Portraiture Practice: Paul Barr Shoots Me
Me in a not-particularly-me getup photo by Paul Barr  --  Kyoto, Japan  --  Copyright 2012 Paul Barr
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm — 1/800 sec, f/2.8, ISO 3600 — map & image datanearby photos
in a not-particularly-me getup
photo by Paul Barr

More portraiture practice, today for the first time with Paul Barr behind the camera. I did some very impromptu portraiture practice with Paul the other day, but today he tried it with me.

When Paul stopped by, I happened to be wearing a long-sleeve Uniqlo shirt that I'd picked up yesterday so that I had something longsleeve that actually fit. It's cold outside in Kyoto these days, but I didn't want to wear my normal bright yellow winter coat, so grabbed a black leather jacket, and when I realized just how pretentious the combination looked, also grabbed some reading glasses to complete the look.

The photo above is the first one Paul took. Seems okay to me.

photo by Paul Barr  --  Kyoto, Japan  --  Copyright 2012 Paul Barr
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 200mm — 1/640 sec, f/5, ISO 12800 — map & image datanearby photos
photo by Paul Barr

This being Paul's first try, he was even more fish-out-of-water with portraiture than I am, so even the short practice was helpful. At one point he even got so bold as to direct me (“look over there”), which, of course, is what a portraiture photographer should be doing. I like the result:

Pensive or Pretentious? photo by Paul Barr  --  Kyoto, Japan  --  Copyright 2012 Paul Barr
Nikon D4 + Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 160mm — 1/500 sec, f/5.6, ISO 12800 — map & image datanearby photos
Pensive or Pretentious?
photo by Paul Barr

While looking at the results, I kept hearing Stéphane Barbery (from my first two portraiture practice sessions) saying “get closer”, so here's a crop of Paul's first shot of the day that might be a step in that direction:

Close Crop = Intimate/Strong but does it work? photo by Paul Barr  --  Kyoto, Japan  --  Copyright 2012 Paul Barr
Close Crop = Intimate/Strong
but does it work?
photo by Paul Barr

All 9 comments so far, oldest first...

Very Pierce Brosnan! Actually I take that back – you look better than that – as he is always a bit too “cheeky irishman” for me in his shots. You could be playing in a moody Iron Curtain thriller eg Unbearable Lightness of Being set in 50’s Hungary!
So if you get fed up with software you can always start up the modelling career.
The Friedl Genes are bearing up well.

— comment by Annie in London on December 6th, 2012 at 4:02am JST (11 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink

1st and last are the best. needs some retouching work and some softer lighting.

— comment by Ed Pouso on December 6th, 2012 at 8:06am JST (11 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink

Excellent photos; in my opinion the third and fourth shots are the strongest of the set as both eyes are clearly visible.

The first photo would have benefited from proper positioning of the light source and perhaps a reflector at about waist level to lift the shadows below your eyebrows. Looking at the shadow below your nose it obvious the light source was too far left; ideally your light source should be at a 45-degree angle from the tip of your nose. That gives you the nice, soft shadow under the nose. Also your body is posed too parallel to the lens.

The posing of the second shot is a step in the right direction although your body is a bit over-rotated here. Plus the camera could have been a bit higher in both 1st and 2nd photos.

The third photo aptly illustrates the ideal posing. Its a strong photo although personally I’d use Lightroom to bump up the brightness/exposure of the right eye and brow (remember the expression that the “eyes are the window to the soul”).

The last one is excellent although a bit too tight and I’d burn the specular highlights on the ridge of your nose.

— comment by Jim_N on December 6th, 2012 at 11:25pm JST (11 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink

I would add to the other suggestions that you might consider using an off-camera speedlight to add highlights in each eye. Also, personally I like the last shot best. Regards, Tom.

A bare speedlight would no do much at all… you need some serious surface area for it to show up in the reflection of the eye in any meaningful way. That, at least, was my conclusion when I tried it earlier this summer (but perhaps I didn’t do it properly…) —Jeffrey

— comment by Tom in SF on December 7th, 2012 at 10:47am JST (11 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink

I always admire how wonderfully unselfconscious you are about publishing so many pictures of yourself! 🙂

I’m very selfconscious, something I’m trying to break by doing this. —Jeffrey

— comment by Zachary on December 7th, 2012 at 7:31pm JST (11 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink

A further comment.

You might consider a small soft box: http://fjwestcott.com/product/apollo-and-halo/16-mini-apollo-speedlite-kit-no-stand

The one I use is a bit larger (Apollo 28×28). It’s a bit large to carry on location, so I use it more for studio work.

Regards, Tom.

— comment by Tom in SF on December 8th, 2012 at 1:42am JST (11 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink

I think you might be surprised how effective a single speedlight is outdoors. When using a speedlight as the main/key light, the maximum light output by not exceeding the camera’s x-sync speed and by using the speedlight in Manual mode rather than iTTL. When the speedlight is used for fill light you then can use it in iTTL mode.

Neil van Niekerk frequently demonstrates this technique for enhancing ambient light by bouncing his flash off nearby buildings, glass windows, awnings, etc.(he terms it “sweetening” the light):
http://oneperfectmoment.com/2011/12/26/justine-kyle-wedding-palace-somerset-park-nj/ http://neilvn.com/tangents/flash-photography-techniques/6-flash-outdoors.

The entire tutorial section on Flash Photography is worth the time; the topics are arranged in order down the right side of the page: http://neilvn.com/tangents/flash-photography-techniques/

— comment by Jim_N on December 8th, 2012 at 4:44am JST (11 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink

Much encouragement for endeavoring into the very challenging field of self-portraits/portraiture. Now this is just an opinion so take it for what its worth:

With your recent endeavors into portraiture, I think all of them have been satisfactory or better I think the only thing that is missing is what message/story you’re trying to say in your portraits. Again, just my opinion but I think the best portraits and self portraits have a story or a message. Otherwise the portraits are just like Olan Mills. (Sorry, that is an insult, your portraits are much better than Olan Mills 🙂 ). Pick some type of theme, attitude, character aspect or self message and portray it in your (self) portraits. I came across this website:


I enjoyed this page because many of the portraits are cliched, cheesy or even awful. -> I think that speaks to the difficulty of portraits/self portraits. A few of them are very nice though. Even though some of them are contrived or gimmicky, they may still be successful when the viewer feels like the photographer was trying to convey joviality. The good ones in my opinion have a sense of story, message or punchline. Otherwise it just comes down to he/she is attractive and/or this photo was taken well. Corie Howell is stunningly pretty and the photo has nice processing but that’s the end of it. Thomas Hawk’s photo seems more interesting, even though he’s farther away and the photo maybe should have been cropped on the right. Don’t be afraid of the ‘fine art photography’-ness that I’m asking you to undertake; as long as you don’t take any photos of you sitting/standing pensively on some lonely railroad tracks you’ll be okay.

Sorry for the long comment but its great to see how you photograph people in Japan, it will be very interesting to see the artist behind all those photos.

All this is still beyond my abilities… I’m still very early in the “how well the photo is taken” and being able to elicit a natural or interesting look from someone, especially on the fly (because that’s where I see myself making the most use of this going forward). Also, I have perhaps a different idea about what a portrait is. Many of the “interesting” shots on the “100 self portraits” page are not portraits. Even some of the boring ones aren’t… Thomas Hawk’s, for example: it’s a bad photo of an uninteresting hallway that happens to have some dude standing in the background. I don’t know where I’ll end up, but I hope to never find myself going down that particular route. —Jeffrey

— comment by Ron Evans on December 8th, 2012 at 6:50am JST (11 years, 3 months ago) comment permalink

Zachary, he can allow himself to be unselfconscious, the lucky one! Once more, I agree with Annie from London.

— comment by Anne on January 8th, 2013 at 4:12pm JST (11 years, 2 months ago) comment permalink
Leave a comment...

All comments are invisible to others until Jeffrey approves them.

Please mention what part of the world you're writing from, if you don't mind. It's always interesting to see where people are visiting from.

IMPORTANT:I'm mostly retired, so I don't check comments often anymore, sorry.

You can use basic HTML; be sure to close tags properly.

Subscribe without commenting