When I picked up a camera again a few years ago, my chief interest was landscape photography. My wife and I were spending more time hiking and backpacking, and I wanted to find a way to record the sights that we were seeing along the way. So, if you look at my earlier work, you will see a lot of scenery, waterfalls, leaf color and skies.
About the time my grandchildren came along, I figured out that cameras took pictures of people, too! So I’ve been trying to improve as a portrait photographer. There is broad agreement in the photographic community that practice or experience in one kind of photography will, in one way or another, be helpful in other kinds of photography. This summer, I am realizing that those two, seemingly different, genres – outdoor and portrait photography – can actually work together in ways that I had not thought of. Yes, you can take a person outside for a portrait. You might even find a scenic waterfall, or rock formation, or fallen tree to use as an element in a portrait. But I have something else in mind.
I have been taking “smaller” landscape pictures this year. Much smaller, in fact. Instead of focusing on wide vistas and impressive landscapes, I find myself shooting tree branches, leaves, shadows, and flowers. Smaller subjects, that I would have ordinarily looked past. Flowers, because of their colors, shapes, and intricate details, have become particularly interesting. As I have been working with flowers, it occurs to me that, in many respects, I am simply taking their portraits.
While shooting a large tulip planting this spring, I found myself forgetting the wide block of color they created, and focusing my attention on one or two solitary blooms. Click on the images below to enlarge them and see a brief description.
As tulips gave way to summer flowers, I continued working at some close up images of flowers, again, finding ways to approach them as portrait subjects. I found these two in a city park in Georgetown, SC.
When I photograph a man with an “interesting” face, I want to light him in such a way that you can see all that “character.” That means a lot of light from the side, to show off every ridge, crevice, line and bump. This yellow bloom got the “character” treatment, because I was intrigued by that tiny shadow of the pistil and all of the intricacies of the stamen and stigma. (As with all of the pictures on this page, you can click it to enlarge for a better view.)
I wouldn’t dare shoot a woman in the same way, because “character” generally comes from wrinkles and no woman wants to see those. So we place her under softer, pleasant light, just like I did with this pink hibiscus. It was only a few feet away from the yellow one above, and the sun was just as harsh. So I intentionally diffused it to give a softer, more flattering, look.
My last shot is one of my favorites for the year (so far), and it is definitely a portrait of a flower. Again, the light was diffused intentionally (you can see the brighter sun lighting up some of the greenery in the background). A shallow depth of field, throwing both the foreground and background out of focus, and a slight movement of the plants in the back provided a soft but colorful pallet for our portrait subject. This, too, was in Georgetown, SC.
Later that day, and again the following week, I was standing in sunflower fields, looking for more “portrait” subjects. But that will have to wait until another day.
Thanks for taking the time to read this post. I’d enjoy hearing your comments, and if I can ever help you with a more conventional portrait, or anything else, let me know.