There was a specific line in the course description for the Environmental Portraiture class I’m taking right now that completely spoke to me. It reads something like “we’ll focus on fictional storytelling and/or reality-based portraiture” – so we’ll be using real backgrounds to tell the real story, as well as creating a scenario with our images to tell the story we want? SOLD!
I love taking really tight, face-filling-the-frame, up-close-and-personal type photos. And I figured this class (especially since it’s my last before finishing my certificate in photography at UCSD Extension) would push me to start including more surroundings and background into my portraits. Totally stretching myself, and loving the challenge!
So we had a field trip this past weekend to one of my favorite San Diego gems: Balboa Park. We started at the Museum of Photographic Arts, which is always filled with visual candy, inspiration, and fabulous fodder for conversation. If you’re local and haven’t taken the time to enjoy MOPA, do yourself a favor and go! Admittance is free every 2nd Tuesday of the month to San Diego county residents and they’re membership fees are really reasonable. I’ve taken tons of photos at Balboa Park over the years. Here, are but a few of my favorites over the past 2 years:
Notice a specific characteristic in all these photos? Besides being monochromatic? Yes, you where thinking architecture, right?! But of course you were! Balboa Park was originally built for the first World’s Fair, the 1915 Panama-California Expedition – you can read the rich and fantastic history here – and that had great influence over the architecture of all the buildings. You can clearly see, there is so much to love, right?! It’s pretty easy to spot popular locations within the park where many photographers shoot. Actually, my wedding photos, my cousin Irene’s wedding photos, and several of my clients’ family photos have been shot here : )
So back to the field trip… Our challenge (should we choose to accept it) was to work in teams of three, and create environmental photographs that didn’t look like they were taken at Balboa Park. Say what?! We have this great location, but we can’t use it?! Crazy, but yes, challenge accepted!
I teamed up with my wonderful and talented friends Jennifer and Dave. Immediately after hearing our assignment, we headed to the Cactus Garden, just over the footbridge by the Natural History Museum. It’s a great little hidden gem that a photography instructor showed me in 2007. That’s where the first image above was taken. Isn’t Jen gorgeous?! And she’s super nice, too! Yeah, I know, you wanna hate her, but honestly, you really can’t!
Going back to the first image above, I really love that the background (or in this case, the crazy foliage) doesn’t look anything like Balboa Park. The cactus garden has this huge tree, and Jen was brave enough to get tangled in it. The photo has a Eden-esque quality to me, transporting us to a much more exotic location than our beloved Balboa Park! We also headed to Spanish Village where I got this great shot of Dave. He’s the nicest guy with a great smile, but I wanted a tough guy look from him, and I think we nailed it : ) We also headed to Zoro Garden for some more shots.
I’m loving the challenge of including more environment to help tell a story. This is totally making me want to use props. And even though we didn’t have any with us at the park, it’s clear the environment really helps tell a story. I think wardrobe does as well, but we’ll leave that topic for another day. On this specific day we had our cameras, lenses, reflectors, jackets and umbrellas (for the rain, not for lighting!), so props didn’t make the haul. I can’t wait to get some time and inspiration to take my girls out and create, this time with props in hand!
At home, I shoot lots with my girls and their toys, dolls, stuffed animals and princess/dress up clothes. But I’m ready to take these shots beyond our kitchen and backyard! What are your favorite props to use? Where are some of your favorite locations to shoot? What types of environmental components do you like to include in your photos? What clues do you like to include about your subject(s)? What stories are your images saying, before you add your words? Please share, I’d love to hear your perspective and ideas!
Thanks for stopping by and have a joyful, creative, blessing filled day! Happy crafting!