Head and shoulder pictures fall short of a portrait. At least in my world and in my mind. Portraits are a notch or two more intense. A proper portrait will involve more preparation for the subject and with the setting, location and lighting. Portraits also are likely to take more effort in production. To me at least, a portrait is something you want to enlarge and hang on the wall or publish in a magazine.
But head and shoulder pictures are a different genre. Not that an excellent head and shoulders picture can’t become a portrait, but I think the two things are for different purposes and are taken in different circumstances. And head and shoulders pictures have become so much more important. Social media has spurred additional interest in the need for a good, professional-looking head and shoulders image for many people.
Professionals want a good picture to have on their Linkdin, Facebook, Twitter, blog, and web site. It needn’t be a highly stylized portrait but it must have enough polish so the viewer gets a good impression of the person. That’s where I come in, I guess. Most of the people for whom I take head and shoulders pictures are at work and take a pause to come in and get a picture taken. Most of them have made some effort to look nice but we aren’t investing a lot of time in make up and costumes. What walks through the door is what I’m going to work with.
I invest enough energy in the lighting and background so everybody gets a fair shot. I’ll spend enough time to give everybody a chance to put their best foot forward. Let’s face it, most people don’t have movie star good looks but most people have something wonderful I try to pull out. Oh, and the time issue. There is never enough, really. But I want each person to have their time and have the opportunity to chime in about wants and likes and preferences.
And people are all so different. One person will walk in, step into the lights, strike a pose, and snap – you have the picture. The next will want to stop and look at each image, worry, fuss, make a few suggestion and try again. There also are plenty of people with specific needs. Like I said, we don’t all get movie star good looks.
Cold day outside and I decided to review some pictures from the past. Went back to 2012 where this image of Dean Williamson of Three Hearts Farm in Bozeman, Montana caught my eye. It was a good memory and part of an assignment I did for John Deere Furrow magazine. Dean was harvesting greens that morning. Bozeman isn’t the easiest place for growing produce but Dean had a system worked out to help extend his season at the front and back. Much of the produce went to the Bozeman Community Food Co-Op.
Had the opportunity to take aerial photos from a helicopter. It was assignment work for my job at the university. No arguments from me that I have a nice job. This kind of thing isn’t going to happen very often. The guy ahead of me only did it two or three times in 30 plus years and all of those were from a small airplane. Helicopters are the most awesome because they can stop, go up and down, and turn around on a dime. It was a small machine and just right for taking pictures. We made a couple of different runs and had a few adventures along the way.
Timing is everything, though. No doubt the time right after sunrise is the most fun and most beautiful. As the day goes on you quickly loose contrast and texture.
When I was informed we’d gone more than two weeks without seeing the sun, I went looking for any patch of color. It was dreary: almost snowing, almost raining, cold, gray, winter solstice. And here was this withered up, frosted over fruit with a death grip on its color.
Just had an itch for a horse photo. In fact, I’m feeling guilty that I haven’t been out taking horse pictures since early November. That was a sale with lots of action and drama. To scratch the itch, I spun through the archives and hit on the first thing that caught my eye. But I better get some winter horse pictures!
There’s a big difference between assignment photography and taking pictures for the hell of it. Maybe that’s obvious. But for those of us who live on assignment photography, taking pictures for the hell of it is very important. It’s a luxury to snap a picture without the consequence of failure. Financially, that is. Saturday, I had the chance to wander around with top notch photographers @sharkypix, @laurinovakphotography, @stevesfoto , and @thomashawk.
The pressure for taking pictures for the hell of it is on you. You can fail to live up to your expectations, or fail to create what you wanted. That’s it. Strive to meet your own standards or to challenge your notions to do what’s new.
Hastily at the end of the day I was working my cold fingers to get a few last night shots of the Milwaukee Art Museum. Earlier, I’d given away my flashlight to a couple of kids climbing around in an abandoned factory thinking it might keep them a little safer in the quickening darkness.
Asking for an invite is perhaps uncomfortable. But then, when @thomashawk mentioned he was going to Milwaukee, I asked if he minded company. Most graciously, he said let’s hang. Hawk was met at the Milwaukee Art Museum by myself and @sharkypix, @laurinovakphotography, @stevesfoto. All new acquaintances and soon a wonderful cast of fellow photographers were busy taking pictures.
@sharkypix took us to an abandoned factory after we’d exhausted MAM. The whole day was a special treat for me to step away from assignment work and just snap snap snap away for the fun of it. The day was made so much better by sharing the fun with the rest of the cast.
Later, I joined Hawk for dinner at John Hawk’s Pub and introduced him to my kids. Thanks for the great day everyone!
At the sale
For the last seven years I’ve taken photos at an annual horse auction. The first time I was bored so I started taking pictures. Who knew a few people might want them. This isn’t a big-paying gig. Gratuities really. They’ve been nice.
But because it’s not a high pressure assignment, I take the opportunity to try new things. If it doesn’t work out what are they going to do? This year I used my opportunity to mess with flash systems. Recently I rediscovered “The Beast.” It’s a late 70s vintage Sunpak 520 and is commonly called a “potato masher.” Found a cord at Paramount Cords I could use to connect The Beast to radio trigger to set the thing off with my camera.
So I toggled together the trigger and the flash and a large Rogue Flashbender on a light stand and set it up where it could bathe the area with diffused light. Then I put a regular speed light on a stand with a diffuser to fill in some shadows from the opposite direction. On top of my camera I used another speed light set at a TTL setting so I could move around and have the scene well lit. Horse arenas have notoriously bad lighting.
All things considered, I think it worked well. The horses run by in front of you a few times and basically you can snap one or two pictures on each pass. Mostly I wanted them well lit and the action stopped so people can see the horses.
A vacation is delightfully awkward for photographers, for me at least. It’s a vacation so you’re supposed to step away from the routine and recharge. If your routine includes taking pictures does that mean no taking pictures during vacation? Or, does it mean using the time to challenge yourself further?
On our recent vacation, I really wanted to use the time to try some new things and practice other techniques I use infrequently but want to master. Nice plan. It fell apart quickly. You want to have some fun on a vacation and you need to spend quality time with your spouse or family.
We traveled through eastern Kentucky and Tennessee with stops for Cumberland Falls and the Smoky Mountain National Park where it reaches into North Carolina. Pictures were taken. But nothing experimental or challenging and plenty of snaps with the phones.
We ended in Charleston where we attended a wedding. Instead of hauling my camera gear in, I used my phone to grab snaps around the edges and let the paid professionals do the heavy lifting they were hired to do. Also enjoyed the wedding and family and had a great time with my spouse. The wedding coincided with our wedding anniversary so that was amusing, too.
The rest of our time in the area was full on tourist mode. Charleston is history rich and loaded with interesting sights, sounds, smells, and tastes. We hit the high points such as Ft. Sumner and the historic mansions in the old town. Pictures? Yes, but really snaps as we went along with not a lot of extra energy expended.
Finally, we visited the nearby beaches and at that stage I decided to take pictures and have some fun and not beat myself up trying anything in particular. If an opportunity came along fine. Otherwise, we concentrated on each other and the delightful environment we rarely have the opportunity to see. These new phones take a great picture and cover a lot of memories.