Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Beginning...

Well, hello there!  Welcome to the Photography by Michael Grados blog where I will share a bit of insight into my I did what I did, why I did it, and what I learned from it.  I'll also be including some links to various things photography related, stuff that interests me, and concepts that I'm learning in my MFA/photography classes.

That being said, let's start with my first family photo shoot, going all the way back to December, 2010.  It was over the previous year that I had 'committed' myself to being a landscape photographer, happy with my second-hand 35mm film Canon A-1 film SLR and looking to progress towards using larger film formats - I surely wasn't going to become another family photographer creating photographs of cute kids.  A funny thing happened, though, when I got a few rolls of Kodachrome to shoot before it went the way of the Dodo.  I was inspired to shoot it after seeing my grandfather's old slides and how awesome the colors were (even the 60 year old ones!), especially when photographing people - the skin tones were true, but somehow better (at least different).  That's my late grandmother from about 1949 in Nova Scotia below.

By December, I had one roll of Kodachrome left, when a family friend asked for a 'New Mexico / desert-y' type family portrait.  The lab that processed the film (the only one left in the world) was closing at the end of the year.  I knew enough to know that I didn't know much of anything about photographing people...but at least I knew of a scenic landscape that I could place them in, and figured that Kodachrome would make a great fit for the subject.  So, I waited for the sun to get low, right in their eyes so they got nice and 'squinty' - pretty plain-jane, nothing-to-see here kind of shot.

But, I was now hooked.  I had a blast with the session.  I did get a little nervous that I missed the exposure, didn't capture any good expressions, or everyone was going to be simultaneously blinking.  When the slides came back though, I knew what I would be concentrating on over the next year.  Yeah, the posing isn't the best...something I'm still working on, but the smile of their little kid was contagious.

If nothing else, I knew I'd be dedicating myself to learning off-camera lighting via David Hobby's Strobist blog.  I also knew that if I was going to start to focus on portraits, and learning how to light, that it was finally time to go digital.  In essence, I saw digital as a means to decrease the feedback loop required for learning a new skill.

So, what would I do differently today with that shot above?  I would have had an umbrella up, camera right, and waited for the sun to go down to a point where my subject was in the shadow, but the ridge was being illuminated by the last rays of the sun.  By casting light from an off-camera strobe, I would be able to place the subject a stop or two higher than the background.  In essence, it would have created better separation, and I would have been able to open the aperture up a bit to soften that background.  That, and I would have put a little more 'life' into that pose!

If you're starting out in photography, I can't recommend getting an old film SLR and learning manual operation enough.  That uneasy feeling that you missed the exposure is an excellent thing to makes you even more attentive to exposure the next time you're out.  Always strive to get it right 'in-camera.'  It pays dividends later on in post-processing (...and yes, you can post-process film digitally, as I did with this example - with an Epson V500 Photo flatbed scanner).  And once achieving proper exposure becomes second nature, you're more free to focus on other pose, composition, and that 'fleeting reality' that Bresson speaks of:
"To photograph is to hold one's breath, when all faculties converge to capture fleeting reality. It's at that precise moment that mastering an image becomes a great physical and intellectual joy." - Henri Cartier-Bresson
Digital is awesome, but it is just a tool.  It helped me learn how to light really quickly, whereas film forced me to slow down, and consider my exposure and composition.

So, that's how 2011 started out for me...taking what I had learned with film and now applying it to family and children portraiture through digital photography and off-camera lighting.  The next post will highlight my first attempts.

Until next time...

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