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Lesson 9 from: Capturing Authentic Portraits

Chris Orwig

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Lesson Info

9. Gear

Lesson Info


Mostly what I want to do is, I mean it's almost a mass of gear up here, but give us a framework to talk about it, versus a let's give a critique of this particular lens. I want to talk concept, because we can find that stuff other places. So mostly for my concept, I'm going to go from left to right of a wider angle lens to more of a zoom. I shoot with Canon stuff and also Sony. I'm doing a ton with Sony gear these days and really liking it. I'm not as good with that as I am with this, so it's not the gear, it's me. And so if I'm teaching, I'm going to do the one that I'm best with. That make sense? And the reason why I mentioned that is more to think about you when you do portraits, because you know how you always evolve from cameras, and you get a new camera, and... I never do important shoots with a new camera. I wait til the new camera's old hat, like I don't even have to think about it, and then I do that, because why? I'm trying to connect. It's not about the frame, it's about the...

connection. And so whatever tool will get me there the best. Anyway, lenses. How do we think about that stuff? So wider angle lenses, I think of these as just more open, given it's, they're more hungry. They're like, give me more of the scene, Chris, I want to see what's happening here. How wide to I go with people? 35's really good in a sense of because your angle of view, right, 7200 angle view's here, 35 angle view is here, and so it's not just how close you're getting to the subject, but how much of the scene we're seeing. So 35 is really hungry. I want to eat this much up of the scene. So environmental portraits, it's amazing, because it isn't too distorted. Once you get past 35, you start to get to some interesting things. The focal length on your camera phones, it's 35 approximately, give or take just a touch. Why is that? Really think about your camera phone for a second. You can't like do really up close portraits. Like I have an iPhone, so you never see an iPhone portrait that's, unless it's cropped in, of a really close shot, because it distorts too much, so you need to have a little distance. You want to show more. So that's this lens. And when that's the thing, like Rodney Smith, the guy standing at his door, you remember that shot? That's a 35. The up close, that was the 85. So that was perfect, right? Pulled back, and then come in. The 50 is the normal. So this is the one where I think this is the way your eye sees the world, and people will say that. And normal, basically what this means is this is like an acoustic guitar. This is an electric guitar. This might be the one you get wider, this is like a ukulele. And so it's kind of, you know, you have to really know how to play it to make it work. And so normal, what I mean by that, is if you don't do any work, the lens isn't going to help you out. That's the beauty of it. Also, why fixed focal length? As far as getting better at photography, you have to move your feet. You have to compose by physically, you can't just get lazy and be like bzzt, bzzt, zoom in, zoom out, so that's why I tend to like that. I also know that if I'm photographing you with a 50, I'm probably right around here, and that's a conversational. It's about a double arms length distance away, and I'm not saying, hey, how was your trip to Japan? With a 200, I would have to do that. I would have to be further away. So it's very conversational. I'll often start with my 50, because it isn't intimidating to see on the front of the lens. It kind of looks like you're not doing that much. And then the 85's the one I'd say I capture my best work with. That focal length is magic. And there's a lot of things you can read about that, but I think of the personality of this one is it really kind of makes people look interesting and good, but it doesn't overdo it. And so its compliment is sincere, it's not flattery. 7200 is rock star. It's like you could almost photograph anyone, anywhere, you get that, and it can create a really beautiful, interesting look. But it's a lot of lens to work with. So it depends on the subject. I find some people, they don't even care, but other people get a little overwhelmed if you're swinging a lot of gear around. How you handle the gear is important as well. So what that means for me, is like I say, whenever I meet someone, the camera's out, it's on my shoulder, and it's pointed into the small of my back. I'm never going to have it this way. This is like an accident waiting to happen. You're going to hit lots of things because the lens is pointing out. So it's tucked in around. It's also a little bit more discreet. If I'm holding it in my hand when I meet someone, which might happen for some reason, it's wrapped around, so I'm not going to drop it, and it's down here, and probably I might switch hands even, if I have to shake their hand. But I'm not saying like, camera is here, and it's down, it's low, it's small. And we know this from nonverbal communication that when we're discreet, we're not drawing attention to it, and when we move in slower ways, like if I move like this, it's like, oh my gosh, there's something weird is happening with that person, but if we're just hanging out, and like I said, passing it off, setting it down, those things are really important as well. Then at some point I bring in a film camera usually in order to shoot a picture. And the reason that is is because it slows me down, and also slows the subject down. In digital what tends to happen is you work really fast, a lot of frames. This one, this particular camera, and I'll shoot later with it, I'll shoot a frame, and when you push the button, it goes black, so the shutter goes chuk-chuk, and then you can't see anything. And so that, for me, is similar to a pause. I love what the pianist Artur Schnabel says, "I handle the notes no better than other pianists, "but its the pause between the notes, "ah, that's where the magic resides." And so I love just like it's okay, done, ch-shhh, ch-shhh, all film cameras have their own voice and characteristic, but what I found with this one is it helps get people somewhere, and there's a psychology of being photographed with film that removes subconsciousness. Digital, everyone wants to see the back, which I don't let them do. And I'll tell you how I navigate that at some point. But with film, it's just like, oh, that's not even a, there is no back. And it takes me forever to focus this thing. So if it takes someone forever and they're sitting down, rather than ch-choo, ch-choo, look and look and look, it's like, okay, you just kind of sit. And I say hang on a second, let me get this in here. And I'm also a little different, because I don't know what it is, maybe a dollar per click, so I'm not just like, b-b-b-b-b, I'm like, this has got to be right. I'm not taking, I'm making. So for me I think that's a really important part of the kit, and here's the funny thing is, usually my digital photographs are better than the film, but it gets me somewhere where I need to be, and maybe the equivalent is, let's go to like having a vintage car. I've always wanted a vintage car. I don't have one, but it may not get you there as fast, but there's a different mindset, right? It slows you down, because you're like oh, I'm in this different space. So that's an important part of gear. Another thing I want to say about gear in regards to the stuff that you do in shooting and preparation is having your gear accessible, and the way we pack the gear is really essential. You can pack it for transport, and it's a different packing for shooting. You with me on that? What I mean by that is, what are my top lenses? Are they as close to the opening as possible, and am I going to be able to access that stuff? And then for the little things of course, do I have a CF card in my pocket, because I move a lot, so if I'm 10 feet from my bag, and really connecting with the subject, and Drew's talking, like splitting his deepest, meaningful life story ever, I'm not going to be like, Drew, wait, CF card, one second Drew, I want to have these kind of things with me, on me, near me. And so how we pack that gear becomes really important. As far as the lens, we talked about characteristics, handling a little bit depth of field. Lots of times people will say, or you know, photographers will get written off, it's like you always shoot shallow depth of field. It's like so easy, just like, F-2 or something, and then take the picture. And it's like, okay, strike the pose. Yeah, that's one way to look at it. But the way I see it, and let's do this, if you hold your finger out in front of you and stare at it, what you're going to see is that that's in focus, and then bring it a little bit closer, you can focus on it, depending on if you need glasses, and the rest of the world becomes a blur. And let's change that to your partner. And maybe he or she, it's your wedding day, or maybe it's your kid, or maybe it's your mom. As that person walks closer to you, you are like so locked into their eyes. The rest of the world really doesn't matter at that moment. So psychologically, how we see is with a shallow depth of field for things that we really care about. The eyes dilate. They show this scientifically. When there's something you're interested in, or someone you love, they let more light in. You know what I mean? And so all of a sudden it's like, we're there, and everything else is gone. And so it's not just like wait, that simplifies the background, makes people look nice. Sure, those things are true, but then you want to think about your depth of field with the psychology. Maybe, like there was one photograph where there was this woman named Isabel Lucas, the actress, blonde hair and the blue background. Do you remember that one? It was the one that I faded out, fade, fade, fade. Anyway, that's a shot at like F-8 or something. Because in that one I just wanted all the texture to be in the frame. So it doesn't mean you always shoot with just the eyes and nothing else, but I love that. So in regards to thinking about gear and all of that, there's always the question of should I get this lens or that? Sometimes that's the cheaper one or the more expensive one. And my thing, I go back to that story about that guy with exquisite light, that the light wasn't good enough. I'm like, get the lens you can afford and shoot the heck out of it. I mean, shoot the hell out of that lens. Do everything you can. Versus buy the cheaper one and be like, oh, it's not good enough. This portrait will never, be like, no, sit down at the typewriter and bleed. Like do what you can with what you have, make the most of the that. Obviously, the more you can put into your glass scenario and lenses give you a quality and a jump, and a way, a technique or a tool that can really help. But I always like to counterbalance that. When you talked about using your film camera to make your subject relax, that I have used the shutter of my camera. I've set people up in saying are you ready, in a sense, I click, and then they relax just slightly because they heard the click of the camera, and I quickly take another shot right after they've just relaxed. Great! I love that. And I'll just build on that. I think that also helps in the rhythm of a shoot, meaning sometimes you're like hey, we're over, and people are like, oh, we're over, and then photographers are famous for it. Can I just get one more shot? And they'll kind of, we all laughed at that, they'll kind of laugh maybe, and then they'll give you one more shot. But that is that guards down. And that whole idea of how you get people to that point of guard being down, yeah, I mean, it's do whatever you can. And think about gear with that. Other thing I should say too, which I won't do here, because it doesn't work tethering, is I shoot with two cameras, one on each shoulder. And the reason I do that is I have different focal lengths, so that like the Rodney Smith thing I was showing you, I take one picture, two steps, I take the next picture. And for whatever good or ill, that's just how I do it. The reason that started was someone joked with me once, one of my colleagues. I only had one camera, and he was like, "Oh, you must not really care about your photography. "You only have one camera?" He's like, "What if that one breaks "when you're shooting someone?" And it was in joke, but then later I thought, that's really true. What if I'm photographing someone, like some of these pictures, I'm not telling the stories, but like Jack O'Neill, the guy that invented the wetsuit, it was like one of the most meaningful pictures of my life. What if something went wrong and I didn't get the picture? And so that's motivated me enough to have this kind of two-sided approach, yeah.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Authentic Portrait Guide Preview

Ratings and Reviews


Wow. This course was about so much more than "just" portraiture. Chris Orwig is a fantastic speaker and teacher - very engaging, down to earth, wonderful photo examples and live demonstrations on how to interact with the subjects you are photographing. I love that he brought in quotes and artwork and poetry, as well as some really great personal stories and experiences, to make his points. Fabulous! This man is an expert in capturing that spark in others - and you can totally see why. Really great.

Martin Backhauss

Amazing class and what a great AND inspiring trainer. Thank you Creativelive for giving Chris Orwig the stage. Perfect choice! Learned a lot but more importantly, I got so inspired by his presentation and that is what matters the most .....for me. Super grateful. THX CL!

Student Work