Over the last four years portraits have become a reoccurring theme in my work. I have spent a lot of time in the Lighting Studio at Aberystwyth School of Art, shooting portraits for various projects. Every photographers process is different, this is my current approach to working in the Lighting Studio.
Being prepared is essential to a good session. Know what you want to achieve. There is nothing more frustrating when you go into a shoot with lots of film and are stuck for inspiration. Before the shoot, I visualise the image’s I want to create. I use a sketchbook to make notes and to plan by the shots by drawing out rough thumbnail sketches, showing the angles of the head and direction of the light. For medium format film, I aim for six different compositions, shooting two different exposures for each pose. This is an incredibly useful tool to have during the shoot; if you are stuck, it is an easy resource to return to. Inform the model what to wear for the shoot, or provide a specific clothing, this can make or break the success of an image. At the beginning of a shoot, I spend about ten minutes shooting digital shots, experimenting with angles, props and poses. Like the sketches they are useful to look back at and helps to settle the model.
All my film portraits this year have been shot using the Mamiya c33 TLR with the 135mm lens. I use my Nikon D5200 with either the 35mm (50mm eq), or 70-300mm lens to compose and metre with. I always use a studio tripod, for all film and digital portfolio work. I prefer having a black backdrop. I use a simple lighting set up with two led PIXAPRO lights; these have dimmers built it for variation of light intensity and colour; very useful for creating soft lighting. Occasionally I use a reflector.
Props are a great way to add interest and variation into studio portraits, if it is relevant to your theme. Flowers, hats, walking sticks, glasses, necklaces. The props you use will become an important feature of the portrait. For inspiration, I turn to the classic modernist photographers of the 1920s-50s such as Man Ray and Edward Weston. Yousuf Karsh also has a big influence on my studio work. I also look at fashion magazines, these are good for finding contemporary poses and looks.