There’s that umbrella again. This is from my other portrait session during the 2019 PDX Squared Photography Contest with a model named Annika. We collaborated on some portraits a number of months ago, so it was really cool to work together again. It’s hard to believe these photos were taken just a couple hours apart from my other session with Madeline, but it’s true. Daylight has quite an effect on things, doesn’t it? Although the overall look is quite different, the themes of “letting go” and incorporating motion into the photos were important elements in both shoots. As you will see below, I decided to submit one of the photos I took of Annika to the portrait category of the contest.
We got rained on while taking photos, but I just happened to have a brand new umbrella with me. Always be prepared!
I practiced a lot in the weeks before this contest by doing some visual exercises to get into the creative zone. In a contest where the shooting location was randomized, I had to be aware of the visual gifts that were right in front of me. One of my exercises was to walk around my neighborhood and look for geometric shapes. The practice photos I took from this exercise were quite boring overall. But this is how I get better as a photographer. I have to put in the time.
I also practiced keeping the horizontal and vertical lines in a scene parallel to the edge of my frame. This is a lot tougher than it seems. Many times I will take a photo and think it’s straight, only to find out on my computer screen that one of my legs is shorter than the other. It’s always a goal of mine to not crop too much during post production (when not shooting to a layout).
Here’s a “trying to keep my lines straight” photo I took while practicing the week before the shoot:
Boring photo. But it paved the way for this next one:
The above photo is the one I ended up submitting to the portrait category in the PDX Squared contest. I’m proud to say I didn’t have to straighten this photo at all in post production. When I saw this background, it jumped out at me because I had been taking boring photos of squares and circles the week before. I really like how this photo turned out. The judges seemed to like it too. It made it past the first round of judging, which was a nice feeling.
As I mentioned above, incorporating motion was an important element in both photo shoots. Models are used to moving around and subtly changing their pose after each frame, which is very helpful. Based on what she was wearing, we thought it would look cool if she twirled in a circle to make a static scene look much more dynamic.
While walking around our “shooting zone” for the contest, we found a tennis court within a city park. The light was noticeably diminished by all the dark clouds that had just rolled in (available-light shooters are now sweating and cranking up their iso dial on their cameras). I thought it would be cool to fire a flash through the fence as a way to create some shadow patterns on her:
I’m not sure why, but the above photo has a movie-like vibe to it. What’s the soundtrack though?
Here’s a comparison to show you the difference between the available light (below, left) and the light from my flash (below, right):
I prefer the lighting on the right. It has way more attitude.
The Gift of Rain
After the tennis court, we explored the rest of the park. I noticed a picnic table in front of some very dark trees that looked promising. The light was falling off dramatically in the background, so I thought it would be a cool place to create some moody photos. I started by taking a few photos of the ambient light only. Not bad at all, but not a contest winner either. It was raining now, so I placed a flash at about 10 o’clock so the rain drops would be more pronounced.
This effect turned out so cool. I’m not saying the lighting looks natural. Far from it. You can actually see the flash on the edge of the frame, which was intentional. By placing the light at the edge of the frame, it was creating a very cool flare effect in addition to lighting up the out-of-focus rain drops. I also think the red coat with the green background was pretty awesome!
Being it occasionally rains in Portland, I will have to try this again.
For the last location, we double-timed it to the edge of our shooting zone. There was a panoramic view of Swan Island and Downtown Portland in the background. As amazing as that view is, I wanted to shoot from a lower angle so the dark sky would be the majority of the background. The lighting was still very dim, so I continued to use my flash:
Again, I wasn’t going for super-realistic/natural lighting. Instead, this almost has a vintage Hollywood lighting vibe going on. I really like how the color of the sky and her shirt matches. It almost looks like we planned it out, but we didn’t.
We were about out of shooting time, so I thought of one more quick photo idea:
I think this could be a good “just broke up” stock photo.
In the end, I was really happy with how this shoot turned out. It was also really fun to photograph Annika again. She is a super-talented model. As I mentioned above, I didn’t place in the portrait category, but I did make it past the first round of judging. A couple years ago, there is no way I could have done this contest, let alone pull off two portrait shoots in about four hours in a random location in Portland. I have to remind myself that I’m not in competition with anyone, only myself. I need to keep doing those boring photo exercises because it pays off. Special thanks to Annika for letting me photograph her.