Impromptu Portraiture Practice: Bill in Kyoto
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Bill semi-aware portraiture guinea pig  --  Kyoto, Japan  --  Copyright 2012 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 — 1/400 sec, f/1.4, ISO 5600 — map & image datanearby photos
Bill
semi-aware portraiture guinea pig

As I mentioned the other day, I'm interested in upping my people-photography skills, and after watching some Peter Hurley videos I realize that the barrier I face is not technical skill with the camera, but people skills with people.

Knowing what to do is quite different than actually being able to do it, but that's where practice comes in.

So I was out with some friends at a roof-top beer garden the other day and struck up a conversation with the guy at the next table, Bill, a private chef from Boston in town to learn Japanese cooking. We had a fun conversation about food and photography and Japan and such, and since I had my camera with me, it only seemed natural to point it his way at some point.

So I do so, and he steels himself for a pose...

Deer in the Headlights  --  Kyoto, Japan  --  Copyright 2012 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 — 1/400 sec, f/1.4, ISO 5600 — map & image datanearby photos
Deer in the Headlights

Bill is a good looking guy, so the picture above isn't bad, but it lacks something because he's posing for the camera instead of being himself.

Thanks to what I learned in the videos I could sense this barrier, and knew enough not to command “smile” in hopes of breaking it, but I didn't know what to do. So from halfway behind the camera I went back to our conversation about the challenges of learning thousands of years worth of Japanese-cooking culture in a few short days, and asked him to make the face he'd have if, on the day of his return, he was tasked with creating a Japanese banquet for an important client. My intent was to bring him through some silly faces to break the grip of “camera”, the finally say something to elicit a smile.

He started to think about it a moment, then snapped “I know what you're doing... it's a photographer's trick!” and started to smile an honest laughing smile...

Realization  --  Kyoto, Japan  --  Copyright 2012 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 — 1/400 sec, f/1.4, ISO 5000 — map & image datanearby photos
Realization

... to which I replied “yes, but it seems to be working perfectly”...

Drat, I Can't Believe He Got Me that wrascally wrascal  --  Kyoto, Japan  --  Copyright 2012 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 — 1/400 sec, f/1.4, ISO 5000 — map & image datanearby photos
Drat, I Can't Believe He Got Me
that wrascally wrascal

... and once he was free from the “smile for the camera, NOW!” constraints, he smiled a true smile, and I happened to be there with the camera.

Money Shot  --  Kyoto, Japan  --  Copyright 2012 Jeffrey Friedl, http://regex.info/blog/
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 85mm f/1.4 — 1/400 sec, f/1.4, ISO 5600 — map & image datanearby photos
Money Shot

The results would have been much better except that I had been enjoying myself at an all-you-can-drink beer garden for two hours, was using a new camera I'd had for less than a day and didn't really know how to use, and worst of all, the mixed rooftop lighting was absolutely atrocious (fluorescent lights are generally horrid... they flicker with changing color 60 times a second... fast enough that our eyes blend it all into “white”, but the camera can't do that, and sometimes the top half of the image is lit by a different color than the bottom, or one half is lit while the other isn't. Ugh.)

Anyway, it was good practice.... if he's ever in town again, perhaps I'll get a second chance.


All 2 comments so far, oldest first...

Great portraits – they seem to capture the person well.

What’s the new camera?

Equipment data is under each photo…. Nikon D4 in this case. —Jeffrey

— comment by Tom in SF on July 14th, 2012 at 12:37am JST (5 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink

Thank for this timely post. I recently sent a photographer friend in California an inquiry about how to take portraits and ‘people photos’ outside the studio. She sent me a wealth of good information and I also found a great starter page online:
http://www.travelphotographyschool.com/portrait-photography-how-to-photograph-people

I will definitely check out the videos you mentioned. You’re right though, I think its less to do with the camera and more to do with the human interaction. If they’re not offended at the site of the large camera, I’d say snap away and act like its no big deal. They will follow your lead.

But speaking of cameras… I love how you casually slide in there that now you’re rocking a D4!!! That’s sounds awesome! (The colors in these shots are fantastic. Bokeh anyone!?)

I hope all goes well with your family. Hopes and Prayers. Looking forward to hearing about your new camera and also I’m thoroughly enjoying these posts you’ve done about taking shots of people.

Sorry to ramble but one last thing: Deer in the headlights isn’t awful. In the right context its a great photo. So many photos have that “Hey, here’s me and my friends at the Grand Canyon” look that even what you consider stilted could pass with the right caption.

— comment by Ron Evans on July 18th, 2012 at 2:33am JST (5 years, 5 months ago) comment permalink
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