Congratulations to the wineries featured in the latest issue – love photographing these stories, hard to believe it’s now been a decade photographing the great Pacific Northwest wineries for Wine Spectator magazine.
Every dawn and dusk thousands of pilgrims travel to the Ganges and perform the Ganga Aarti ceremony; making a wish, lighting a candle, and setting it afloat on the river. One of my wishes – to align my life and photography in a more balanced way. How? A surprising example may be this story of the photo I didn’t take.
The Sadhu was striking in appearance – white long hair, golden robe, radient weathered face and sinuous body. Something about the way he walked, held his head, and his calm eyes was different than the other Sadhus I’d encountered, too many eager to ask for a donation to pose for a photo. And it was obvious that I was in search of photographs, walking the ghats with two cameras around my shoulders, my eyes scanning the scene for images. As our paths converged in a relatively quiet area, where perfect morning light softly lit the colorful, graphic stairs of the ghat, we glanced at each other as we passed. I think we both took each other by surprise – that I didn’t raise my camera to take his photo, and that he didn’t stretch his hand out for a donation. I turned around to glance at the Sadhu one more time, and he turned simultaneously. He paused, the slightest gesture of his head communicated that he was inquisitive, possibly even open to being photographed and certainly curious that I hadn’t asked or tried to candidly captured the moment.
But I was tired of the superficial transaction I knew taking a quick photo would be, briefly regretting that I couldn’t linger here for days. For awhile I’ve been focusing more on capturing the perfect photo than the experience. Now I was searching for something more. In this circumstance, by not taking a photo I was able to connect – if only for a moment – authentically with him as a person. In the holiest of all places for Hindus, I had to believe there were still some things sacred. I smiled at him, did a slight bow and brought my hands to prayer as a sign of Namaste in greeting , and he graced me with his smile. He was indeed a “real” Sadhu, and this may be the most memorable experiences I had in India.
Portraits can vary greatly in style, content, and emotion depending on the end goals for the use of the photographs. I’ve put together this checklist with descriptions and examples to help identify which style preferences is right for you – environmental, action, beauty, character, attitude, or group.
Environmental portraits are most commonly used in editorial publications. The content of these photos tell a story – the background, props, or action is inexorably intertwined with the subject. Context is key, and the caption of the photos is usually the first thing read and most remembered. This is the type of portraiture I most enjoy; with my educational background at Northwestern journalism school and over 15 years of working with publications I’ve photographed hundreds of environmental portraits for magazine covers and feature stories. Capturing unique sense of place portraits can also be one of the most challenging styles – creating an engaging story in one photo takes more time and consideration than capturing a portrait with a generic background. However it can be the most valuable for exposure – with editorial space shrinking there may only be space for a single image to tell your story vs a series of photos. And a portrait with a lot of information included is more likely to run large so the reader can view the details, and lead a story if there’s room for type over part of the image.
Environmental portraits also give insight to a more authentic side of the subjects personality. People tend to be most comfortable in their natural environment, and this energy reflects back to the camera. Effectively using natural and portable studio lights on location, determining the the most flattering angle for the face & body, and finding or creating the most engaging scene are all equally important.
Celebrity portraiture can often be highly stylized in controlled studio settings, however overly retouched photos can be unbelievable and make the subject seem unapproachable. Once the portrait is captured minor retouching is ok, but the strength of the image is captured in the camera. While filters and highly processed retouching effects maybe fine and fun for instagram or personal prints, most non-fashion style publications want the personality of the subject make the strongest impact, not the style of the photographer or retoucher’s effects.
Actor Kyle MacLachlan has been beautifully photographed by the most famous portrait photographers and stylists in the world, and can can easily take on any character or personality. So we decided on a more natural approach to differentiate his Pursued by Bear wine label in magazine articles; it was important to show Kyle’s connection to the vineyard and relationship with winemaker Dan Wampfler with a sense of place photo. For his own Pursed by Bear label, we could be a bit more playful and include the product – who wouldn’t want to join Kyle with the second glass of wine?
Former quarterback player Drew Bledsoe stands at 6′ 5″, and renowned winemaker Chris Figgins is a fit but compact 5’8 – so to capture a portrait of them together minimizing this height difference I chose this angle of the vineyard, giving Drew a pole to lean against and Chris a rock to place one leg on – the angle of the clouds further complement the subjects and creates a dynamic background. And sometimes portraits are non traditional, without the subject looking at the camera – this lifestyle scene focuses on emotion and intimacy, and has been widely used in promotional publications for the Washington wine industry.
View from my beachside cabana this week at Magnificent Rock, Nicaragua. Sun, surf, yoga, salsa, repeat. It’s been a week to challenge myself in new adventures – learning to surf over a reef has been one of the most challenging sports I’ve experienced. Successfully pushing past the fear to the exhilaration of riding my first wave to the shore, the magic of watching the sunset over the sea as the full moon rose, & the adrenalin of successfully catching a larger wave were rewards well worth the effort.