Recently I published an article titled, ‘How to Take Great Portrait Photographs with your iPhone’. Following on from that article I wanted to explore portrait photography in a bit more depth and talk to a few talented artists in this field.
Paula Gardener immediately sprang to mind as she is well known for her stunning portraiture work. As well as being a wife and mother to four beautiful and extremely active kids, Paula’s main profession outside of her part-time day job working for the London Ambulance Service is photography. She owns a photography business which specialises in portraiture, special occasions plus some commercial marketing work.
Talking of the achievements that her photography has brought her she said, “Through mobile photography my work has been published in most of the mainstream mobile photography websites. Life in LoFi, P1xels, iPhoneography.com, Volume Magazine, iPhonegraphy Central, The AppWhisperer, iPhonegenic. I am currently a contributor for the photography website ‘We are Juxt’. I have had the honour of my work being published in the fabulous mobile photography book ‘The Art of iPhone Photography‘ by Bob Weil and Nicki Fitzgerald. I’ve also been apart of the ‘LA Mobile Arts Festival 2012. I was named mobile artist of the month on iPhoneArt.com. Most recently I came second in the portrait category for the Mobile Photography Awards 2013, with several honourable mentions.”
How were you first introduced to iphone photography?
In 2011 I made that switch like most people I knew from Blackberry to the iPhone. It was having this really cool gadget in my hand that I realised I could use it as a camera just to snap some fun shots of the kids. Discovering the App Store eventually became the death of my iPhones memory. I fell in love with the vast amount of photography apps within the store. I downloaded everything, eventually I stumbled across the fantastic but sadly no longer mobile photography blog, iPhoneography.com It became my bible for what apps were the best, scams or had potential.
I was fascinated with Hipstamatic (still am) so my love for photography suddenly became mobile.
What is it about portrait photography that fascinates you?
I suppose I developed my love for portrait photography from an early age, my mother had an array of cameras. I was captivated by the old Polaroids, I would imagine I was this famous photographer snapping beautiful models for Vogue. I’ve always been a people person, intrigued by their faces and emotions. Staring at a magazine making up stories just by looking at captured portraits. My inspiration back then was to capture a story within a portrait, you could say I’m a day dreamer or story teller.
What do you look for in the perfect portrait photograph?
I am not satisfied unless a portrait I’ve taken resonates with my soul. I have thousands of images on my hard drive that I have captured but discarded. I have this insatiable need to touch people emotionally with my work. For me a perfect portrait has to do that. It has to compel the viewer to seek more, ask questions even if they don’t find the answers.
Technically composition, lighting and tones are my main focus. If you get these three things right they can create the foundation for a dramatic image.
What apps do you regularly use?
Oh wow, I’ve gone from using about twenty different apps to using five. I mainly capture images with the iPhones native camera unless I’m using Hipstamatic. For editing I always without fail use Snapseed, it’s a simple intuitive app that has everything I need under one bonnet. It doesn’t try to over complicate the editing process by mimicking photoshop etc.
When you’ve captured an image that excites you. That high you’re on, excels during the editing. I need my editing process to be quick and efficient, that is why I use Snapseed.
I love VSCOcam too it’s a beautifully developed app. They created a simple UI that also has very powerful and intuitive editing tools.
I use Hipstamatic if I’m capturing in an environment that limits my ability to compose the shot or the lighting is poor. I find Hipstamatic compensates for those weaknesses within an image. Instead I can end up with a very dramatic image, once I have completed the editing process within Snapseed.
The image below was shot in a very cluttered teenagers bedroom, posters, trinkets everywhere. The day was really overcast, so the lighting wasn’t there at all. Using Hipstamstic compensated for those flaws, after some further editing in Snapseed. I was left with one of my favourite portraits I’ve ever taken.
How do you approach your photography and the images you capture?
I try to capture images that touches me, I reckon that’s why I find street photography hard. I’m too emotional, I would want to stop the person and really capture there essence, I can’t really do this in a fleeting moment. I find it really important to connect with the person I’m capturing. My paid work is a lot like that, I try to build up a rapport making the subject feel relaxed so it resonates through the image.
I suppose my approach is emotional first technical second. For instance, my children could be sitting down talking to me, then suddenly the light falls on their face. Or they laugh at a joke, at that precise moment I see the image I want. My heart jumps, I get excited I’m inspired. Except with kids they obviously can’t feel what I’m feeling. So when I appear before them with my phone that moment has passed. However I don’t let it go, I want to recreate that moment. So while holding my phone I’ll laugh and tell jokes with them.
Coach them back into that moment I was inspired by. Sometimes that moment isn’t always a happy one, they could be sulking, bored or just exhausted from hot summer days.
A bit like the image below, my son was too tired to go outside and play. So I laid beside him talking about his day while snapping away. The lighting was too harsh for the iPhones native camera, and I didn’t want to move him. So by using Hipstamatic I was able to create a little drama through tones and shadows.
What would be your top tips to people looking to improve their portrait photography?
My first tip is never shoot if your not feeling it, I know a lot of other photographers might say otherwise. Just take pictures of anything and everything, everyday.
I can’t do that, an image has to mean something. There has to be a story behind it, you’re capturing a moment in time. Let it mean something to you, especially when you look back on it they’re your memories.
When that inspiration hits you to capture an image, don’t stress too much if the lighting and composition is terrible due to your surroundings. Yes they are extremely important, however some of my best portraits have been in a cramped, cluttered environment that made it near difficult to compose the “perfect shot”. So I compensated using Hipstamatic or post editing apps like AntiCrop or Blender that can assist with composition. Not forgetting Snapseed and many other apps that can assist with lighting issues. This image is an example of how I used Blender and AntiCrop to help this portrait stand out.
When you are able to compose a great shot, don’t be boring!!! Add drama by changing your perspective, maybe from below looking upwards or vice versa. Especially with portraits, don’t be afraid to ask your subjects to move, as a photographer you’re also the director of your shots. Sometimes bold crops, like shooting half the face can make for a compelling portrait too, experiment it’s fun.
Natural lighting can be a photographer worse enemy if you don’t work with it properly. Make sure you do not overexpose your images with harsh light. Look carefully at the subject you are capturing make sure their face isn’t obscured by a shadow or light flare from the lens. Trust me I had that happen to me few times. Do a test shot just to make sure. Plus don’t be afraid of negative space within an image. It’s a good way to draw the viewer into the face of your subject.
Do you have any incredible encounters or a story that really is part of your photographic journey that you would like to tell us?
I am going to say something that might make a few of your readers squirm. I apologise in advance for my corniness.
My game changing encounter regarding my photography I would say is the ‘Mobile Photography community’, the amazing developers, You.
All of you have changed my view regarding my work, my outlook on photography as a whole. Before I was a freelance photographer taking portraits for clients not really for myself. It was always such an effort trying to be impromptu with my DLSR. In fact near impossible. However using my mobile phone, I’ve captured more memories, developed my skill technically. Mainly because I’ve had to think a lot harder with a mobile phone, than I do with my DSLR.
I have met the most amazing people from other countries, Kaaren xx or other cities Andrew xx joined wonderful families ‘We are Juxt’, iPhoneArt.com. You have all inspired me to reach more into myself and really ask questions I never thought of asking before. Thank you x
Tell us about a few of your favourite photos and the story behind them?
Can you hear me!
My daughter was doing a project for school, she needed a few portrait of herself. After we had finished taking the shots, I said she could pose however she wanted. So she screamed, it was a great capture with a lot of emotion and strength. I used the app Hipstamatic to dramatise the lighting more. Then I performed further edits within Snapseed to enhance her tones and crop more off the background.
I love this image of my son, I was experimenting with the app slow shutter. The way it fragmented his face, reminded me of how he is constantly changing. I chose to edit the image in Snapseed and Camera Awesome. Here’s a poem I wrote for this portrait:
Young and still fragile, your mind grows.? Captivated by life, intrigued through discovery.? Inspired with those inherited words of wisdom.? You’ll become far greater than I expected.
My love will be your foundation in life.? Courage shall see you through adversity.? The strength in your ancestors blood,? Holds the key to all that you are and will be.
Fulfilling my duty to watch, nurture and teach you.? I can only but imagine you as the man you will become.? I will be proud, I will boast, I will dream of you this day.? As I hold you now, only six years old,
I’m holding only a fragment of you.
A wise man once told me
This portrait is of my father-in-law, one of the wisest and most humblest men I’ve had the honour to meet. Every time I visit him he has something wise and wonderful to tell me. He has experienced life to the fullest, he takes great joy in sharing those experiences.
I wrote this poem in honour of him:
A wise man once told me to listen, question, act with thought. To speak, laugh, never hold back. To strive, reach, educate myself. To be bold, be strong, take what is mine. To show compassion, trust, share with the poor. To build, maintain, grow with wisdom. To love, cry, be a good son. To marry, provide, build a nation.