Should you be smiling at all? Are you standing in an unflattering way? Do you have something in your teeth?

Actors are used to having their photo taken, it’s part of their job. But it’s not necessarily a pleasant part of their job – a lot of them don’t like it either. So for this amazing cast to agree to sit for me, someone with next to no experience and so adding a layer of awkwardness on top of all the other awkwardness, is a huge deal.

Matt Cohen, Phoenix 2016

Matt Cohen, Phoenix 2016

Rob Benedict, Seattle 2016

Rob Benedict, Seattle 2016

I’m not an outgoing person; I’m quite shy and so to have to direct these people that I admire so deeply felt wrong. They were taking a huge risk on me and I had to try to prove that it was worth it, to give up their time and do something that is so oddly personal.

Briana Buckmaster, Seattle 2016

Briana Buckmaster, Seattle 2016

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Osric Chau, Vancouver 2016

But the interesting thing is that I think it works to my advantage. There’s a push-pull with any photographer / subject that becomes evident in the photograph. For me to bring this almost raw beginner quality to shooting almost makes it okay for them to in some ways take control, but in other ways also open up. I must seem like sort of a safe space. I don’t know if what I was capturing was the “real” Misha, or the “real” Matt, because we don’t know who they are. Their job and their ability to have a proper work / life balance means it’s almost necessary for them to have some form of guard around them, to protect some part of themselves and shield it from people.

But I think what I was capturing was perhaps what I feel about them, and then that is what resonates with people. Because when I’m taking portraits, I’m not only trying to pull some response from the subject, but also from the person who’s going to look at the photo. I’ve talked about it before, but when we look at a portrait of someone we are all going to be looking at it through a framework that is very particular to ourselves. If you care about someone, you’re going to look at a photo of them and see the qualities evident in it that makes that person appealing to you.

Rob Benedict and Richard Speight Jr, Seattle 2016

Rob Benedict and Richard Speight Jr, Seattle 2016

Matt Cohen, Phoenix 2016

Matt Cohen, Phoenix 2016

Osric Chau, Vancouver 2016

Osric Chau, Vancouver 2016

That’s a powerful act of recognition and connection that occurs on an almost unconscious level that we don’t quite understand. I somehow know this person, because I know absolutely how I feel about this person.

So the most mind-blowing comment for me is someone saying that they see a photo I’ve taken and really see the person in it, because over and above whatever I’ve captured, I’ve somehow brought out that feeling of recognition in the person looking at the photo, and that feels like such a huge achievement.

Misha Collins, Vancouver 2016

Misha Collins, Vancouver 2016

Rob Benedict and Briana Buckmaster, Seattle 2016

Rob Benedict and Briana Buckmaster, Seattle 2016

I don’t know if this is something that gets better over time, or if it is even something that can be worked on. Maybe I’m just lucky, and it’s because of how strongly I feel about these people in particular. But I’m lucky that I am able to have the opportunity to try something like this with the people I care about.

Werribee Open Range Zoo // August 2016

My sister and I took ourselves to Werribee on a beautiful Winter’s day to try the “off-road safari” at Werribee Open Range Zoo here in Victoria. I’d been to Werribee before, but I’d never gone on the safari.

 

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We had a really great safari tour guide, Matthew, who told us about the shift in zoos and wildlife parks away from the traditional attraction sites of the past to a focus on conservation and education, and the animals we saw definitely seemed to benefit from it.

 

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They are given strictly limited human contact (only what conditioning is needed to help keep them manageable and safe) and the environment and species social groups help them to maintain their natural behaviours. It was actually really moving to see how happy and settled they seemed, even when we were driving around near them.

 

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The only part I was disappointed about was that after the tour, we went to see the Lion enclosure but it was largely blocked off. The big cats are my favourite to photograph, so it was hard to take photos that worked from such a distance. I managed to get a couple of photos, but I wasn’t as happy with them.

 

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I’m not really sure what prompted me to try editing them in black and white, I think I just tried it with one of the giraffe photographs and liked how striking the effect was. I did edit a couple of photos in a sort of low contrast, semi-matte colour, boosting the levels of the blues and greens using saturation levels in Lightroom, then selective colour in Photoshop. I made sure whatever I was doing with the colour in Photoshop to keep watching that the whites stayed white, which is always a good guide to keep things looking realistic (unless unrealistic is what you’re going for).

 

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Taking photos of wildlife is, obviously, a completely different skill set to taking convention photos or portraits, and so it’s nice to stretch yourself and do something different!

Emotion

I was thinking about how many different ways we have of describing the rhythm of our heartbeat and how we use it to punctuate different moments and events in our lives. We say our heart races when we fall in love. It stops when we’re afraid. It aches when we get hurt. It swells when we feel proud. It hammers, it skips a beat, it bursts, it thuds, it breaks. It’s a muscle, roughly the size of our fist, that plays like a silent soundtrack throughout our lives.

Sometimes I can look at photos and all I see is a heartbeat. I can see it swell, I can see it race. I have felt it when I’ve taken photos; the feeling like it’s beating so loud I could hear it echoing in my ears. It’s usually when I know something is coming, when I’m anticipating some moment I want to photograph.

 

SPNPhx 2016

SPNPhx 2016

 

Some might say that’s esoteric or simply a whimsy, that I’m placing too much on capturing a photo. But it’s these photos that I know have effected me that are the ones that seem to move people the most.

 

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VegasCon2014

 

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Makayla, 2012

 

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Kim Rhodes and Rob Benedict, SPNPhx 2016

 

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Matt Cohen, SeaCon 2016

 

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Rob Benedict and Briana Buckmaster, Seattle 2016

 

Jensen Ackles, VanCon 2015

Jensen Ackles, VanCon 2015

 

Chris Schmelke, Louden Swain Saturday Night Special PasCon 2015

Chris Schmelke, Louden Swain Saturday Night Special PasCon 2015

 

Photography is a shared, universal language in the same way that emotion is. Emotion doesn’t know or recognise age barriers, gender barriers, religious barriers, language barriers. It just is. It’s something we all know, and we don’t necessarily understand why we know it. But if we can look at a photo and recognise the emotion in it we will respond to it, regardless of the context of the photograph itself. It’s no wonder that photography is what is mostly used to document our history and humanity. It can tell a story that can cross borders in ways that words can’t.

 

Briana, Seattle 2016

Briana, SeaCon 2016

 

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Richard Speight Jr, SeaCon 2016

 

Dani and Dad, December 2012

Dani and Dad, December 2012

 

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Ruth Connell and Rob Benedict, VegasCon 2016

 

Osric Chau with fans, Karaoke VanCon 2015

Osric Chau with fans, Karaoke VanCon 2015

 

I truly believe that the more you put into a photo the more someone will take from it. If you want it to last and to have meaning, the feeling behind it should be equally as sincere. This is even more important in the editing process. You have to be quite strict and ruthless in what you cull. What you don’t show can be as important as what you do. It’s something that I battle with; I have to learn not to over-saturate, but instead to be more deliberate about what I show. It has greater impact that way. Leave people wanting to understand but not being given all the tools to understand.

 

Richard Speight Jr and Rob Benedict, Karaoke PasCon 2015

Richard Speight Jr and Rob Benedict, Karaoke PasCon 2015

 

Jared Padalecki, VanCon 2015

Jared Padalecki, VanCon 2015

 

Sometimes putting so much into photography can be exhausting, and when it’s all going wrong it can feel overwhelming. It’s tempting to just coast along and it’s tempting to not try to shift and grow.

But as exhausting and overwhelming as it can be there’s nothing really like putting your whole heart into a photo and seeing people respond to it.

There really isn’t.