Have you ever felt the almost paralyzing fear of realizing you have 5 minutes to pull off a story-telling, engaging portrait and nothing seems to be working in your favor? There is no time to set up the lights you brought, even though you ditched your mantra of “carry-on luggage only” to bring the extra bag all the way to Africa. You feel a great creative void inside from whence ideas used to flow like a cool mountain creek. You hear the imaginary tick-tock of the clock that tortures you with the truth that time is running out and the harsh mid-day sun — that is horrible for portraits — is making you sweat on top of your already nervous sweating.
Then you see a beam of light crossing an old wooden wall in the church or you remember seeing an interesting mud texture on a wall. Suddenly, your mind clears a bit and you visualize how a colorful graphic alignment of lines could make a great background. You remember your subject spoke about hiding for his life in a banana plantation… “I can use that as my background,” you sigh in relief. Creative ideas begin to slowly push aside the fear of failure. Time is still pressing in, but now you have a visual hook to hang your portrait on.
When I have to do portraits under extreme time pressure, I look for certain elements that I can place my subject into:
1) Beams of light or pools of light
2) Textured backgrounds
3) Extreme angles
4) Story-related backgrounds
5) Comfortable location where I can have a conversation that may elicit a great expression
6) Graphic lines and colors.
All of these choices of background should help the viewers to understand something more about the people and their story.
I don’t know about you, but I am certain all these ideas don’t just pop into my head from nothing. I am learning to relax more and actually enjoy the creative process that goes from nothing to something as I push fear aside and rely on solutions that come from God’s creativity.
All Photographs copyright Gary S. Chapman
(Nikon D3s, 24mm f1.4, 1/160 sec, f7.1, ISO1000)
(Nikon D3s, 50mm 1.4, 1/500 sec, f4.5, ISO200)
(Nikon D3s, 24mm f1.4, 1/40 sec, f3.2, ISO200)
(Nikon D3s, 50mm 1.4, 1/400 sec, f1.4, ISO250)
(Nikon D3s, 50mm 1.4, 1/2500 sec, f1.8, ISO1600)
(Nikon D3s, 70-200mm 2.8 @150mm, 1/400 sec, f2.8, ISO800)