Portraits of a photographer

This summer I attended a four day workshop focusing on portrait and lighting at Fatamorgana. I have little experience with the staged portrait and personally, I always feel uncomfortable, uneasy and intruding when I try to shoot portraits up close. So this was an opportunity to do just that. The setup was as follows:

  • Pair up with a fellow photographer for the four days the workshop lasted.
  • Shoot a color and a black and white portrait outside with the given lighting condition.
  • Shoot a color and a black and white portrait inside with continuous light
  • Shoot a self portrait

So this setup was a mutual understanding and the model should do as the photographer wanted 100%. In short the roles were very clear and the participants accepted the assignment. Since we were here to learn and experiment, we were dedicated to the task so there was no need to persuade, break the ice or make the model relaxed to cooperate. My lovely model is this photographer.


The portraits outside was easier for me, or at least more in line of what I normally do. Not that I shoot portraits outside all the time, but using the urban environment and the given light is what I usually do when shooting street and urban shots. It was a great thing not to worry about the outcome, or how many shots you were doing, or the time spent changing lenses, instructing, adjusting settings or walking to another spot. We were photographers/models in crime and the time spent with this was the whole point! Shooting portraits – lots of them and experiment with that craft in the giving light and finding great spots where light and shadow could add something to your photograph. More important for me was interacting with the model – trying different approaches and styles of communication.

I think we spent 5-6 hours outside over two days making photographs of each other in various different settings. My approach was getting really close to my lovely model and having her look directly in  the lens all the time. My interaction was mainly asking her to remember different experiences and generally in a very calm fashion. I am more introvert than extrovert so this approach is more natural to me… But also the reason why I feel so uncomfortable when I stick my camera right in peoples faces. But this time I had the permission so I took advantage!

Out of roughly 165 photographs outside I chose two/three shots and included in this is also the contact sheets of what I did not choose (I shot RAW so the contact sheet is the jpg’s). I generally shoot combined RAW/JPG (in a black and white style). I do this because I think it it easier to see how the exposure is in black and white rather than color. For post processing I use RAW-files through  CaptureOne and did rough some of the photographs up pretty much.


The inside setup was quite a different experience for me. Telling my model to change clothes, sit, stand, lay down, moving lights around, getting props etc. I find that it’s a lot of work to do this kind of photography. Not hard work, or difficult work… Just a lot of choices… I never work like this with my camera and it becomes very obvious that you need to choose either this or that. I and suddenly recalled Henri Cartier-Bressons quote “Think about the photo before and after, never during.”.

Inside we had a limited time – it was part of the assignment. So I was model for one hour and I had one hour in the studio with my model. We were not working with speed lights or flash, but continuous lights. As I have no real experience with shaping and using artificial lights I cannot tell you what I prefer over another. I do think that using continuous light gives you immediate feedback as to how shadow and light is shaping the model when you move it around your subject. For this session we used two fixed lights one 800W and one 500W. I do not remember specifically what went where in each portraits.

I made 84 photographs with three different clothes setup and as I recall, five different posing positions. My approach and the interaction with the model was very similar to outside. Trying to have a calm conversation about past situations and emotions asking her to do different gesture and repeating them in slow motion over and over again. The speed of the movement were important because the amount of light, demanded the shutter speed to be between 1/125 and 1/500 at ISO 200 and I did not want motion blur.

The selfie

As recalled, the assignment also called for a self portrait. Not much to say, but included here are a few shots of how that turned out. More eerie, bit more gritty and fragmentet. Is that how I see my self? Maybe… But as I will list in the next paragraph it does play a small part in the story.


I did learn something that have been in my mind once in a while. It is related to the Henri Cartier-Bresson quote and for me it’s about being prepared and not making to many decisions on the fly. Being prepared is also a way for me to have a focus and that helps in at least two ways:

  • If you have given it some thought before photographing you are able to be present when you are shooting.
  • You are able to reflect upon what you planned and what happened and hopefully make a small reflection about what you thought went well and what you need to consider for next time.

Lastly I think the portraits are definitely not a pure expression of the model. It reflects me as a photographer just as much, and that gives all of the portraits, how ever different they may seem, same sense of aesthetics or vibe. Good or bad? I don’t know, but it’s worth paying attention to. I don’t think it benefits the photographs that the photographers personality is the main thing communicated by a portrait. Again: Even though the portraits of the model and the self portraits seem different I actually see them as very alike in mood, atmosphere an expression.

I recently remembered Yodas teaching from “The Empire Strikes back” where he tell Luke Skywalker “Do or do not. There is no try”. And this is kind of what I tell people now when I shoot portraits because, if we do not do it with intent, embrace it and do an effort it will fail….

The nerd info: I used Fujifilm X-T1 and XF 56mmF1.2XF 35mmF1.4 and XF 23mmF1.4.
Bonus info: I participated in a small instagram competition for Fuji 35mm prime users. I submitted a portrait and I was lucky to win the praise! Check it out here

Tell me how is your take on portrait photography? How do you make magic portraits happen?


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