Innocents Abroad part 6 – Portraiture, Intense and Hands On


Sara shooting an in pool beauty shot in the rain

Link to part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5

As I mentioned in my first post in this series, I first heard of Sara Lando by way of her series on taking portraits on Strobist.  In those articles she was witty, insightful, and made lots of really good points.  She’s like that in person, as well.  “Portraiture Intense and Hands On” was a two day workshop covering planning, preparation, communication, shooting and post production for the portrait photographer, whether working with models or capturing images of friends.  First and foremost, Sara believes in making a connection with your subject, finding out who they are and working cooperatively with them to make the image you are trying to capture.


Sara Lando – You really can’t catch her in one frame

The first day began with a discussion on planning and preparation starting with what idea you are trying to express.  From there locations scouting was covered, remembering that most of a background can be horrible, you only need the part in your photograph to look good.  She reinforced this with an example of a maternity photo shoot she did with behind the scenes images showing a completely different environment.  Sara also described the lengths she’ll go to in order to meet her subject and get to know them, both finding out information she needs as a photographer and explaining what the subject can expect.  By building a relationship early she tries to make the experience fun, making a very good point that if your subject is miserable during the shoot, they’re not going to like the shots no matter how good they are technically.

From there she provided us with a checklist for preparation, and recommendations on how to approach a session.  She repeated “The model is not another prop – treat them like a human being!”  Another good point that I need to work on – after the shot is in the bag it’s time to try something different.  Do the reshoot right then.  After the shooting is complete, the job continues till the files are safely backed up.  The morning session wrapped up with a discussion of post production, with the demonstration to follow after the location session.


Working tethered to better explain her process

Next we went on location to GPP staffer Dawn’s house to watch Sara work through the process.  Starting inside she showed us the effects of different light setups working while tethered.  Using three different models she set up lighting and angles that suited them, shot some images and critiqued the results with us real time.  It was a very informative session.  Soon the pool was heated up and we headed outside to watch the shot Sara had planned on come together.


Jeyla looking very elvin at the side of the pool

The setup for the shot can be seen in the opening picture.  The pool had black cloth weighed under a section and a bucket with some towels to act as a seat for the model so she wouldn’t have to swim the whole time.  Sara knew what she wanted to capture, and it was interesting to see how she mixed charm, humor, gentle direction and psychology in getting the best out of the models, all while working to get the best angles and poses for each.  It started raining early in the session, but it turned out that actually improved the look of the water surface.  While this was Sara’s shoot, we were allowed and encouraged to make our own images as long as we stayed out of frame.


Victoria finishing up her session with Sara

I managed a couple of shots that I liked, so that was a bonus for the day.  We then went back to the classroom where Sara selected some of her images from the day and demonstrated the kind of post production she uses.  I hadn’t realized that she started out as a retoucher, her command of Photoshop is impressive.  She also very graciously provided us with some actions to help us in our own workflows.


 Dubai photographer Chloe Lodge

 Day two began  with a random drawing.  Sara picked the first name at random starting a process where we each had selected a partner/assistant for the day, and a word.  Our day was to be spent working with our partner as a model, and modelling for them in turn.  During the day each member of the pair would have the opportunity to shoot for 30 minutes with lights, modifiers, and grey seamless background while the other acted as an assistant.  For your inspiration you had your random word.  Mine was “soft”.  I was afraid it was going to be something like “lavender” so I was actually a bit relieved.

I was paired with Chloe, a local photographer and our time slot for the model was after lunch, so we spent the first hour scouting for locations and getting acquainted.  Of course being photographers both of us were somewhat uncomfortable at first with the modelling aspect, but by the end of the hour we were both relaxed enough that we started getting some nice shots.  Being in front of the camera can really change your perspective on how to work with people, no doubt why Sara had arranged for us all to experience it.


Cecilia, our model for the afternoon

Soon it was time for the formal session.  Remembering what Sara had been saying about involving the subject, we spent some time chatting while setting up and I explained what I was trying to do.  I also asked her for her own interpretation of “soft.”  I had decided I would use a large softbox up close, and blow out the background for a high key effect.  Cecilia had dark hair, and the back lighting made for too much contrast, so I soon took it down and worked with the softbox alone.  We both sat on the seamless while she gave me some different looks, and I did my best to direct where I felt I needed to.  This was the first time I had ever worked with a model and I was actually pretty nervous, but I think we both managed to get comfortable.  While I would have liked to try some additional lighting set ups, my 30 minutes were up all too quickly and it was time for me to assist Chloe while she did her session.  Once our allotted time was up we still had two hours till class reconvened for the post production section, so we grabbed a light and practiced some lighting set ups while the shooting was concluded.

On reconvening we each selected what we though was our best shot of our partner and the model, and briefly presented our concept for each with the class.  Sara provided us feedback on what worked and what could be improved on, and I think the session was very positive for everyone.

Next up – Working with Nothing

5 thoughts on “Innocents Abroad part 6 – Portraiture, Intense and Hands On

  1. Sara Lando

    I’m really proud of the way you handled the whole situation, but what REALLY touched me is that I met you a couple of days later and when I asked you about how you were doing, you talked about the way you were relating to the model in another workshop, with words that proved to me that not only you listened: you made it yours.

  2. Pingback: Innocents Abroad part 7 – Working with Nothing | Phil Ryan Photography

  3. Pingback: Innocents Abroad part 8 – One Light | Phil Ryan Photography

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