Here’s another recent shoot I did with a model named Alexandra. We met in industrial S.E. Portland, which is a location I keep returning to for portrait shoots. However, this part of town is changing fast. All the grungy industrial building facades are turning into craft cocktail bars, coffee shops, and of course….condos. Until it’s fully converted, I’m going to keep returning because there’s just so many great options.
Too Much Luggage Makes for a Bad Vacation
There is nothing worse than going on a trip with too much luggage. “You know Bob, these uneven European cobblestone walkways are just not built for our 19 rolling suitcases, Bose headphones, and…..” Anyways, this last year I’ve been really trying to streamline my gear for on-location photography. I purposely arrived to this shoot with only a small backpack full of gear. Sure, I was still tired by the end of it, but it was light years better than all the gear I used to lug around for on-location sessions.
To keep it simple, I pretty much have a go-to setup when I start a portrait shoot outdoors. I only use a camera and natural light. No flash, no reflectors, nothing fancy. The last thing I need to do is complicate things right up front when I’m trying to get to know someone.
Here’s a photo from the first location:
Off to a good start!
Life is a Performance
As beautiful as natural light is, I also love a spotlight look. I think it’s fun to light people like they are up on stage, especially in unexpected or mundane locations like in front of a garage door (below). I set up a flash on a stand, got the exposure looking how I wanted, and then let Alexandra do her thing. It’s amazing how quickly a model can change her expression. It’s also amazing when someone likes to smile during a photo shoot.
Which one do you prefer? Comment below!
The next spot we found was a gem. The sun was out in full force and was directly hitting a brightly colored yellow wall (below), creating a really interesting gradient. Without pause, Alexandra jumped up on the flower boxes and fell into a cool symmetrical pose. “I would not have thought of that,” I thought. I’m glad she did though.
After a number of wide shots, I moved in a bit closer for a cleaner composition:
Who needs a real studio? I’ve got a street studio.
The Sunset is Fake, but the Emotions are Real
Not every outdoor photo shoot can be scheduled during the golden hour. What to do? Flash gels. I’ve really been working lately on being able to create a sunset look no matter what time of day I shoot. This is especially useful in the pacific northwest where the sun might not be seen for weeks at a time. Controlling the color of a photo is still very new to me, but it has already opened up a whole new world of possibilities. Maybe I’m biased, but I can believe the photo below was taken during a sunset:
Also, this was taken in front of my magic door. It’s the best backdrop ever.
Here’s another from a different angle:
Back to the Real Sun
We were running out of time, so I tried to get a couple more looks in as quickly as possible. We found another bright wall that was in full sun. That made both of us happy because we were freezing by this point. I knew her shadow would be an important element in the photo, so I thought it would be cool to try some more angular posing to emphasize shape.
Photographing a person right next to a wall provides a lot of options to play with shadows, depending on where the light is coming from.
Wrapping it up
There’s a lot of variables during a photo shoot, so it’s nice to return to a location that I know really well. Industrial S.E. Portland is one of those places for me. Still, every person brings their own style to a shoot. You can photograph two people in the exact same spot with the same light, and it looks quite different. I try to let a person’s style and personality guide the shoot along with the lighting and location. Overall, these photos turned out great and I hope the condos don’t take over this location too quickly.