There are a lot of times when the background or setting I’m photographing will help me tell my subject’s story. Sometimes, the elements surrounding my subject are essential to making a powerful image. Other times, however, I just want to get to the heart of my subject; I want to focus on the way a person looks, who they are and just “see” them. I want to eliminate the distractions between us and connect. At times like these, I get really, really simple.
What I use:
I use one window, a portable backdrop stand, and some seamless paper. You could easily substitute a blank wall, too! My favorite colors of seamless are Thunder Grey and Bone by Savage.
How I set it up:
I set up my stand so that my subject will get side lighting from the window. I love side lighting. It’s dramatic. Remember, I’ve taken out all of the outside elements that might help me tell my story so my lighting needs to have a little oomph!
I put my subject on the paper, a few steps away from the background and usually place them off center either to the right or left, depending on how well-lit I want them and the mood I am going for. Experiment!
How I shoot it:
This is the tricky part. While I call this “keep it simple” it’s actually anything but simple to draw natural expressions and poses from subjects – especially those that are camera shy. But calling this blog post “keeping it somewhat challenging and kind of tricky” might not be as catchy! Some tips that might help:
1. Show them!
You’ve taken a person out of their environment. They’re alone on a paper, staring at you with a huge camera on your face. How do you set them at ease? The first thing I do is set my camera down and show them what I want them to do. I don’t expect them to know what I want or read my mind and I don’t expect them to act naturally. This is an unnatural situation I’ve created, after all. I let go of all dignity and any self-consciousness and I get on that paper and model the pose I’m after. I make the facial expressions I want. I show it once, twice, three times, until I think they have it.
2. Look away.
I often try having my subject look away – either out the window or into the shadows. Letting kids look at something out the windows often gets them to hold still long enough and yields a sweet, pensive expression. Adults looking into the shadows can give a moody, dramatic effect.
3. Encourage them!
Now that you have them workin’ it for you, let them know they’re doing it right. From kids on up to adults, everyone wants to know that they’re doing a good job. I always exclaim and ooh and ahh over my subjects. When they feel good, I feel good and the energy is contagious. Pretty soon we all feel pretty awesome.
4. Keep shooting!
Like everything else in photography, it takes a lot of time invested before “keeping it simple” will be as simple as you want it to be. Practicing is fun though. I often feel most creative when I drag one of my kids or my husband onto my seamless paper!
Kristen, thank you for these awesome tips! What do you do to keep your photography simple? We’d love to hear some of your tips in the comments below!
Kristen Parker, Oregon
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Kristen lives in the heart of Oregon wine country with her husband and two little girls. She co-owns her business, October Rain, with her good friend, Nicole Campbell. They specialize in natural light portraits of women on film. Kristen loves her husband’s cooking, cocktails, vintage cameras, the ocean and karaoke with friends. She has 7 tattoos. Hates cooking, hates laundry even more. Don’t ever ask her for help with fractions.