Conceptual Portraiture


Night & Day Revisited

Almost a year ago I published a post titled night and day about how props influence people in front of your camera. I've probably droned on and on about how everything influences people in front of your camera. Circumstance, wardrobe, shoes, environment, you, your mood, comfort or discomfort, even gear.

A lot of the gear posts get a lot of traction. Especially the ones where I attempt elaboration on why I like Fuji X gear so much for this particular personal project. I was reviewing experiments I made early on with Sam and thought I would blather on about how important this is if you at all are interested in making photographs that even border on portraiture of almost any kind.

In that Night & Day post almost a year ago I contrasted the very first frame I made of Sam in some black wardrobe and then with the same wardrobe and a riding crop. In revisiting that early experiment far more of that night/day effect was evident and thought it deserved a few notes and a deeper look at what was going on, partial as a note-to-self and partially for possible value to anyone else out there interested in such minutiae.

Contrast the above to photos. What's going on here? What changed? Quite a few things obvious in the frame…

  • Black wardrobe vs. white wardrobe.
  • The glasses, personally I think this had a huge effect far beyond just how Same looks with and without the glasses.
  • The hair, we messed up Sam's hair and I told her not to "fix it"

Let's talk about the glasses and the hair briefly. Those are Sam's own, for-real, required for seeing correctly glasses. Far different than when you slap a pair of prop fake glasses on someone that doesn't need them. My intent was to use them as a prop but with a lot of distance between when I made these now I realize that the very first thing S. did when coming in was take the glasses off. The second thing she did was fix her hair. The first two things from her perspective to be "picture ready".

The difference between those to pictures is far more than just the surface effect of how her hair or glasses looks to the viewer — of course that matters as well but the effect on body language and expression are far more impactful.

Let's take a look at a couple of more examples of night and day. In black with that addition of a prop.

Two frames made almost immediately after introduction of that prop. You saw the final frame I made of this set-up in the previous night/day post referenced at the top. These have the same feel which happened almost immediately.

These two frames were made very early after introducing props on the second white set.

A couple of the last frames I made from that set are also worth a look.

These are a bit different from the earlier photos. Less than five minutes apart compared to the ones above.

Obvious But Not So Much

You're probably thinking something along the lines of; Obviously such radical props make a huge difference. Of course they do but even not so obvious changes in wardrobe, circumstance, and props have similar drastic effect. The effect on body language, feel, expression, gesture, and all of that are more important and more impactful than the visual impact of the props themselves in many cases.

I'll reverse that a bit for illustration. I could probably make a set of circumstances through many different means to actually reverse these effects or at least neutralize them. Neutralizing them is fairly easy and for this particular project not what I want but possibly interesting. It's pretty easy to remove any semblance of expression, gesture, body language, and feel. You see it all the time in "portraits" — most of the time we photographers use a word for those. The word "stiff" comes to mind.

Reversal of everything might be more difficult, or maybe not. With Sam it might be difficult with the glasses thing. With someone else it's easy with prop glasses. You get my point.

One last thing that's not so obvious but had some degree of influence on everything here. Those props where just out of frame but known, seen, and discussed with Sam even in the images that don't show them. Don't underestimate this in any way. Things that are going on out of frame can have big impacts if you think it thru. That can work against you and in many cases does but I'm the kind of photographer that takes some of those "bad" thing that happen and figure out how to use them for my own advantage.

End Notes

All photos made with the Fuji XT-1 and 18-55 XF. Processing via VSCO FILM 06 TRI-X+1 applied on import in Lightroom CC.