Broken Banjo Photography

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Finding Settings and Props On Location

I love taking portraits of friends and of people I've known for years.

With just two small flashes, two tripods, and a shoot-through umbrella, Felice and I produced a series of portraits in her home in Central Oregon.

Felice In Her Home. Copyright Trav Williams, Broken Banjo Photography
I have known Felice since I was about 17 years old, when I became a close friend of one of her daughters.  She has led a life of travel, and continues to enter and exit the country throughout the year. In the past, it was family and work that pulled her from place to place, and now it seems to be a search for the beautiful things and places on Earth.

Therefore, besides just being a gorgeous artifact, the globe, found partway up her home's stairwell, was a natural element to include in the image.  I chose to spin it so that Indonesia shows towards the camera; that country holds a unique and special meaning to both her and I.

She holds a mala; similar to a rosary chain, these 108-bead necklaces are used in spiritual reflection, in meditation, and generally for decoration around Indonesia, India, and nearby regions.

The giant brown wall behind her is actually part of a root, representative of a significant piece of her personal past; how it made it into the house, I do not know, but when I asked her if there were any particular items she wanted to include in her portrait, she pointed to it.  Given its grand scale, the portrait location had to be defined by the location of the root!

One small light is on the left side, in a shoot-through umbrella, about two feet above the globe, and it casts a glowing light on her; her white clothes reflect it back into the globe, which gives her a remarkable glow.  Another light is on a tall tripod, perhaps 9 feet above the ground, camera right.  That bare flash is aimed at the wooden ceiling, bouncing a warm fill light back into the scene from above.

The exposure was set to capture the flame of the candles, as well as the background glow coming from a large window. Incidentally, the maroon cloth in the distance is covering a TV. Electronics wouldn't have looked right in this scene!

There were many more variations on this shot taken, but this one I fell in love with, as it seemed to bring the past and present together; with her eyes shut, I see reminiscence and meditation.

When shooting in somebody's home, to me, it makes sense to gather items from their lives as the props in the scene.  I typically sketch potential portraits before arriving on location, but beyond stick figures and basic layout elements, I choose to let the details be dictated by meaningful items. Before using an item (such as the globe), I always check first; you never know when a gorgeous artifact actually holds negative meanings for your subject, and you want to produce something that tells a story they are proud to share.

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