8 Weeks of Portraits

Week 2: Gregory Heisler

As I described in my 8 Weeks of Portraits post last week, I’m taking a class to study eight photographers over eight weeks, using aspects of their work to influence mine.  Week 2 was going to be a slam dunk.  I really admire Gregory Heisler's work and he focuses a lot on taking pictures of people in their environment, which is an area I’m working on improving this year, so I had a million ideas. 

My key takeaways from Heisler’s work were to fit the lighting to the environment and creating an image that provides context to the subject.  Any of my ideas could fit this bill.  The third idea I wanted to try was to use a tilt-shift lens.  A tilt-shift has a number of uses, but in this case, the aim would be to use it to align things of significance in the image on a diagonal and for those things to be the only things in focus.  I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to shoot using this method, so I parked that idea for future inspiration.

Idea #1: Graffiti Artist…someone who could cross over both my Hands On project, as well as fit into this week’s portrait class.  My thought was to make it look like the artist was under a street light, standing near a wall mural he/she had created.  Maybe even with a light on the mural.  I put a request out on Facebook to find a subject.  A few friends made some suggestions, but unfortunately, no one I know is friends with a graffiti artist.  One idea down, but two more to go…  [I’m still looking for a graffiti artist if you know one...email me at sarah@sarahflanneryphotography.com]

Idea #2: my model for the class, Carrie, is in a band which is in the process of recording an album, so I arranged with the band to take some portraits of them in the studio.  My idea for the lighting the band was to make it look like they were on stage, using a spotlight effect.  I got to the studio to discover low ceilings and pretty tight quarters.  It was tough to get the lights more than a couple feet above my head, so I didn’t execute the spotlight look as well as I had envisioned.   This is the image of Carrie:

Idea #3: I had a “Hands On” photo shoot lined up, which fit the “contextual photo of a person in his environment” goal.  The subject makes custom guitars out of a workshop in his basement.  My intent is to follow him through the entire process, which could take as long as three months, so the blog post will go up hopefully at the end of the summer.  The image I submitted to class is below.  I got solid constructive feedback from the instructor, things I know I need to work on...now to put them into practice.

Between the first eight week class and this one, I find that the photographers I like the most have proven to be the most difficult to execute the assignment against.  I think it is because their work is environmental, and I have too many ideas and get distracted by finding the right subject / environment – and end up being disappointed with the results.  The other photographers tend to be more studio based, so my focus is on just getting the posing and lighting right.  Lesson learned…keep it simple: try not to get distracted by the ideas and focus on the execution.

Hope you enjoyed the photos.  Next week’s photographer is Mary Ellen Mark.