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How It's Done

Lesson 8 from: Capturing Authentic Portraits

Chris Orwig

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Lesson Info

8. How It's Done

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Lesson Info

How It's Done

How do we do this? This is where we're getting a little more practical. So there is this guide, which you guys have, or if you purchased a course you can pick it up or you can visit my website and buy it if you want it, if you don't purchase the course and just pick it up, but in this guide, this is 20 pages, and here's, like, the secret sauce. This is I think how we start to do these things. And... I pushed the wrong button. Let's go to the next page. What the guide's intent is to look at how we clarify our vision, find our voice, connect, prepare, direct, provide feedback, and more. So it's kind of getting into some of the practical side of it. We had to get kind of the ushy gushy feely stuff out there before I get to the practical. Are you with me on the order? If I just gave the practical you'd realize it's backwards, it's like, no. All that fire inside, light within, now we're gonna go into the other stuff and if we follow that order, it usually works a lot better. Oh, and there w...

as that link, If you want to go and pick up the guide, or if you buy it, as Kenna said, you'll have download instructions how you can get it for free and then you can use this, 'cause I don't know about you but for me, stuff like this, when I watch these things, I'm like wow, and then I'm like, wait, what was that one thought? So it's all here, as far as how we do that. One of the topics in this guide is to clarify our vision and voice, which I'm arguing is a very important task to take seriously, and so with this in mind, I give you Bresson, who said, "Make visible what without you, "might perhaps never have been seen." Make visible what without you, might never have been seen. You hear a lot of people say, "Well, everyone photographs now. "How can you stand apart from the crowd?" And all these kind of things. I had this great conversation with my neighbor at our trashcans. "What do you do?" "I'm a photographer and teacher." She was like, "Wow." She was like, "Why do you do that?" You know, she was like, "Can't you just buy a postcard "of the Golden Gate Bridge?" And she had this whole thing, like, you know, and it was this interesting conversation, but when she talked about the Golden Gate Bridge what I thought is, yeah, there's great photographs out there but I haven't taken it, so why do I need to take it? Is it to make my mark and show the world what I can do? No, it's to learn. When you spend time with a bridge, you learn about something that crosses an expanse. You think about history, the people that make it. You think about geography. You think about, same thing with people. You know, why photograph a person? Well, my main reason is to learn from them. I learn something about life. And so, what you have to do is say hey, this might not have been everyone's scene. And part of this is the life that we live shapes what we're able to see, so who we are is where we're gonna tap into this stuff, so your photo school, you're kind of carrying it around with you, and I think part of that means this. This is my friend Rowena whose house burned down. She asked me to come with her when she dug through the ashes, and it's not too far from where I live. It was this tragic fire in Santa Barbara, the Tea Fire. All these homes were burned a number of years ago. And I was like, okay, you know? And she just wanted to kind of have a visual document of that experience, and there was a lot that I learned from it, but one of the things was, as she went through the fire, like right in front of her feet right here were a bunch of ceramics, and those were the only things that weren't damaged in the fire. So what I mean by that is like a ceramic vase or a ceramic bowl, 'cause it's already been burnt. It's already gone through that process. It's already been through the fire once. And when you have that experience happen, you're like, wow, you know, like, our life experiences, so, like, your difficult life experiences, are probably the way that you're going to make good photographs, if that makes sense, and we'll talk about this a little bit later with the horse whisperer, but it's like, the challenges we've faced will clearly affect how we connect with people now. So I've had a couple of near-death experiences. I told you one, my friend Chris saving my life. I've also had another. I think life is so, so, so precious, and so that's why I shoot, right? I think I have so much to learn from people, so that's why I do it. And so whatever it is, the hard stuff, not just the good stuff, not just happy snappy, but that is gonna be I think where you're gonna find your voice. Another way to find it is, what do you like? Henry Miller says, "Develop an interest in life as you see it. "The people, the things, the literature, the music. "The world is so rich, so simply throbbing "with rich treasures, beautiful souls, "and interesting people." To be an individual, you have to have some ego, some self, some sense. I'm not talking about egotistical, but you have to have that, like, yeah this is who I am, this is what I like. You know, I like blue, so my cousin sends me this blue, yeah I'm shooting with blue. I don't usually use backdrops but I love blue. I love things that have patina I'm doing that thing, right, you with me on that? So that's what you need to do, is figure out who you are and how then that shapes what you're gonna do. Inside of this, there is a... There are a couple things which I'm skipping over. It's about clarifying your vision. And one of them is to say, what are your stylistic aspirations? I'll just do that, not the others, 'cause I think you can do some of those others on your own. 'Cause part of what we like is, I'll get to this slide in a minute, but part of what we like depends on, I just love surfing so I'm gonna photograph surfers, right? Or I love knitting, so I'm gonna photograph people with yarn, and someone covered with yarn, 'cause I just love yarn, you know, I love hand-spun yarn. You with me on that? If that person who loves yarn photographs that picture it's gonna be wonderful. If I photograph it, not very good. And so, with our stylistic aspiration, not just our interests but then what style, what's the style we use to photograph that? One of the ways I've found that we can begin to access that is not to say, 'cause people will say, "What's your photographic style?" It's really hard to answer. Like, I don't know. I want to have a style. I want to have something that people can identify. So I always say, well, what would you like your style to be? And how could you describe that by way of either a car or a type of food? And I did this to my students for years and years. So here's the car one. I want my photography to be like a vintage Porsche, like a bright blue vintage Porsche, one from the 60s. It's clean, it's classic, it's small, it doesn't have a very powerful engine, it doesn't have very big tires, it's not sexy and sleek, most people don't even get it. But those who do, they're just like, "Oh." It resonates back to an era and a time that was just different than it is now. Or maybe the car that you like is a VW Bus. I want mine to be like the VW Bus, with surfboards on top and a Golden Retriever inside, and it's warm, and it's adventurous, and it's happy. Or maybe I want mine to be a little utilitarian, and mine's like a truck, and I want it to be just like, I want to photograph farmers and ranchers and I want it to be like that flatbed truck that's weathered and worn and it's done all this work. Or the food one, one of my students gave the best answer. His name was Otter, and I can't remember where he was from, it wasn't Iceland but it was somewhere. Anyway, he said, you know, people were saying how they want their photography to be like his. He said, "I want my photography to be like, "it's like New Years Day with my family. "We have caviar. "It's the only day of the year. "One day a year we have caviar, "and I want my photography to be like caviar. "Not everyone likes it, but those who do "are committed to it beyond means." I was like, "That's beautiful." Another student, she said, how did she put it? She's like, "I want mine to be like a," I'm blanking on what it is but it's like a souffle, she had a better word, but it's some kind of a muffin or a roll that had something inside. She said, "But it's this thing inside "that you don't really know what's there "but then when you bite into it "just melts in your mouth." So anyway, the idea is to say, like, well what kind of style do you guys want? And don't say, like, "Well I want to be kind of like so-and-so," or "I want my style to be like Richard Avedon "or Amy Leavitt or Jeremy Cowart or Chris," whatever, right? No I want it to be like, weather's a good one, too. I want it to be like fog. There's a little mystery. It's really quiet. I want to have a lot of open space. Or I want it to feel like that VW Bus, or whatever. So that's a really important question to begin to answer to clarify your voice. Then next onto finding subjects. This is directly related, and as far as our guide here, let me just find out what page we're on in this. Does anyone see it here? I think it's far in. Okay, it's about halfway through. And what I talk about in this area is to say what are your interests? Which we started to do. Who do you want to photograph? Where? And then style, which we're getting at. So we're filling in the middle areas here. What, who, where, and style. So with your interests, what I mean by that is beginning to map out everything that you like. I like classical music, I like surfing, I like mountain biking, I like road biking, I like horses, I don't like cats. Whatever, you know, all these things. And then begin to say, like, "Well, who are people in those spaces "that I could begin to photograph?" Right? And then the who is interesting. Who would you like to surround yourself with? 'Cause that's what you do in portraiture. You're surrounding yourself with these people. You're gonna stare at these people, get to know these people. Like my friend Alex, the guy I told you is totally authentic, I want to photograph him, 'cause I want more of Alex. I want to be more like Alex. I want to hang out with Alex. I want to learn from Alex. And in that shoot, I can't even tell you, I learned a ton. Or, you know, surfers. It's not just like, "I just want to photograph surfers, dude." So I go down to the beach, and you're a surfer. Boom. It's like, no. There's some surfers that are really into slashing and destroying waves, not really into that. I like the ones that are into flow and glide and soul. And so those are the people I'm going for, right? And also those people that have integrity. I also love photographing surfers who were the world champions but now they're not, 'cause I want to say, "How did you figure out "how to work things out after you weren't in the limelight?" That's really, really intriguing to me. I want to photograph people who have been successful in business in certain ways with integrity. Like I photographed Yvon Chouinard, there was a picture awhile back. He founded Patagonia. He's done so with such integrity and so I want to learn from guys like that. So you want to begin to ask yourself, well who do you want to learn from? Who do you want to surround yourself? Then geographically, where are you? A lot of times people will say, "I want to shoot fashion photography or something." It's like, well okay, yeah. Gotta move to LA or New York. And they're like, "No, I wanna live "in a small town in Idaho." It's like, you can't do fashion work, I mean maybe you could do it for fun, but geography limits, in a creative way, what we can shoot, and so begin to ask yourself, and I think that's why a lot of young moms who start to have kids, they love to do photography of kids, right? I wanna surround, this is where I am, this is who I can be, these are my people, my tribe, right? And so geographically, who do you have access to? And then what I say here as far as exercise, examine your life as if you're an alien and what would that alien see? So I live in Santa Barbara and there's a surprising thing about that town. It's right on the ocean, and I would teach college students. I would teach a class that was one of the last classes they would take, and I would always ask, "How many of you have touched the Pacific Ocean? "Or not touched the Pacific Ocean?" Whatever it was. And invariably, in a class of 30, there would always be five or six, who've been there for four or five years, they hadn't physically touched the Pacific Ocean. Like, that's a problem, right? And so I'd say, "Okay, "here's your extra credit assignment. "You can get," you know, I'd make it a ridiculous amount of points, "If you go and touch the ocean you get so much, "if you jump in, you just have to have a picture of it, "you get this." But the whole point was like, you've got to tap in to geography. You have to access where you are, what's unique about where you are. And there's a lot of things we overlook. I usually find the things I overlook when tourists visit. You know, they visit and like, "Hey, we wanna go see that." And I'm like, "What?" "Oh yeah this restaurant, it was written up in this magazine, it's the best one in your town." I'm like, "Really? "Let's go!" Right? And so as a portrait photographer, then I'm thinking, oh wouldn't it be great to photograph that chef. I mean that food that that person prepared, her work was amazing, and so that's how I'm piecing it together, right? Vision and voice. Who you are, who do you want to become, where do we begin? All of this is getting into identity, right? And part of portraiture, with the beautiful thing about it, is that we're all here, remember the gap? We're all here but we all wanna go somewhere. And so beginning to think about where you wanna go. Well, I wanna hang out with people that do Motocross stuff. I think Motocross is so cool. I don't, I'm making it up. But you know, then it's like, okay, how do I take steps to get there? You know, gotta go hang out at the muddy racetrack, I gotta buy a motorcycle myself. And then eventually you can imagine the portrait series that would follow if you're one of them and then you photograph them, mud head to toe except the goggles removed, so it's like mud everywhere except that circle around the eyes. That would be amazing. Would it be authentic? It could be, if you found that fire within. You're with me on that. This is a couple photographs. You know we talked about this one, but this is my best friend in the world, right? So I wanna be around him. I love surfing, so I wanna photograph these guys and have a vision for how I'm gonna get there to try to do it. I love this guy's music, Jack Johnson, so I want to capture that frame. Some people will say, like, "Well you can't do that. "You have to, like, give what the world passes your way." And I'm like, no you don't. Be like, "I want to photograph this person. "I'm gonna figure out some way, "come hell or high water, "and this is why, and this is where I'm going with it." So, part of what you need to do is that. And it's not just who, obviously, but it's how we're gonna do that. And I think, you see I'm intermixing these, like I keep tying the thread around these two things, 'cause it's not just photograph the motorcycle guys, it's how. The art of finding, the arts I think are this idea of finding the kernel of beauty or truth that is hidden inside. For such endeavors, we can't rely on our eyes. This isn't just an eye thing, this is going deeper. And this is where it gets really interesting. What I've come to believe is the most ordinary person is the greatest subject of all. Most photography teachers, most photography schools, most photography tips will tell you it's the opposite. They'll tell you this, to be a better photographer stand in front of more interesting things. I think that's BS, I think it's completely wrong, because what that implies is that the thing in front of you is what determines if the photograph is good, but you and I know, I don't know if you've ever experienced this, there can be two photographers side by side photographing the same thing, and it's different. The reason is because our eyes not only receive information, we project over on top of it. I don't know if you've experienced this, but if you're feeling insecure and someone gives you a bad look, you're like, "Oh my gosh, they don't like me." But if you're feeling confident and they give you a bad look you think, "Ah, they're jealous." You know, it didn't change, it's just like your own internal dialogue and what we project. And so this is for me where I learned this unlikely lesson from a museum in Spain. I was there studying abroad, I lived in Madrid for a year, and one of the painters in the Museo Del Prado is Velazquez, and Velazquez's work is really interesting. I want to read just a touch about him. He was a painter for the Spanish Royal Family, so I'm going back in time. Let's go back before cameras. And what he did is, he would paint the king and he did so with this weird authentic respect, and he didn't typecast. This is what I love most. He painted these people, this humanity underneath the shell. So rather than paint an idyllic king, he depicted a man whose countenance engendered sympathy, pity, and respect. And this was in an era where you just don't do this, you don't let that come through. He would paint people like the court jesters and at that time, in an unkind way, there were a lot of little people who filled those roles, but he never painted them to belittle or make fun of them like everyone else did. Such portraits... And in those, if you look at them, you'll see wisdom, you'll see caring, you'll see strength, while others I think saw an arrogant king, an ugly daughter, or a humorless jester, a misshapen body to laugh at, Velazquez saw deep into the humanity that connects us all. And here he is taking an ordinary subject and seeing more. And so what that means is perhaps something like this. My daughter who is in the sixth grade just graduated. She was in the play, and they said, "Will you do photographs for the program?" Of course. You may think, "Oh, sixth graders. "I'm not gonna photograph sixth graders. "I wanna photograph world-famous surfers "or actors or artists or--" No, no. This is like the greatest chance in the world, I mean, these are like sixth graders. Think of them, that's right before junior high. And so here's the crew of kids in her class. And the setup, you know what the setup is, right? It's a dry erase board in shade looking out towards the light. That's all I needed, you know? It's like, I don't have a backdrop. I don't have anything. And then part of what I'm trying to do, like let me show you a couple close-up ones, see if this thing will work. These two guys are punks, but I want to capture a bit of their spirit and their essence, and they're really, really hard to photograph. Kids are so honest, right? And they're not gonna be like, "We'll put on a good show for you." No, no, no, no, no. And so they keep you honest and they make you work so that's where the subject matter for us, like who are you gonna photograph, we need to expand it, and really what it begins with is where you are, it's about making the most with what you have, and that in the essence is creativity. Perhaps the best definition of creativity that you can find is begin where you are, and make the most with what you have. So what that means for me is I have a daughter. This was my oldest daughter when she was young. I'm gonna create a portrait of her, without a doubt. I'm gonna create portraits of her as she grows up, right? And I'm gonna look to try to find those moments where I'm directing and I'm connecting. This is an interesting one because she had a fever and she was in a wagon being pulled along by Grandma. But I think even when people are sick, 'cause people will say, you know, when people are a little bit sick or subdued, you can create really, really strong portraits, because their guard's down a touch, versus when you're totally managed and everything's all together. And then this is one from, one more here, from earlier this year, and this was more conceptual 'cause I was trying to illustrate this idea of education doesn't only happen in school. But you get that with this thing, I am working with what I have, or maybe even worst case scenario, create a photograph of yourself. You know, selfies are interesting. They're snapshots. I was here, this happened. It's kind of like jotting down an idea. Self-portraits are very different. There's a huge distinction there. Alright. Kenna, question? You guys, questions? Yeah, I wanna pause and take a couple questions before we move into gear. Yes. So many people that are, like I said, connecting with his. Yeah. Going back, this is a question from Kay Stempf, do you ever ask your subject what they want? What they are looking to accomplish from the portrait shoot? Yeah, that's kind of an amazing question which I think, I mean they're probably guessing that it's a collaboration. I was talking with Jamie from Creative Live the other day about what makes a good director, and she said, "A good director is someone who listens." She was talking about this in the theater context. I think it's true in photography as well. So you have to listen and pay attention, and yeah, so the way I'll tend to try to fish that out isn't so much, like, well, you know, sometimes it's like, well, what do you need? You know, I need some photographs for my album, work, or you know, you kind of get that, but then I'll say, like, "What kind of photographs do you like?" And that gives you a lot of clue, because they'll instantly say, like, "I don't like any of that, like, straightforward stuff "where, like, you see like 3/4," I like stuff where it's like, the face is cropped in half, or whatever, and they'll give you that, and that then really begins that collaboration, so by all means. Other times, though, I'm trying to get them to think about anything but photography. So I am pulling out every question I have to just get them somewhere else, and so that's where I would go with that. But great, great question. So keep those coming if there are more. Do you guys have any questions? Subjects making eye contact with you-- Yeah. Versus looking away. 'Cause I know that you said making eye contact is a good connection, but I did notice you had a few where they were looking away, so I wanted to know, kind of, the difference you thought in how they connect while looking away. Yes, yeah, and I think there's a couple things there to keep in mind. There is posing, and I think posing's amazing. I don't mean to bad-talk it too much. I just try to get a little creative with it. So sometimes if you have them look somewhere, I'm like, "Look at the blue thing over there," they'll go like this, and that just changed their pose. So sometimes I'll use that. And then sometimes, like it happened with Drew, I'd have him look and I was like, oh, that's kind of cool, and I didn't necessarily think it would be. So I'm thinking about giving them a break so we're not staring. Think about how that's effecting posture, 'cause you know, where your eyes go, you can't help, like, do you know the trick in skiing, it's called a helicopter? I remember learning this as a kid. You go off a jump, and what you do is you do a 360, and if anyone says, "How do you do a helicopter?" It's all about your head. So you jump, and then you turn, and your head has to lead the whole thing all the way around. And so that for me is a really great posing concept that will get their shoulders moving. I mean some people will do it, they'll do this. But you can just say, "Oh, no, you know, "just hang out and look over that way." So both of those, and there is sometimes a connection which happens when someone is in thought. I think those sideways glances, you know, some of them can be kind of empty, where you're like, "Think about space," and they're like nothing. But other times you can tell they're going somewhere and so that works. I'll have people close their eyes a lot, and usually when I photograph someone, at some point I'm like, "Hey, close your eyes a second. "Take a breath." They close their eyes, and I actually have photographs, I could do a whole series, of hundreds and hundreds of photographs of people with their eyes closed. I always capture at least one of them. But what that does is they kind of go in and then they come back out, too, so I'm looking for that as well. It's not traditional, I mean it's kind of weird. I think in most portrait books they would say never ask the person to close their eyes. I know all those kind of things, but I say, yeah, I'm not trying to do traditional stuff. Right? Anything else from you? Well, it's fun when you already are answering questions that I was about to ask you. Yes, the question, the next one, was kind of about that. Do you have a checklist of things that you can try when your not connecting? Yes. Yeah, and that, we actually have some content here but there is, 'cause that happens all the time. Like when I was standing in line at the airport yesterday this guy behind me, you know, you just strike up conversation with people sometimes when you're stuck somewhere. I'm like, "So, where are you traveling to?" Or, you know, "Why are you traveling to Seattle?" "Business." And then I ask him something else. Like, one word answers. And it's like, okay, this guy doesn't want to talk. That's fine. But in a portrait setting, it's like what do you do? How do you do that? That's where the prep really comes into play and that's where listening to them really comes into play. Everyone has a sweet spot. There are some topics that are easier to talk about. Everyone loves talking about travel. If people have tattoos they love talking about those, there's some story there. What's the story of your tattoo? Oh, it may be a silly story, "I wish I hadn't have gotten it," or "I love this quote." Family, you know, if married or kids. So yeah, there's ways of trying to work around that. Or if they're academic and there's some work they've done or something they've been in, so yeah, I'm always kind of, it's a little bit of a navigation.

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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!

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