Ex 4.2 – same background, different model

The requirement for this exercise is to make portraits of three different subjects, keeping the background to the image consistent. Three images are to presented together as a series along with a 500 words reflection.

For sometime, I’d intended to complete this exercise using street portraits in my nearest local town, Skipton. I noticed during assignment 1, shot in the night markets of Bangkok, that a busy location makes it easier to engage with people. There is no need to close the distance between you and them before engaging. One is already in proximity. I wanted to experience the different feeling from crossing the path to approach a stranger, with a request for a photograph, offering nothing in return. No reciprocity. A very different scenario to Irving Penn, who paid strangers to sit for him – admittedly often exotic individuals on the margins of the mainstream.

The weekend prior to the shoot, I scouted the town for interesting backdrops with a reasonable footfall. My choice was a traditional red telephone box outside the town hall. An interesting piece of history that perhaps would not be in place for too much longer. The idea was to have people stand back-to-box and look sideways towards the camera. However, on the day the location did not work out. The area was in deep shade due to the position of the sun and overhead clouds – I was not prepared with flash, nor had I considered the timing of the shoot and light in advance. A couple of lessons learned before I even started shooting!

Plan B was an impromptu hunt for light and an alternative spot. I settled on a backdrop of a dark alley way. As Penn did in some of his photos, I would anonymise the background while using natural light.

The photos (click to view full screen)

Skipton Alley #1, Oct 16
Skipton Alley #1, Oct 16
Skipton alley #2, Oct 16
Skipton alley #2, Oct 16
Skipton Alley #3, Oct 16
Skipton Alley #3, Oct 16

In total, I took around 10 photos and the rate of being rejected by people I approached was about 50%. As expected, this was a more difficult location than a crowded space. There was the anxiety of whether a potential subject would accept or decline as the space was crossed towards them.

The camera used was a Fuji X-T1 with a 35mm f/1.4 lens (50mm efl). The exercise would have been more straight forward with a zoom lens – rather than shuffling back and forward for framing, but I wanted to ensure a consistent angle of view with a prime lens.

With the X-T1’s electronic view finder (set to preview the exposure) it is sometimes tricky to see shadow areas clearly; it would have been better to deactivate the exposure preview to allow a clear view of the details of subject being framed – I do this for indoor and low-light work and because the subjects were standing against shadow, I should have also done it here.

In terms of future process, I will ensure I have cards available with contact information so that the subjects contact me for a digital copy of the photos (this would make me feel more comfortable!). I intent to repeat a similar exercise to refine my process and gain more confidence in this kind of scenario.

Leave a Reply