Environmental Portrait Photography - Deconstructing the Image
Posted on: Wed July 7th, 2012
Clint McLean is a respected photographer, educator and renowned photo editor who has worked for major titles including Monocle, Forbes, Businessweek, NEO2 and, most recently, The National's M Magazine.
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Deconstructing The Image
by Clint McLean
A great tool for becoming a better photographer is to deconstruct images. Breaking them apart and seeing how they were lit, staged and why certain elements were included (or not included) gives you insight into how the pros work and is something a lot of pros I know continue to do. Always ask how and why.
This picture of Jason Collett from Broken Social Scene was taken for Toronto Life
magazine. It is not a complex image in terms of a lot of lights or excessive propping, but there are a few key elements I will point out and I will share some of the thinking behind the image.
There are two large softboxes in front of Collett. I used two mainly for coverage so the light didn't feel so directional and I could avoid one side of the back wall from getting too dark. The trick was to balance my lights with the christmas lights on the back wall. I didn't want to overpower the christmas lights so I had to make sure my light wasn't too strong and my shutter was slow enough for some of the ambient room light to register to help make the things look more natural. The softboxes are actually lighting the back wall so I also needed to make sure they were up high enough for Collett's shadows (the give-away that I used two lights) to fall before they hit the wall.
Collett chose the location because it is a local place where performers such as him both play and socialize. I knew I wanted him on stage, but I didn't want him too static and definitely not singing. I like a bit of movement or at least gesture in my images so I had him slow walk dragging the microphone a number of times. The two things I struggled with were the scull on the wall and the words 'Dakota Tavern'.
I find when you have words in an image, it is easy for the viewer to get distracted by reading and I really wanted the background to support the subject but not distract from him. To solve the text problem, I chose images where Collett was obscuring one word and left part of the other out of frame. To minimize the scull – which I new I wanted to include – I made it less important by cropping through the edge of it – if I don't show it too much respect, neither will the viewer.
I didn't bring any props in for this shoot but we made use of the microphone stand since it not only helps inform about the subject, but it also give him something to do and something to hold. I don't like photographing people with their hands in their pockets, or folded arms or clasped hands because they are the three defaults that everyone does. It is usually a clue that they aren't comfortable and don't know what to do with their hands. The microphone stand solved that problem and had the lucky coincidence of having the red tape on it to match Collett's shirt.
If you want to learn how to make compelling and memorable editorial style portraits, check out Clint's seminar on July 28 – more info