Street Portraiture - Beyond the Natural Light [Portrait]

Last week I watched a very inspirational video [Link is Here] not too long ago which featured Joey Lawrence, a fantastic photographer from Canada now living in Brooklyn.  Joey is a bit of a phenom, he's incredibly talented and very young.  His images boggle the mind with light quality and intrigue.

Like many photographers, I want to be like Joey.  I spent a bit of time learning how he sets up lighting for his portraits and found out that he will make use of artificial light even in the depths of a jungle somewhere, to make sure his subject looks amazing.  He also uses a medium format camera which helps to give his images incredible sharpness where focus is on and a bokeh that melts away where it isn't.

While I don't have profoto heads or battery packs, or a medium format beast camera I did my best to hit the streets of my own city and tried my hand at making portraits of people I just met.  I wanted to have the end result look like they were commissioned works; they should be compelling and well lit, but not so much that the layperson would suspect something wrong with the exposure.

Lighting? I used three flashes in a Westcott Apollo Orb softbox.  The big soft light will flatter most people, and it helps to emulate the deep octa box that is used by so many photographers nowadays.

Robyn and Eli
I want a shallow depth of field to emulate that medium format look, or at least to give my subject some extra isolation off a backdrop.  Three flashes, and a daylight exposure? Hmmm, I'm going to want to push the ISO down to 100 or even 50 when I can.  Manual flashes? that means my shutter tops out at 1/200 of a second, but really it tops out at 1/125 to be on the safe side.

Secret weapon: 3 stop neutral density filter.  I bought it to make water look silky, but it might just come in handy here.  With it I am able to shoot with an aperture of about f/4.0 or wider while keeping my shutter below 1/200 of a second, which should provide the soft bokeh in the background when I shoot with my 50mm lens.

I learned a lot from this approach.  I found that people were very receptive to have someone take their photo if the photographer had an assistant toting around a massive softbox. Maybe it looked more professional or something.  I learned that it's possible to be out on the street and shooting a portrait while taking control of the light, and making it work for you.  I also found out that my ND filter is a great tool to manage exposure.

Best of all I learned something new about some people in my city.  Halifax is such a wonderful spot full of wonderful people.  It will be a sad day if I should have to leave, because by walking the street and talking to the people I've found myself quite welcomed, and it's an amazing feeling.

More street photography with the iPhone and VSCO Cam [Street]

"The best camera is the one you have with you".  Truer words have never been spoken, and I have to say that I'm loving the combination of my iPhone and VSCO Cam for street photography.  The day I forgot to bring my camera with me over my lunch break was one of the first times I thought "Know what? I'll just use my iPhone.  I have this pretty cool app that I can process the photos with, so why not?"  Man, this works.

The thing that gets me the most is when I carry my phone no one pays any attention to me.  They don't know I'm taking their photo at all, and if they do, they certainly don't let on.  

I was in a forum recently and mentioned the incredible burst-mode in the iPhone, and was surprised by the response that "That's why iPhone photos have no soul". I call bullshit. 

The truth is that using some basic stealth shooting techniques and making use of the wide angle lens, I'm getting very soulful results, in my humblest of opinions anyway.

Do you suppose people would be as loose and expressive if they knew I was taking their photo?  

The honest truth is that I'm not sure that I would have access like this with a full size camera.  I don't think people would let me in.  When I walk past them, finger on the trigger, I smile, say hello, and then I'm on my way.  I haven't been intrusive at all, and the expressions I get back are honest rather than posed. 

As for the app, VSCO Cam is brilliant.

The basic app is free, available for both Apple and Android devices.  You can take photos through the app, but sadly it disables the volume control as a shutter button and doesn't support burst mode.  Because of this I stick to the iPhone's camera app then import the images to VSCO Cam for editing.

The app comes with some number (I've forgotten how many) basic presets that give you a starting point for your photos, and they look great, not hipstagram-ish.  You can edit lots of global settings like exposure, contrast, shadows and sharpness to name a few.

 I went and bought the rest of the presets that didn't come with the free version, and it only cost me $7.  Once you get your head around the editing tools and find the filters you like to use the best, image creation becomes effortless.  I've actually filled up my iPhone's hard drive already, and need to make some more room very soon.

If you would like to see more of this kind of work, feel free to visit my "Grid" at  This is a small collection of the photos that I take and share using my iPhone and the VSCO Cam app.

More updates coming soon!

Winter Blues and Photography Struggles [Street]

It gets cold outside this time of year.  It's not just the cold either, it's the precipitation, and the lack of subject matter.  Everything is grey, everyone's wrapped up and they don't really want to be bothered.

The worst part is that because of these conditions I haven't been shooting much.  It's very difficult to organize photo walks, outdoor shoots or even studio sessions due to weather conditions.  I certainly don't want to be putting anyone at risk because I want my shot.  It's not worth it.

I haven't been shooting as much as I'd like but I have been combating the winter blues by getting more involved in Karate.  It's a great way for me to unwind after a crappy day at work and feel good about myself.  With each lesson I'm learning more and getting great exercise.  The strange part is that since I started going I've put on 10 or 12 pounds, but I've no idea where it went.  I don't think my body shape has changed at all.  I'm certainly not fatter, because all my pants still fit me great.

Anyway, what I have shot in the last few weeks is a bit of iPhone street photography, found at  I also organized a photowalk last Sunday to get out and shake off the rust.  I wanted to give my new Sigma 50mm a test drive on the streets too.

I was even brave enough to ask for a portrait of Josh here, who was out having a smoke while his dog Sriracha (like the hot sauce) was getting some fresh air.

Though it was bitter cold, I managed to get some good shots, and my partner in crime, Chris Parent toughed the cold and got some really good stuff. Walking up near the library we came upon Jesse, who was feeding pigeons out of his hands.

We took a quick break at MacDonalds to warm up for a bit, and I managed to snap a quick shot of this gentleman with my 50mm.  I'm loving the shape of the bokeh, and the way it's rendered.

On the way back to the car we came across this poor fella hunkered down outside a cafe.  I felt pretty bad for him.  Hopefully his owner was quick inside the cafe and came out immediately after we left.

Overall it was a fairly productive day shooting, with lots of sights despite it being a bitter, frosty Sunday afternoon.  I'm hoping that with the longer days and spring thaw coming up I can get out and practice some more, and continue to improve.  In the meantime I will be shooting more studio stuff, so keep an eye out for that!

The Biggest Negative: A Fuji GW690II Story [Film]

When I sold my old Mesa Boogie amplifier, I hoped to put some of that cash into photography, in a unique way.  I picked up a Fuji GW690II, a MASSIVE rangefinder camera for a specific project, which I will explain a bit more in a future post.

The experience of using a camera this large has been incredible so far. The negatives are massive and the handling is brilliant.  Focusing using the rangefinder system is unique to the design of the camera, but typically you line up the central area superimposed image with the real image and you're in focus.  You don't need to have good vision to correctly focus this camera either, which is wonderful for anyone with corrective lenses. Here's what the viewfinder looks like:

Yeah, sorry about the clutter in my apartment, but you get the idea.  The frame in the viewfinder acts as the guideline for the final image.  
 Here are some sample images that I've developed, all shot on Tri-X film and developed in Ilfotec DD-X.  I actually digitized the images by placing them on a light table of sorts and snapping the photo with my iPhone. A quick inverting filter, black and white conversion and bam!   The quality isn't even close to a proper scan, but the idea is to proof the images.

Ellen, lit by studio lights while modelling fashion from Vivacious Vixen Apparel. 

The camera's focal length is 90mm, but because the negative is almost 6cm by 9cm, the 35mm equivalent is close to 45mm, giving me a pretty 'normal' field of view.  The large negative means my depth of field is exceptionally narrow, especially at the wide open f/3.5 aperture.

I haven't shot much street photography with this camera, primarily due to size, but also because I only get 8 photos per 120 roll.  That's all.  The beauty of the rangefinder is that there's no mirror, only a leaf shutter.  This means hand-holding is possible at very low shutter speeds, like this shot taken at 1/15 of a second.

My Mom's Christmas Tree, slightly underexposed.

I took this beast with me over the holidays, back to New Brunswick where I knew we would be without power.  Since the camera is manual, mechanical and has no electronic components, I figured it would make sense.  I also got a couple rolls of Tri-X for Christmas and wanted to shoot them.

For the unfamiliar, most of New Brunswick was hit with a huge storm on the 22nd and 23rd of December, coating the roads, trees and power lines with a thick sheet of ice.  A large fraction of the population (45,000 people) were without power for the early part of the week, and almost 20,000 spend their christmas in candle light. The winter wonderland Christmas has its price.

We had to stop on the highway on our way to visit family in New Brunswick.  The ice on the trees and low temperatures made for some breathtaking views.  This was shot on Christmas Day.
A view of the area behind my old home in Welsford.  I spent a good part of my childhood wandering the woods and exploring, either with friends or to seek solitude.

My brother and Dad's dog Thor, on our hike behind the house.  

As always, it's up to the photographer to find good light, and regardless of what camera you're using the quality of light reigns supreme in image quality.  I'm very fond of using window light, for it's softness and directional nature.

Cats + Camera = Photos of cats.  It's pretty much inevitable.

But so far, the best negatives I've gotten with Tri-X have come from shooting it in bright conditions.  There's more of a spark to the shots, a real contrast.  

I will be looking to do some proper scans of these photos soon, however the biggest issue I'm running into is that my scanner is designed do do 35mm only.  Enlargements or prints may be my only avenue to getting to see these photos in their best state.

In review, I'm very happy with this camera.  My initial plan was to complete my project, then decide whether to keep or sell the camera.  In any case, I plan to keep shooting medium format as long as my budget for personal work allows it.