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Capturing the Narrative

Lesson 9 of 9

Image Review/Select

Nigel Barker

Capturing the Narrative

Nigel Barker

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Lesson Info

9. Image Review/Select

Lesson Info

Image Review/Select

So we're back at the Creative Live studios to edit the film from our Carkeek shoot, and we had Anna and Ivan, we had quite a day, right Toby? It was an amazing day, yeah. It was an amazing day. I think it was all about capturing the narrative and we put our models through a whole set of challenges and things that we do to bring out that story and to tell a story because oftentimes you go to a location like Carkeek Park and there's trees, we have the ocean, there were mountains, there was a train that was going by, there were a lot of things to sort of stimulate you. But that's the story of the place, of the location. What's the story of the person, and I think you have to always bring that in when you take a good portrait. You've gotta remember it's about the person. The location adds to it and helps tell that story, but it isn't the story. So that being said, Anna was the very first person we shot, and we started in the, I think it was kind of funny, really. Because it looked amaz...

ing on camera, but we were actually in the car park, and when you look around, poor Anna. I was looking at her in a tree and she looked fantastic. Anna was looking at me, and I'm standing in a car park with sort of kids running around and life happening as normal, so it's hard. You have to realize, too, that's what she's looking at, you know, if that's what she's looking at, then how is she supposed to get into character? It's not easy. Here is her very first shot. It's beautiful. I mean, she looks great. She's got incredible hair, the moss on the tree looks amazing, and you can see I kind of got a feel for her. Now, this is her first shot, okay, and there's no doubt that I shot a lot. I overshot the very first picture. And that's normal for me, and I think it's a good idea in general, because you get to see how someone moves. You get to see the sort of things they like to do, the places they go, and as far as the way they move their body, how they look to camera, and most people have a certain number of looks. Any given model'd probably have 10 looks, or 10 moves, that are their go-to. And you kind of wanna run the gamut, get that, understand that, and then you're like, "Okay, what more can I do? "How can I push it?" And actually when I was going through Anna's film, very briefly, and I mean really briefly, before I was making sure we got it, I could really see how she started to loosen up. Because Anna, like most models, they have that certain face that they pull, that certain look that's their sort of, "Here I am, this is my model face," but I wanted to get past that, I wanted to get through to who she was, her own personality. Let me just whip through some of this. And you see why, as we were talking to her, as I was discussing certain ideas and concepts, and getting her to sort of come out of that space, she starts to relax, she starts to sort of almost be distracted, and I think distracted is a good word for it, because in many ways, when you think too much about something, and absolutely I said, "Have a thought in mind," because that thought will come through your eyes, but simultaneously, if you distract someone, they can't go back to their comfort spot. They can't go back to the, all of a sudden they forget that they're modeling and they're in the moment. As I was shooting her, and every time I put the camera down, too, I noticed that she would go back, she would often do something kind of cool, and then I would say, "Oh, that's great," bring the camera around and try to shoot it, and then back into modeling position, and you don't really want that. You wanna somehow distract them so you can take that picture. I even said, I believe, you should often give sort of orders or commands or ideas or concepts with the camera at your face because when you bring it down, oftentimes that's when the magic happens, and then you bring it back up again and you've missed it. Okay, I'm gonna just whiz through some of this film here. And it was very pretty there. It's amazing, actually, how well she worked, how well her hair worked with the tree, but covered in the moss and the sort of dappled lighting that's coming through, and you see here now, we start to see her character. She's starting to smile, she's starting to laugh. And it may not be that this is the laugh. Sometimes you get someone to laugh and it's really big, and it's really huge, and it may not be brilliant, but it's after that moment, you know, it's sort of right after and they're kind of like (exhales), and that's the moment. It's right after and it's right before. It's not necessarily when they're doing the huge, massive laugh, or the huge smile, you know, the mouth wide open. But I like the authenticity. I like the realness of the picture, because at this moment she's having a real laugh, she's really chuckling, and it's a beautiful thing. And then here you can see a great example of a huge smile that really worked, you know, she's really laughing at me, her hair looks amazing, it's really candid. Then I start to use elements of the actual tree itself to help tell the story. I'm still shooting through the branches. And then you when you really see some of these pictures I really be loving Toby. I mean this is an example of a shot where she's in the tree, the tree plays a big part, she's a major aspect of it, but we have flair coming through from the sun above. And we tricked the colors in this a little bit, didn't we? Talk about how we did this. Yeah, we did a lot of desaturation, clean up the blue tones. Blue tones are important to sort of, when you're working with a lot of green in the picture, certainly when you put someone in a tree, and there's green everywhere, the actual color of the tree can affect the skin color as well. So you wanna sort of play with that and it's oftentimes confusing. You think, "Oh, you should play with the green." But actually it's blue more so, isn't it? Yeah, blue, and then you bounce back and forth. Yeah, we did this, I used a cinema color grade on this and added cyan to the highlights and midtones and then blue to the shadows a little bit. And it's sort of a desaturated picture, yet the blacks are quite strong. So keeping the blacks but desaturating other aspects of the picture. You know, what I love about it, though, we've been playing with the color and what have you, but other than that, there's really very little that needs to be done. It's sort of, this is it, out of the camera, this is the raw image right here that we're looking at. Certainly I think if I was to export this into a TIFF file and play with it, there's not a lot that I'd be really really shifting. I might burn in in certain areas and dodge in other areas, but it's really already looking pretty good. Here's some other great shots which I really love. And this is where we got really comfortable and you can see where we started to use her dance and her movement. We even had her singing at one point. All of these things sort of broke her down a little bit in the right way, in a way let her be who she wanted to be, or be the person that she is. When she first got in front of me she was a little stiff and she was giving me those model faces, and now she's really sort of developed and these pictures are looking fantastic. Now the next shot about her we actually moved down to the beach, and we had her on a tree, and she's walking along the tree. I was using this sunlight that was hitting her on one side to be kind of dramatic, and at this point the story was for her to be sort of stoic, and I think she really fell into character. She really kind of got it. It's interesting, I look at this pictures, and I don't know if a sadness is the right word for it, but there is an element of that in her face. There's a sort of a, it looks like a very quiet, gentle moment, and I think that when you're taking a portrait, it doesn't have to always be happy. Nor does it need to be sad, or it needs to be this, or it needs to be that, it just needs to look real. You need to believe it, and some of the most beautiful pictures are those quiet moments, and she looks quite wistful. But like anything, as I'm shooting, I get bored, too, and I'm like, "Okay, how do we mix this up? "What else do we do?" And so I actually had her screaming at one point. Let me get to a screaming shot. And it's like before I get to the screaming shot, I just saw some shots that I really love. She has a beautiful profile and she's looking off at the horizon. I get distracted sometimes. Okay, here you go, so she was looking at camera, she's looking strong, she's looking beautiful, I'm like, "Okay, let's break through this. "I wanna see you scream," and she's yelling. (chuckles) It's ridiculous, and you're like, "Well, how is that great?" But for me, what that does is, it totally shocks the system. Like, "Whoa!" And after it all comes out, you're sort of exhausted, and you start to reveal a whole nother side of you. And she's like, that's shock. She's like shocked. She's like, "Did I just do that?" But then also, and there she's doing it again. She's screaming one more time, really screaming. And then it's like, whew. And it's beautiful. It's really soft. And her arms are wrapped around her body. She's just made herself quite vulnerable by making so much noise, by drawing so much attention to herself, she gets lost in the moment and (exhales). Yeah, so really, really pretty. I mean this is a beautiful shot and certainly we could make this a black and white but I actually really like it in color, too. No, it's beautiful in color, really warm tones, muted sky. I mean, what would you do? I mean, I look at that and I think to myself, there's not really at the end much that one needs to do. You can play with the skin tone because it's quite orange, it's quite warm. But I actually think it works really nicely here. I mean we can bring in the shadows a little bit and make it a little more dramatic, but it's really nice soft. And the softness also helps tell a bit of the story here because she does that kind of gentle or stoic, a little sad, kind of look, wistful, and I mean that's really what the narrative is here. Each picture, if it has a story, you can look at it, and I'm using words as I look at it because that's what I'm feeling. And that's what it's all about is creating a story in a picture. And if you don't see the story, in your mind you don't stop to imagine something, then you really haven't told the narrative. It's just a pretty picture. And for every shot that I'm looking at, I'm thinking to myself, "What's the story here? "What's the story there?" When she was in the tree, what was happening? And I was thinking, "Oh, she's a woodland nymph. "Oh, she's this big smile, this cascading hair." And cascading hair and big smiles, that's just a image. But is she happy? Is she flirting? Is she, does she look vulnerable? What are the emotions that come out of the picture? And that's what you have to add on. That's that layer. That's the narrative, and for me, that's the tipping point between an okay picture and a good picture, a great picture, potentially an iconic picture. Okay, so our third shot with Anna, still on the tree, but if you're taking a portrait of someone, it doesn't always have to show their face, which sounds ridiculous. You're like, "Well, how can a portrait not be of someone's face?" But body language is, I think, so key to someone's personality. I don't know about you, but there are lots of people who I can recognize just by the way they walk, the way they hold themselves, the way they stand. We all have a certain gait to the way we walk. And having photographed Anna already for the past hour or two, I got to see the way she was moving. She loves to dance, she's got great rhythm, and if you're photographing a dancer, that is a part of their personality. So as a part of this series, to tell that story of her, Anna, the dancer, I said, "Okay, let's have you dance. "Let's have you move." And we decided to silhouette this picture, and really opt to use that incredible big sky that we had over Carkeek Park. And I think the interesting thing here is that is she really relaxed? This was a great moment. All the different things we'd done with her, all the different classes and teachers we'd put her through, she began to trust us. And you see that she really went for it. And this wasn't easy. I had her jumping up and down, into the air, and really exhaust herself but have fun, and she let herself go in it, and you'll see in these pictures, there's some just gorgeous shots. I love it, look at that. I mean they're just gorgeous. And this is Anna's happy place, really. She's like a bird and she's flying through the sky and it just looks like total freedom, total abandon. And if you see this picture, your imagination is like, "Ah, if I could be her." And I think every one of us dreams of being able to fly. And I look at a shot like this and I think, "There she is, she's flying," and it's stunning. And if you just meet someone and you say to them, "Do this, make me a fly," it just doesn't work. Yes, the person can jump and you can capture a great shot. But it's, sometimes when I take a picture, even when they have their eyes closed, and I think there's some pictures coming up from the next shot where she actually did close her eyes, even when the model's eyes are closed, you still need them to be thinking about something. Because you can tell what someone's thinking about even with their eyes closed, and that's when you've got it right. It's a toby. You have to obviously tweak it. We tweaked it a little bit, right, to make it a little bit more contrasty, but not dramatically. What did you do to actually make it even more saturated than that? Essentially, we just saturated the blue sky, did a color select on the blue sky and just saturated the color, and then pumped the blacks into it, and made it really crunchy. Yeah, which we like. And that's part of our look. We like to have that crunchy, dot blacks, what have you, as our own aesthetic. Very cool. All right, let's go to our next shot of Anna. And this was on the tree, I believe. Now, this shot, we did three different shots on this one tree. The dramatic shot with her looking stoic and sort of sad, almost gentle and thoughtful, to her having a lot of abandon and freedom and jumping, and then it was sort of after that moment of jumping, kind of exhausted, I'm like, "Okay, let's use that, "the fact that you are physically a little exhausted, "because you've been jumping. "And now we're going to put you onto this tree "and you can just relax and even close your eyes." And I was asking her to feel the sunlight on her shoulders, and what did that feel like, to sort of think about that. Because you can just sit there, but if you sit there and you're, "Oh," you know how, and we've all done it, you can feel sunlight on your face in the morning when you wake up and you're having a cup of tea on the balcony or you're on a beach and you feel the sunlight, it can feel really good. And that's what she did. And it's a continual process, because certainly with someone who's used to being photographed, like a model, they will go back to doing their modeling poses, so you have to keep reminding, and you have to be gentle about it, too. It's often the way you speak. You may be tired, as the photographer, and you're trying to get the shot, you can't get frustrated. That doesn't work, because it is a dance, and it is, you know, you have to allow your subject to kind of relax and kind of ebb and flow in the way that they're gonna pose for you. So you can't expect them to be full-on emotion all the time. And that's part of the dance. So here are shots of Anna with her eyes closed and just having a little moment, and they're really quite beautiful. It's quiet, and you can see the sun on top of her head, wrapping around, and she's just relaxing, and there's a story right there. It's like a Sleeping Beauty. And this is the final shot of Anna and what we did was create a studio environment out on the beach, which is no easy task, 'cause it was a lot of wind, and I had a lot of brave people helping me hold down my backdrop, but actually, because it was a Duvetyne, it's a cloth, you can hold it, versus paper, obviously, which would have just ripped. But and why I do things like this, and I've talked about it before, but it's because it's great to take a sort of a safe shot that can potentially become a cover or what have you, when I look at some of these pictures, you can really see all the negative space, which is now obviously a black backdrop that I could potentially turn into a cover of a magazine, and I could use all that area for all the type, you know, a creative director would use all this area for the type, but it would all come back to the story that I've just shot of her on the beach, with her on the tree, because the element of that tree is still in the shot. So it's not just, "Oh, here's a completely separate picture "of her on a black background." I've kept an element of the beach in the picture, and of course, the lighting's exactly the same, because it's the sun, it's what we've just used, and it all flows together, but looks quite different, perfect for a cover shot, and actually, these are really, really pretty. Here's another great one, super dramatic. And I think at this point, too, this was the final shot, we've worked together, we've laughed, she's cried, almost, she's jumped, she's danced, and when you finally see this final image, they are quite spectacular for me, and I'm looking at this thing. This is really the best pictures we shot of her all day. And it's kind of all come together. I don't even really need to tell her what to do or what's happening, she's just in the moment and living it. She's feeling the sun, she's feeling the texture of the tree in her hands, and we get these sort of really dynamite pictures, which, as you can see, we chose to make black and white, but the black background and a sort of pale white tree, and she's wearing a black pantsuit, so it worked really, really well to do that. And how did you do that, Toby? What did you, what was the specific? I mean, it just goes back to our country black that we use all the time. Desaturated and pumped the blacks and toned down the highlights. So those are our shots of Anna and gorgeous. I think we'll have to go through with a fine-tooth comb, 'cause there are so many gorgeous pictures of her, so many different personalities, so many things that we caught, it's a sort of editing nightmare, because it's too many choices, but that's a high-class problem that we all want as photographers. Ivan was our second subject at Carkeek Park, and what a character he was. He just came to the park ready to go. We always dream of having kind of characters like that to photograph, to be honest. He has such a great face, he's a fighter, he's a wrestler, he has a boxing gym, Ivan's Gym, and you just look at his face, and it tells a story. The story of the fights that he's won, the fights that he's lost, and everything else. And then he has this sort of little wicked, mischievous kind of twinkle in his eye that's just there. And this is someone who, he's not scared of having his photograph taken, because he gets in a ring with someone and it's like, "Okay, come on." And so he was almost sparring with the camera, which I love. And that doesn't mean that you just let that go. You still have to, or at least you still should, I think, give someone the opportunity to take it even that one step further. And he was gonna give me everything, I could tell, but I wanted to equip him with whatever he wanted to really take it to that next level. And I wasn't exactly sure whether I could do all the things that I was gonna do with him that day, but the more I photographed him, the more he got into it, and the happier he was, the more willing and the more giving he became as a subject. And the story just started to tell, the story of Ivan. The fighter, the man, the champion, and you see it all, and you'll see it in his eyes. And as I go through the film, literally it speaks for itself. So here he is, this is literally one of his first shots, this is shot number three. And he's just looking at me, and it's, you kind of see him. And he doesn't mind, he's got a bit of a gut, and he sticks it out, and he's proud of it. He's like, "Yeah, this is me. "This is me now." And that's it, he's not sucking it in, he's not doing anything weird, he's just a bit standing there, and he's just looking at me. And it's like he's sizing me up. And I love it, because this is his story. This is a sort of a narrative of its own. And as you look through the film, the story itself unravels, which is the way it should. It's like a little movie. And of course, the light is also playing a part of this story as well. It's dramatic. It's crashing across one side of his face, but bouncing on the other side. There's a little bit of a reflection. The dry adds to the drama of the picture, but it really, it's about his eyes, it's about his personality. And these shots, I got quite low. And the idea here too, is to, just by camera angle, is to make him look bigger, larger than life, to add to that element. And you can see here how that really works. And sort of he literally looks like a giant. He could almost be a cyclops in this picture, like and those movies, he's standing there like, just this man that's larger than life. And I also, as the photographer, when you meet somebody, you kind of, you read them. You read who they are and you start to build your own story. And so there's a story he's telling and there's a story that I want to tell. And so he's standing in front of me, but it was, I'm the one who's deciding to go on the ground and shoot low and shoot up at him. And then I'm asking him to look into the sun and look at the horizon and think about the things that he's done to get to where he is in his career right now and all of a sudden you can see him, you see him standing there, and he's really feeling really proud. And so it's that narrative, his personality, camera angle, all coming together, and you get these sort of majestic pictures. That's that story in a picture that you're looking for. And you'll see, I was just, we were just standing on a beach and there were people around us, but we get these kind of majestic pictures. We could be anywhere. I could be on a Greek island with him right now, and this would be the shot. I think it's really special. It's great when someone is just so in the moment, too. And when you're all having fun, when the subject's having fun, when you're having fun, you really can't go wrong. There isn't a bad shot. It's okay if someone's got their tongue sticking out their mouth. It's okay if it's not the perfect picture, right? Because it's honest and it's truthful and it all kind of comes together, and I actually think that I selected some, look at him here, he's sort of, looks like he's blowing a kiss to someone. He's probably talking or something, but I love it. I can almost imagine him whistling, going (exhales). Now, it's a lot of, it's really punchy here, and again, Toby, you wanna talk about what you did to increase the contrast? Yeah, we had a lot of crunching the backs, adding a lot of contrast in here, in addition to a lot of clarity, which just adds like, brings out all of that detail, the wrinkles, all that stuff in the face. Which we love, we love that. I mean just look at that. You can really see the detail. I mean you can see every hair, you can see every pore, and then you can look at his eye and it's intense and he's almost at this point, he's looking off, but it's funny, because you can almost look into what he's thinking in this picture. And there are other shots where you really feel like he's looking straight at you and it's like, "I'm looking at you," and here it's a picture where you look straight, you're looking at him and you know that he's sort of inside at this moment. He's internalizing where he is, and it makes for just a sort of a voyeuristically beautiful portrait. It's like the story of his career. So like anything, I get bored. (chuckles) You know, I'm like, "Okay, I've got that beautiful picture, "I've got this great shot, and the clock is ticking, "and time is money, "and I need to get all these other different aspects "of Ivan the champion in my pictures." And I did something which you should have the disclaimer, "Don't try this at home." But there's an element of contact, human contact, which is very interesting in a picture. And by pushing him, by touching him, I broke that boundary and he just jumped back and went straight into fighter position and it was amazing how quick it happened, and you see in the pictures, too, just like his hands came out like claws and he was ready to go, he was ready to fight. It wasn't even a moment, he just, he didn't care that I had the camera in my hand, and that's great, that's intense. All of a sudden, what this picture looks like, is imagine if he was in a fight, and this is what his opponent sees is this face, this look, this body language, and I didn't even know exactly what I was gonna get until I did that and had I just said to him, "Punch at the camera, and pretend wrestle, "and I'm gonna photograph it," that's what it would have been. And I think too, those elements of surprise, are what help create sort of spontaneity in the picture, and that is really the magic, 'cause when you get something that's spontaneous, he wasn't expecting it, I wasn't expecting it, and as a result, we got some really dynamite pictures. And it caught him off guard, although it's in his nature, and I think the interesting thing, too, is right after all this and you can see him here, punching and he starts to kick and he really got into it, his fist is covering his face, you just see his eye in focus, in fact where I pushed him, he almost toppled over for a second, which I think again, made him feel like, "Oh, no, I will not fall." But after all this, he calmed himself, and there is, for me, I remember a shot. And you know how it is, when you're taking pictures, you remember certain images, and you're like, "Ooo, that was a picture. "That was a shot." And there was a couple of head shots of him where he just stood there afterwards, kind of sizing me up like, "Okay, "we're gonna play dirty, are we? "You're gonna push me while you're photographing me." Well, I'm sorry, but it was worth it, because, sir, I got this picture, and I just think it's gorgeous. Oh, yeah, here you go. I mean, they're just so powerful. I mean, I see a picture like this, and the first thing that I think of is how big can I blow it up? How much can I afford to spend on blowing this picture up as big as possible 'cause I'd like to see this on a wall like boom! Go and just see it huge. It's just showing the strength in his eyes and the personality's coming through everywhere, every aspect of his jaw, the way he's clenching it, and his forehead is bulging, and then you know, Ivan obviously isn't just gonna be the fighter. He's also a seriously cheerful guy. He loves to smile and loves to laugh and all of those pictures are great, too. And I have him chuckling, I have him smiling, I have him with a wistful look in his eyes, and he's looking at me all cheeky, I mean you're capturing a portrait, you wanna capture all those different moments. And it doesn't get more (Toby chuckles) silly than that. But this is also what people know of Ivan. They know he's someone who can be goofy, sticking his tongue out and goofing off at the camera, and you see it, and it just makes you smile. So then I started to introduce other aspects. There's the straight-up portrait, where you get know who the person is just from him standing there, clean white T-shirt, just his expressions on his face, using just the lighting and sort of story-telling of what he's thinking and what's going through his eyes. But then you start to add aspects of what he does for a living. So by asking him to bring certain aspects of his world to the shoot, it gives him something he's comfortable with as a prop. But it also tells a story of when people see these things, they're like, "Oh, yeah, I know what that is. "I've seen that at his gym." And so it really starts to make sense. And here you can see him lugging this very, very heavy rope on his shoulder. And it must have weighed what, 30, 40 pounds? At least that much. At least that much. So you can feel, he's obviously strong and knows how to lift this, but it's a weight, an actual weight itself is something. I mean I get people to do pushups for me in pictures sometimes and lift things up, jump, move, it's distracting, but it also helps them get into character, because there's a physical thing that happening to them. It's a bit like when you push someone, which I don't recommend, but once in a while, it's fun to do that. I even sometimes have photographed children, for example, even my own daughter, and I've just held her hand, and that human touch, and it all of a sudden distracts them. They forget that the camera is on them. If you just hold their hand for a second, and they look down there, "Oh, he touched my hand." Then you let go and they look at you, and bam! You've got that picture. So there are those sorts of tricks which help tell that story, help release the subject from having their picture taken to all of a sudden being real in the moment. I mean I love some of these shots. A shot through his rope of his face looking at me, the rope kind of cascading down across his face, and he's just looking, giving me that side eye, it's sort of like, "Ooo." Leave me alone. Yeah, leave me alone, don't mess with me. So then we introduced the sledgehammer and it's something like a sledgehammer and a rope. They're real simple things, but they are also iconic things. It's the rope could be from a ship. It tells a story of that, especially on a beach. And a hammer is classic of a, almost like a god. He looks like Thor with this huge, heavy hammer. And we all have lifted something like that so you know the weight of it and you see the size of it. It's not easy so it immediately suggests power and what have you, and also the sort of damage it can do. And put in someone like Ivan's hands, who knows how to handle it, you get these fantastic pictures. My main job is trying not to get hit. Certain things are always great to photograph anyway, things like metal because of the shine, wood because of the texture, they're all classic things. And so oftentimes when I'm shooting a portrait, adding elements that are really classic and simple help tell a story and help keep it focused on the subject but having these elements. So the elements like metal, wood, sky, white T-shirts, flipping it to black and white, all of these things are all like classic things. So it's not about any one of them, it's about the person. If you introduce other elements like lots of color, lots of patterns, they can be very distracting. But these sorts of things, they're not really distracting. They sort of add to the story. So after all that swinging of that hammer, and all of that action, it's like, Okay, we've had all of that action, but don't just end with that, okay, that's it, we've done it. Always remember that right after a lot of action comes a quiet. It's like the quiet before the storm and the quiet after the storm. You wanna get all aspects. The quiet before, the storm itself, and the quiet after. Don't miss it, and that's what we've got here. After all that (exhales) with the hammer on your shoulder, and go in, because the eyes, the energy's lower now, and it's quieter. The fire isn't there, and a softer side comes out, and that's what we've got. And that's what we ended with. But of course that was not our last picture of Ivan. We had developed such a rapport so quickly from this that the next shot we really took it there. Having just shot Ivan on the beach with his rope and his hammer, I realized that Ivan was totally, 100% in as far as giving me his everything in this picture. And I'm like, "Okay, how far can I take it?" And I look around and I'm like, "Ooo, I see water over there, I see mud over there." Again, these are real simple, natural elements, and I talked about using metal, using wood. Again, I love using water, I love using mud, I love using sand, I love using earth. They're very visceral and whenever we touch any of these things, they just possess an organic, they bring something out in all of us, actually. You only have to see a small child wade through water to see their face light up. That's why they love playing in sand. It never leaves us, those things, and I always try to remember those things in life in general, like feeling the wind, feeling the cold, feeling the warm, feeling water, feeling mud, and I thought with Ivan we would get something special. So here's the very first shot. I asked him to stand in the water and he just went straight in there, stood in it. And I'm not sure that he fully knew what I was gonna ask him to do, but I said, "Would you jump down and give me some pushups in the water?" And he just went for it. And almost, the rest is history. After that, I was kind of like chasing him with my camera as the dance continued, and he loved it. It was just the excitement that was in his eyes, train rumbling by in the background, it was noisy, it was messy, it was kind of all over the place, and I was in there trying to capture all these moments as he would flash up and mud would be spilling off his face. And let me show you some of the shots. Boom! I mean you see that picture and his eyes are just sparkling! I love actually the fact that his tongue is sticking out of his mouth. It's almost like he's like, "Mmm. "What is this that's all over my face?" He's like sticking his tongue out, but it all works, his crooked teeth, it all tells part of the story, and his eyes are smiling in this picture. He's just looking at me and they are alive and this is Ivan the five-year-old, and Ivan the 47-year-old, together. And that is really charming and it makes you smile. It makes you realize so much about this man, what he's willing to do, how far he's willing to push it, and that is the secret of a great portrait. And here again, here he is, now the fighter in the mud. And he's baring his bottom row of teeth at me, and the animal instinct is right there, it's raw, and it's fresh, and you see these words and adjectives I'm using? That's the narrative, that's the story, and that's what this is about. It's about capturing these types of moments so that when you look at a picture, it isn't just Ivan covered in mud. This is Ivan the beast, Ivan the child, Ivan angry and strong, and that is the magic. That's what you're looking for. And of course, the mud and everything helps, and the white T-shirt helps because it helps with the contrast when you flip this to black and white, everything's popped, everything's super-crunchy, and the detail is magnificent. Okay, yeah, so here we are, zoomed right in. And it works fantastic like this too. I mean he could be a rugby player, he could be a mud wrestler. No, it just looks extraordinary. This is a picture that I would put in my portfolio myself. I mean this is exactly what I'm about as a photographer, as a story-teller. One image, many stories. The story doesn't always have to be obvious, sometimes a great picture will tell a different story to different people. But the point is, it has a narrative.

Class Description

The more you know about the subject you’re photographing, the better the image will be. Internationally renowned photographer Nigel Barker wants to show you the best methods to connect with your subject and how to bring out the story using lighting and direction. In this class, Nigel will show you in a live shoot:

  • How to connect with your subject using conversation
  • How lighting and posing can create the story
  • Different ways to connect with commercial and corporate clients
  • Ways to use the environment to create different and creative portraits that the client might not have expected

Connecting with subject establishes trust and allows you to craft a story behind an image. When you can create a story in a single frame, you'll be able to capture the imagination of the viewer and your clients.

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

Related Classes


Brenda Pollock Smith

Nigel brilliantly demonstrates how to connect soul to soul. He uses his finely tuned empathic gifts and transforms them into art. This class will help you relax, trust and find what is real and honest in your subject. I love his flow and intuitive approach to creating a narrative with passion and soul. I want all of his classes in my library, he's just that amazing.


The feeling of this class is one of the Joy of the Why we do this. His excitement is perhaps the best lesson. Talking through the working with the models was VERY instructive. Not an overblown, pretentious, too techie, I am impressing you with me, type of class. Loved it!

Stefan Legacy

Nigel is an excellent teacher. He always explains everything he does which in turn helps you understand why he's doing it. Short but effective course for someone looking to learn how to capture people and get comfortable with shooting them.