Thursday, July 9, 2015

Portrait of a Busy Mother

L-R: Joanna's selfie from home, selfie in the studio, and final studio portrait (same backdrop as the selfie!)

Joanna is a super busy mother of two very active daughters. She takes her job as a stay-at-home mum very seriously and manages to take care of her family in a way I can only dream of doing. Jo used to be a busy professional photographer like me, but unlike me, she didn't use herself as a subject, I think, probably ever. As such, she fits into the category of one of my favourite groups of portrait subjects: people who hate having their pictures taken. Why are they one of my favourites? Because there's nothing more gratifying than making someone who doesn't think they're going to look good look really good, and having that person who is dreading the whole experience tell me they actually had fun, and they love their picture.

Like many people these days Jo had a potential profile picture she was somewhat happy with: she had gotten all dressed up for a special occasion and snapped a selfie in the bathroom mirror. In the spirit of my idea to compare selfies with professional portraits she then did another selfie on set in my studio but using no flash (her phone camera wasn't connected my studio flash/lights). Both pictures reflect some typical issues encountered with cell phone selfie portraits. In the first one, particularly, you can see the distortion resulting from having one's face too close to a wide angle lens. At least in this one there was some light so the camera shake is not too bad, but the second one, shot at a 1/17 of a second shutter speed, is noticeably blurry. In both cases, the backgrounds are  distracting, in the first case because it's just not a pretty background, and in both cases because they're too much in focus. My studio backdrop was designed to be lit properly and thrown out of focus to work. And of course there's the issue of pose and expression, the limitations of trying to control and produce those most effectively while shooting yourself with your phone being obvious.

Joanna had a couple of specific requirements, one of which was not to show her arms. I think this is a pretty typical concern for women over twenty who don't have personal trainers and time to work on their  muscle tone for hours every week. So we had to make sure she chose wardrobe that provided coverage but not bulk. The first two outfits added bulk and weight and just weren't flattering in a photo:

L-R: 1st and 2nd wardrobe options tried vs. a final frame with the "right" wardrobe

A brief note about the background: I am a big fan of a bit of texture that just hints at some kind of place (rather than a plain paper backdrop), so when we don't shoot on location (at an office, in a home, or wherever), we have lots of different ways of creating something unidentifiable, and unobtrusive, but aesthetically pleasing. This background was a combination of a custom designed  banner stand backdrop, a sheer curtain and a glass wall.

Here's what Joanna had to say:

"Just wanted to thank you for the beautiful portrait! My husband and the girls 
love them and so do I. Now I have something to look back on that will remind me 
that once I did look younger!"

And this was before she even saw the retouched shots.

Coming up, a short post about two male clients I helped "look pretty" after they used selfies in their initial website design.

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