Tag Archives: portrait

Composition Gimmicks

What do you think about radical crops?

Locks n Lashes (54)

That picture obviously didn’t start out like this. But I think it is visually much more interesting like this. (Would I say the same if it contained my favourite movie boyfriend in it? Um. Hm.)

Is less more? Or is extreme cropping bad?

Any opinions?

Back to Sepia

More portraiture, again from the 1920s shoot with Locks and Lashes.

Locks n Lashes April (1)

I tried a different antique-ing approach here – sepia. Certainly works better for portfolio purposes – at least we get an idea of what the make-up looks like.

And you live and learn, on every single shoot. The set-up here was determined by the space that I had available for shooting, i.e. the backroom of Locks and Lashes’ premises. The space there is about 2 x 3.5 metres. No natural light, some tungsten bulbs. And more or less bare walls. We covered those up with some net curtain – which leaves a nice textured background here to the image. However, not that ideal for the purposes of the portfolio – the frilly curtain design kind of meshes up with the hair. Where do the curls end and the background drapes start? I guess we’ll be back to neutral backdrops next time ’round.

More Antique Portraiture

Bear with me. There’s a number of portraiture shots coming up over the next weeks. There was just too much going on with Locks and Lashes recently *ggg*. They keep me shooting – which is great, btw.

I have always been fascinated by the Hollywood Glamour style of photography. The use of light – or rather shade! – is just so dramatic, and makes the sitters look good in any case. I came across the “inventor” of Hollywood Glamour photography when I was researching for one of my college projects. George Hurrell actually had pretensions of becoming a painter. He initially started photographing as an aide for his painting. Or rather, to document his paintings. Gradually, however, he got into photography, takeing pictures of other artists’ paintings and eventually discovering that he could actually earn money with photography. Hurrell revolutionised portrait photography and famously declared that it was not about where the light was, but where the shadows are.

He also invented possible the boom light. An obvious idea for a photographer to have – easily movable lights that can illuminate the sitter from above, drowning out lines and wrinkles, creating what we nowadays call beauty light. Not only did Hurrell perfect the lighting techniques he pioneered, according to a website I found, he was also a master of retouching. I could go on and on here with more examples of his fascinating work. The photographs are just stunning. And while I am neither a fan of Hollywood nor of beauty as such, this footnote in photographic history utterly transfixes me.

Not that I come close to his work, but it’s certainly an inspiration, and it is fun to play with light and shadow. Here is my take on it:

Locks n Lashes (33)

Light is too soft for Hurrell – and it’s a colour image, too, but I like the shadows drowning the image to the right. It pays to look at the old masters, in any case.

Roaring Twenties

The recent post on Locks and Lashes’ Facebook page has finally shocked me into action again. So much for all my good intentions and New Year’s resolutions of posting more regularly. It’s not that I haven’t been photographing. I have. And I like the stuff that I produce. I am actually more annoyed with some technical blogging snags that keep me from posting more regularly. But well.

Last month, in any case, I was called out to shoot for Locks and Lashes. They were doing 1920s themed make-overs for their own portfolio, and I was thrilled to be shooting for them. Again. I previously had done a first trial shoot which I wrote about here. And in March they booked me for a shoot of a make-over which I haven’t even written about yet.

Doing a 1920s themed shoot gave me a bit of scope to play in Photoshop. Everyone who knows me knows that I am not particularly keen on postproduction work. With this, it was actually fun, because model Chloe in 1920s garb, make-up and hair really looked straight out of a Man Ray shot. You know which one I am thinking about. So add a bit of overexposure, and out comes this:

Locks n Lashes April (10)

Maybe I should have added a few scratches and stains to the image to make it look even older? But that would not help my clients, who want this in their portfolio. In any case, for once an instance where I enjoyed playing around with effects.


One of the big challenges of studio shoots is the distinct lack of context. There are no circumstantial or environmental references available for the sitter – the scene has been deliberately emptied of all outside distraction in order to focus entirely on the face of the subject. Pros are able to deal with that, and know how to provide the photographer with facial expressions. Amateurs, however, often appear like deer in headlight – thrown into an artificial situation with the spotlight trained on them, literally. Well, not so my friend M___ who has sat for me several times for various projects. She is an absolute natural – almost all of her shots come out great. She has that “something” that makes people photogenic – and she is just great at letting go and simply fooling around in front of the camera.

The downside of that is that I have huge problems with the editing. I simply cannot decide which images to post-produce. I like them almost all. Invariably, with M___ as my sitter, I end up with far too many good shots. Which means I have to spend a long time adjusting them all… What a complaint to have… No, it is obviously a joy to shoot with someone like that. Hope there will be many more!


From classic b/w over to a burst of colour.

Beauty shot

Virtually unedited. There was not much need. She was perfect the way she looked and the way she posed. She let go and was not afraid to follow my directions. Despite 20 people surrounding us and observing her. The haughty look was just as good as the photos where she laughed and flashed a full-on smile. I took 24 pictures of her in total, and every single one was a winner. If anything was wrong, it was only my technical mistakes – focus off, or bad framing. Amazing. It just proves the point that the best results in photography come out when the sitter is either reckless or self-assured enough to not care what she actually looks like. Or if she trusts the photographer. I hope the latter was also the case.

The State of Portrait Photography, 1987

Recently, I posted a gem horror of a photograph of myself on my private FB. As was expected, the echo was deafening – remainders of a long gone past are always extremely entertaining to look at and invite much comment. And photography does it so well, transporting us back to the place and time where a picture was taken. No other medium can match that – film, although similar, has too much information between moving image and accompanying sound; painting or sculpture obscures the past by layering a veil of art over the documented subject; sound is not as potent as voices do not change that much over time. A photograph, however, puts us right there, back in October 1987, in a small town photo studio.

Sonja 1987

Moi and my twin, 1987

This was not my first visit to a photo studio in order to have a picture made of myself. As a baby and toddler my mum regularly took me to the then ubiquitous “Pixi Foto” studios that were the go-to places for having pictures of your children taken. On this occasion, the photos were intended as a Christmas present for my grandparents, and the local photographer was the professional of choice for the shoot.

It was a memorable experience and I thank the heavens that I was then not yet interested in photography as a career, cos by Cod – if I had decided to become an apprentice photographer then, my aesthetic sensibilities might have been traumatised by that time-warp of vignetted, artificial-pose cheesiness. Even though it doesn’t look it, I had dressed up for the occasion – freshly ironed green-and-white stripy blouse and my dark blue blazer. Invisible in this shot, the photographer actually matched the colour of the background – a translucent sheet of paper with some white latticing in front of it (the illusion of a lattice window, presumably) – by sticking a green gel in front of the light that illuminated the backdrop from behind.

We tried a number of poses – this is arguably the cheesiest one. I am casually lying on the ground, leaning on my left elbow. My blazer is artfully slung over my right shoulder just as you would do if you were lounging on the ground, all debonair. *coughs* Associations of posh Oxford students come to mind, enjoying a summer’s day out, punting on the Thames, picnic basket with a ice-cold bottle of champers at their feet and a few watercress sandwiches – no crust! – just out of sight. “I say, old boy! What a jolly day!”

Is this the ultimate cubist photography that has so far eluded me in my search for artistic expression? Because here we have not only my regal profile but also a near-frontal mirror image of my grin. All made possible by the clever inclusion of a *gasps* mirror. This has been cunningly disguised by some iridescent, clear plastic foil – the height of 1980s gift-wrapping fashion – which snakes its way over the mirror frame, all but disguising the brown wood. *fail*

Are you wondering about my elusive Mona Lisa-smile, full of hidden promise and infinite mystery? Well, there is a reason for that. You see, even at 17, I was already blind as a bat. Minus 4.5 dioptries, roughly. For the purpose of this shoot, the photographer actually sent me to the  local optician’s. Not to have a quick laser surgery of my failing eyes, but to borrow an identical set of my classic 1980s glasses – sans lenses! The clever photographer wanted to make sure there were no reflections from the flash on my specs. For clever read “lazy”! And thus, I lay there, practically blind, trying to react to the photographer’s direction. “Move your chin up a bit. Look towards you left. And now look at my camera through the mirror!” Her camera? Where the fuck was her camera? I could see feck-all in my imposed state of batty blindness. I could literally only grin and bear it. I mustered all the fake confidence a 17-year-old teenager has, applied what I thought was a fitting facial expression on my baby-fatted cheeks and showed some teeth, praying that this ordeal was going to be over, soon. Or at least before my hips and elbow were killing me from the awkward pose on the hard floor.

As was usual in those days, it took a good while for the photos to be developed and printed. No retouching, of course – just check that weird tan line on the edge of my jaw and cheek. I swear, it was the sun – spray tans did not exist in pre-history! When they finally came back, they were presented in a fancy, glossy pocket with embossed shiny gold lines and cut-out oval passepartouts. The apex of photographic presentation of the day. Practically ready to display on the mahogany integrated wall unit in the parental drawing room. This screamed “classy” from the sophisticated pose of the model to the exquisite display pocket. Boy, was this worth the 80 Deutschmarks or so we coughed up for it…

Luckily, this particular image was never deemed the highlight of the shoot by my parents, and thus never saw the light of the drawing room. It languished, forgotten and pardoned, in its pocket sleeve in the bureau-section of said mahogany wall unit. Until last weekend. With 25 years down the drain, I now love the involuntary humour of this shot. A case for AwkwardFamilyPhotos, if ever there was one. Maybe I should submit – I might go viral.

PS: Here is a little bonus story for all lovers of my fancy 1980s glasses, unconnected with photography, but too good to ignore. Big glasses with colourful plastic frames were the dernier cri back then. I always liked to make a statement with my specs, and so the funky blue frames really appealed to me when I chose them in the shop. Only I hadn’t realised quite *how* spectacular these specs were going to prove. – I had had them for a couple of months when I took them on their first outing to the local disco, “Infinity”, a bland, generic country-bumpkin hang-out generally known under its nickname “The Bunkerwhich is a pretty accurate description of its in- and exterior. (Yes, kids, the term “club” in those days was reserved for regular meet-ups of grey-haired ladies playing Bridge, a gaggle of stick-wielding hockey players, or dubious establishments where ladies of the night plied their trade. We knew our dance halls as “discotheques”, preferably in the ritzily sophisticated Francophone notation.) Anyhow, as we entered the disco, I could see a look of surprised horror crossing my companions’ countenances. They tried to conceal their sniggers, but the suspicion was raised. Turned out that my harmlessly blue plastic frames turned luminously bright-neon blue under the customary black-light in German provincial discos. AWKWARD! Suffice to say, my disco-dancing days were over until the fashion in specs changed…

Coincidence or a Sign?

I was walking up Nassau Street, yesterday, rushing out on a last-minute errand, pushing my bike on the pavement in the one-way-street. Although in a hurry, I noticed a sticker on the pavement in passing – a worn-down sticker with the easily recognisable NOH8 logo on it. “Hm, about time  that we heard from *that* venture again”, I thought to myself, and happily went on my way. The shoot had taken place on the 30th June, with me posting about it here on the 1st of July.

Well, lo and behold, but what should I find in my inbox the very same evening but an e-mail from the NOH8 campaign. ” We know it’s taken just a little bit longer than expected, but we’re happy to announce the photos taken at the open photo shoot at the Independent Theatre Workshop are now online.” Coincidence? Kismet? Telepathy? Whatever! But as part of the deal from back then, we were sent a download link to one of the images that were taken at the shoot to download and re-post as we see fit. So in complete ignorance of my usual rule of only posting my own work on this blog, I bring you an image of Miss Piggy posing for NOH8.

NOH8 Adam Bouska

Image (c) Adam Bouska

I will resist criticising the image to death – it’s main flaw is that I am in it. Otherwise it is just like all the other NOH8 images – white blown out background with subject dressed in white in front. The logo really stands out quite well from my rosy piglet skin although I think there has been altogether a bit much skin filter applied to me. It really does nothing for the lack of definition along my jaw-line, but hey, the purpose of the shoot was not to get a beautiful portrait of me but to advertise the campaign.  And in all fairness, the campaigners write in their e-mail “We want you to be proud of your photo, so if you have any issues with your photo then please feel free to follow up with us.” Nah, it’s fine. I like the defiant, proud look in my eyes, the correct shade of blonde of my hair (all real, btw *haha*), and the dynamic feel of the image. Not a great fan of those (Asian?) smile gestures (the finger V), but that’s merely niggling.

So there we are. International campaigner for gay equality. I stand proudly beside such luminaries as George Takei, Liza Minelli, Alan Cummings and etc. Or rather – they can stand proudly beside me! NOH8!

More info on the campaign here.




Would you consider paying for being a model? In all honesty, if anything, models get paid rather pay to be in a photograph. And heck, I’d rather not be a model at all never mind getting paid, or paying or not. But sometimes you make an exception if there is some kind of reward in it. And thus my friend A___ and myself jumped at the chance of posing for photographs despite having to pay for the privilege. It was, after all, a worth-while campaign we were lending our faces to. The NOH8 campaign for equality made a stop-over in Dublin on the occasion of Gay Pride. NOH8 has been going for five years and is spear-headed by photographer Adam Bouska whose signature portraits are the mark of the campaign. From its beginnings as a response to a proposed law in California, banning same-sex marriage, the NOH8 campaign has grown into a movement that fights discrimination of any kind and advocates universal human equality. Bouska still shoots all of the portraits of the campaign, and A___ and myself figured our photo fee would not only go to a good cause, but it would also allow us to take a look behind the scenes of an international campaign. In short: as curious photographers we wanted to see how celebrity photographer Bouska works.

The shoot was an open call, so all that was needed was to turn up and cough up. Well, and prepare in terms of “styling”. Bouska’s portraits are strictly uniform: The subjects are always dressed in a white shirt and their mouths are covered with silver duct tape. They display the NOH8 logo “tattooed” on their cheek and are shot in front of a white backdrop. With the mouth as a metaphor for communication having been covered, the message of the image is conveyed by the logo, they eyes and the hand gestures that are allowed in the frame.

Much to our surprise/disappointment, the venue of the shoot was not exactly  teeming with participants. Well, it was teeming alright – with lots of bubbly teenagers who are part of the theatre school in whose premises the shoot was taking place. But there was no waiting whatsoever – after the applying of the logo, we were immediately walked into a dance studio that had been turned into a make-shift photo studio. NOH8 chairman Jeff Parshley acted as the assistant – applying the tape across my mouth, and off I popped in front of the backdrop. As I had not done my homework, I was surprised to find Bouska such a young man. He briefly said what he was going to do (“Just stand here, I’ll tell you how to pose and take the pictures.”) and off we went. He took about 4, 5 shots per pose, interspersed with his commands, me reacting by peering over my glasses secretary-style, glaring dead-pan, crossing my fingers over my (covered) mouth, doing that Japanese photo/smile gesture. Done in about 5 minutes max. Very efficient and work-flow-friendly. He showed me a quick glimpse of the shoot on his camera – pretty much already as they appear when finished: White blown-out background, head-and-shoulders portrait of the sitter. The lighting in the images is exclusively done by a ring-flash, no other lights.1045160_4887244830046_934326295_n

As the discomfort of being in front of the camera took up most of my attention while modelling myself, it was much more interesting to observe the process when he shot A___ after me. Short, clear commands were given to his sitter “look here”, “chin up”, “stretch your arms out”, while Bouska moved animatedly with his camera. There was no need to adjust camera settings. Presumably, once it was all set up at the start of the shoot, all he had to do was point and release. With the sitters uniformly wearing white tops, there is probably little variation in terms of light reading, so it’s almost an automatic shoot. – Discussing how the shoot went, I complained to A___ afterwards, that there was very little interaction going on between the photographer and his sitters (apart from the posing commands). Well, A___ had to point out to me that communication was actually impossible, as we were gagged. Haha, strange that that had escaped a chatterbox like myself…

According to the NOH8 website, the campaign is on-going, and there are no deadlines or plans to stop anytime soon. The sole photographer for the campaign is Bouska – good for him, there’s a steady job. And yet, one wonders, whether the whole thing becomes a bit of a chore and a drag after five years and 35.000 photos? While the recognisability of the campaign rests entirely on the logo and the uniformity of the portraits, photographically it must have lost its shine and its challenges for Bouska long ago. Maybe my concern for Bouska’s own amusement and work satisfaction is cynical, but quite frankly, they could probably build a big white box, mount a camera-plus-ring flash on a stand, play a tape with posing directions on continuous loop and remote-release the camera automatically.

Nonetheless, in conclusion, it was an interesting insight into the workings of what could be a major shoot and campaign. No doubt the NOH8 logo and campaign is much more visible and loud in its home environment over in the States, a fact that is also reflected in the amount of “celebrity” participants who mean absolutely nothing to me. Over here, it was remarkably quiet, but then again, people may also have been put off by the fact that you had to pay to take part. As this was more than a modelling session for me, I was happy enough to fork out some money. I wanted the look behind the scenes almost more than being part of the campaign, as much as I endorse the message and goals. In return, I will also be given one retouched image that was taken of me. So I will be able to say that I have been photographed by a celebrity photographer. I hope you are all impressed!

Eternity is B/W

Recently I was looking at a colour and a b/w version of the same portrait, wondering which one had a stronger impact on the viewer. Comparing them turned out to be an interesting exercise because by all means they should have elicited the same response. After all they were identical. But they didn’t. It is probably completely subjective whether you prefer the b/w over the colour version or vice versa. But there seem to be a few mechanisms at work here, that distinguish colour photography from b/w photography.

Colour photography might speak to you because it is more life-like. It depicts the sitter *as we see her*, in all her colourful glory, with her healthy skin tone, her blue eyes, her blonde hair and the bright pink boa. We relate to her because colour is how we see things around us. The hear-and-now is colour. Colour is life. Life is colour. The slice-of-life quality of photography is far more effective when we see it in colour. This is a two-hundredth of a second that was *real*. To all intents and purposes it could’ve been just a second ago. Colour photography anchors a photograph in the present.

B/w portraits, on the other hand, have a timeless quality. They transmit a feeling of classy-ness, of deliberate concentration and aesthetic documentation that colour photography does not quite possess. B/w feels more aesthetic. Because it relies on the contrast of dark and light, it emphasises other aesthetic qualities of the subject than colour, it hones the contrasts/contradictions contained in an image. In this case, for instance, the b/w version focusses our gaze on the contrast between (light) skin and (dark) eyes. It zooms in on the dark lips against the light skin. Personally, I also find that b/w often has a much stronger three-dimensionality to it than the colour version. The latter appears flatter than the monochrome version, which places greater emphasis on tiny details: the catch lights in the sitter’s eyes, the shapes of the eyebrows and lips, the shadow in the shot. The downside of this classy-ness is, however, that b/w can occasionally turn the sitters into marble statues rather than represent them as living, breathing humans. It can overaestheticise the subject and distract from the characteristics of human-ness.

I personally am much more emotionally invested with the b/w versions of images. Not only because b/w evokes in me a feeling of nostalgia (an old photographic process) and of appreciation of the tangible craftsmanship of b/w processing (pottering in the darkroom for hours in order to process and print an image – a labour of love that seems to have been forgotten in the age of fleeting digital imagery), but also because of a connotation that I have touched upon earlier on: The sculptural quality of b/w photography hints to the existence of something “sublime” in the depicted. Just like a marble bust can survive centuries – or forever – the “sublime”, as it is hinted at in classic b/w portraiture, offers us a glimpse of eternity. A b/w image is made “to last”. It is made to document the expression of beauty at a given point in time. The subject thus is transformed into an “ideal” of beauty.

There almost is a philosophical dimension to the deliberate reduction of “life” to monochrome. An intentional concentration on the essence of human life – which is actually less about outward appearance but about inner beauty, about “soul”. Soul is the beyond, is the sublime, is the divine, is the universal in us all, no matter what we believe in. It is what beauty and human-ness come down to. B/w photography can capture “soul” like no other medium can. But how does this “soul” manifest itself in images, apart from the fact that b/w emphasises the sublime? I have no proper answer, I can only pinpoint where I see the sublime in these images. And that could be something completely different from what you see. Essentially my interpretation of the sublime is informed by my knowledge of the sitter as a person, and her own interpretation of self *in this particular shot*. And for me it expresses itself in the eyes. The old adage of the “eyes as the window to the soul”? Yes, it may come down to this cliché. But b/w makes me see it much clearer than colour. B/w is forever.