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“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.” – Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)

Fresh Reads from the Science 'o sphere!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Outdoor Model Photography

Last Sunday I joined an activity organized by the Photographic Society of Singapore (PSS) - an outdoor model shooting session.

We went to the top of Fort Canning hill to find some interesting background scenery for the pretty young model to pose in.

So here's some eye candy for you!

As usual I like to start with a "passport photo", though in this case the model is smiling a bit. She smiles a little strange - I'll come back to this later.

Most of the photo enthusiasts came with digital SLRs, predominantly Canons. There are three exceptions: a guy who was using a medium format film camera, a guy using a Panasonic prosumer, and me - the only guy shameless enough to be using an idiot-proof compact for a real photo session.

Hey, I feel adequate!

The photo society veteran squatting on the ground is holding a reflector, which has a great effect in lighting up the model's face. More on that later.

But first - what's that white thing hanging out the back of her dress?

A price tag! Truly Prêt-à-Porter.

Of course, it's customary to ask a person to smile when you're taking portraits of her.

However, not everyone looks their best while smiling. Just like not everyone looks pretty when crying, which is why actress Liu Xuehua always lands a role in Taiwanese sob dramas.

In this case, our model has a smile that looks awkward to me.

Maybe she doesn't really like us.

It's a popular belief that Black-and-White = Art, just like a Bazooka camera = Good photographer.

One fellow researcher at the lab often takes black and white versions of scenes that have limited colour palette or tonal variation, and calls them arty.

I'm no expert on this, but I think only two main types of scenes warrants the B&W treatment:

1. A scene with extensive shadow play.

2. A scene with clashing colours.

Where there are interesting shadows or high-contrast patterns, B&W photography looks more dramatic. If a scene appears ruined by clashing or distracting spots of colour, B&W might rescue it.

Otherwise a snapshot is just a snapshot, B&W or not.

Oh no, the sun is coming up! Harsh shadows obscure the model's features...

...reflector to the rescue!

Ah, much better. The diffuse reflected light brings out the 3D features of her face very nicely. The round-shaped reflector also adds an attractive highlight in her eyes.

Now she looks like a Japanese TV star!

Of all the photos I took that day, I find this one the most appealing. The combination of soft lighting and facial expression makes it look very glam.

Also I find that this is her best angle - slightly left-of-centre, with her head tilted down a tiny bit.

Then it's time to move on to another backdrop - a trio of wooden statues.

Off we go to take more photos!

Er... this backdrop doesn't work for me. The background is already quite busy; the foreground is even worse, with the highly-textured wooden surfaces robbing the attention away from the model.

I suppose sculptures are designed to stand out.

In addition, the model likes to pose by tilting her face up often, which is good poise but doesn't show off her best angle.

Costume change! Now the backdrop is much better, a nearly featureless stone wall.

Oh look! The large entourage of photographers has attracted the attention of a tourist, who is probably wondering what the commotion is about.

A compact camera certainly isn't the most ideal for portraiture, since it doesn't have the wide aperture of a good SLR prime lens. As a result, it isn't easy to blur out the background such the centre of attention is focused on the subject.

One way to overcome this limitation is to zoom as much as you can, so that the depth of field is reduced. Then stand as close to the subject as your nearest focus allows you to.

The result is quite good and if you do it well it looks like it was taken using a dedicated portrait lens. To have mastery over your equipment, you must be aware of its weaknesses as much as you know its strengths.

Another costume, another location. A few photographers are holding their SLRs in a strange way.

Can you spot them?

During the photo session, some photographers used a burst mode to capture the model's changing facial expressions. I understand the importance of a burst mode for sports photography, but for portraiture I have my reservations.

I prefer to observe the person for a while and try to anticipate changes in facial expression, firing one well-aimed shot everytime. It's hit-and-miss I know, but it makes more sense to me than sorting through hundreds of photos after the photo session.

One of the photographers even ran out of space on her 2GB memory card, frantically deleting pictures in order to continue shooting. I asked her if she was shooting RAW.

"No I'm shooting JPEGs."

I immediately suspected that she was shooting bursts the whole time.

"Yes, five-frame bursts. I've deleted some pictures, now I've got space to take two more shots."

Finally, I put up this picture to show you what a difference the shooting angle and facial expressions can make. In the previous shot, the model looks poised and matured, almost in her mid-20s. In the above photo, the model looks like a plucky teenager (that she is)!

A good portrait photographer is in constant communication with the subject, in order to capture the expression and the angle that best reflects the person.

I have to admit that I'm not very good at communicating with models.

Since I'm a biologist kind of guy, I couldn't resist sneaking in a few nature shots during the photo session. Fort Canning has an interesting diversity of insects. Here's a super close up of a bizarre looking butterfly that appears to be double-sided!

Ah, the wonders of natural selection.

There are actually two pairs "fake" antennae on its wings, and they twitch around just like the real pair in front.

The butterfly was also desperately trying to deflower the back of my left hand with its long probosis.

I don't understand how my hand can be mistaken for a flower, but then again I can't see in ultraviolet.

A bee gathering pollen from some flowers that are hanging from a tree.

Yes, Mr. Butterfly that's where you should've been.

Here are two ants engaging in an awkward tug-of-war with an insect (another ant?) between their mouths. I'm not sure which is the direction they intend to go.

(Yes I'm showing off my camera's macro function in order to cover up its inability to take wide-angle shots...)

And the last photo: an obligatory abstract art photo with neither rhyme nor reason (and underexposed as usual, Fresh Brainz-style)

It was a fruitful photo session!

Would you like to know more?
- A previous model photo session (Imaging Expo 2007)


Sivasothi said...

Ahh..the butterfly shot. I can use that in my defense class next year (it was just over) and introduce them to freshbrainz in the process...

The Key Question said...

Yes, please do. I'll send you the high resolution photo by email. Thanks!