Picbod 5 | The Empowered Portrait

Through the first four workshops you have explored the power relationship between photographer and subject, starting with yourself before looking at someone close to you and a stranger. You should now apply your skills garnered through these and the technical workshops to assist either a stranger or someone you already know* to make their own portrait. 
You should not take charge of the photographic conversation but should empower the ‘subject’ in being able to make their own pre-visualization and chosen representation, a reality. 

*You should not work with someone who has previous photographic experience

My housemate Daniel is very enthusiastic with photography. He always mentions about exhibitions on show or talk about photographers he discovered. Before summer he asked me to help him get a cheap, but good, compact camera. I did some research in this chaotic market of compacts and recommended him about 5 models, with their pros and cons. I remember explaining him the difference between f/2 and f/5.6 written on the ring of the lenses, why one is better than the other. Most important though was that he wanted to know how I made these decisions.
Since then Daniel has been taking his camera absolutely everywhere. He is impressed by the bright colours its night mode outputs, the motion blur, the unexpected. Many times though he experiences the downside of every camera. It is not possible to document accurately what you see through your eyes. An issue we all deal sometimes and the best thing to do, I suggested, is to let those moments for your eyes only…

Daniel, self-portrait
This is the first assisted self-portrait of Daniel. It wasn’t in his edit, it’s part of my selection.

I explained him the task and he was more than happy to participate. He just loved the idea of using the professional camera. Two days later, a fine morning, we started the assisted self-portrait task. I brought back home a Nikon D700 and the Mamiya RB67. For educational reasons I made use of my own 35mm film cameras to show him how the mechanical parts work.

By chance, the previous day I was an assistant to George Rippon’s intro to film photography. It really helped me refresh ways to explain all the technical bits. We started the tutorial by discussing the three variables of a camera system. The Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO. I tried to keep things simple. The correlation of the aperture with depth of field was something he and I struggled with. Apart from the fact that it was difficult for me in the when in his place, I had only 2 hours available and rushed it. I have promised him, when the term ends that we will learn the RB67 and in depth analysis and practice of techniques.

We only used in practice the D700, for the advantages of a digital system while learning, but I didn’t discourage chimping. As I said we didn’t had much time. Even though chimping doesn’t help previsualize your subject and composition, Daniel did pre-visualize to an extent.
I taught him where the controls for the shutter speed, aperture, ISO, the zoom and focus were located on the camera. Now that I think back, I should have used a prime lens. The more you take away from your camera system the the better. I also model for him so he can compose and focus in real time. Apart from that, every decision was his.

He didn’t like the spot against the window, because the light was flooding behind the subject and eventually as you compensate, it gets silhouetted. In order to compensate externally he turned the lights on but tungsten, was casting orange on the skin. I didn’t explain him what White Balance is because of the time limit.

He placed me on the opposite side, taking advantage of the daylight coming through the window to light me. We have a big world map on the wall and this would serve as the background of the photograph. While testing the settings he noticed the map was reflecting light and the detail was lost. The map-to-subject distance helped Daniel understand depth of field. He wanted the writing to be visible and only understood this when he experimented with aperture values.

In order to achieve this he had to stop down from f/2.8 all to f/13, keep a long exposure time, thus increasing motion blur. He seemed happy with the results and we swapped. I acted as his remote control and pressed the shutter when he said. Daniel took several photographs of himself, but because of the motion blur he chose only a couple of them.  I think next time he will have a better understanding of the elements involved. Note that I have white balanced some portraits displayed to compensate the extreme orange casts from tungsten lights. Below, his selection.


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