Photography Focus – Portraits…
Since returning home to England and having a bit of time to reflect on all that we have experienced over the last six months travelling around South America, we thought our next post should focus on our developing photography skills.
We are aware that a large proportion of our blog focusses on ‘landscape’ photography. This is a natural consequence of our passion for hiking and Wayne’s preferred photographic genre. So to give us both a new challenge and push us out of our comfort zones, we made a concerted effort during our South America trip to capture more people on camera. Not in the ‘selfie’ sense, I’m more than capable of snapping a few shots of us when the moment takes me! But we decided that we wanted to get better at ‘portrait’ shots as this is our most difficult aspect of photography.
‘Natural Beauty’ – Captured during our time in the Brazilian Pantanal.
Ethics & Responsibility
We have said previously that we believe in non-intrusive photography and that permission should be given before a person is captured on camera. But we have never been good at approaching people, so more often than not, what could have been a great shot of somebody in their natural environment has been an opportunity lost as we put the camera away.
Despite all the travelling we’ve done, even now, we still struggle with asking people if we can take a photograph of them. I don’t think it gets easier as we are still uncomfortable with the ethics of photographing locals. We feel like we are invading someone’s personal space. We are really mindful of the fact many people don’t like to have their photograph taken, particularly by large groups of tourists that make them feel uncomfortable as they snap away with the ‘animals in a zoo’ mentality.
That being said, some people do like to have their photograph taken. Whether to promote their country, particular skills, customs, job, environment, or to show a true, unbiased reflection of life in their community, or to simply see what they look like through the lens, we have found people on our travels perfectly happy to become the subject of our travel photography.
‘Welcome to Colombia!’ Posing for the camera in Cartagena on the Caribbean coast.
A Peruvian family in traditional dress are happy for us to take their photograph in the village of Pisac.
Showing off her Carnival outfit, Barranquilla, Colombia.
A local woman demonstrates her knitting skills after we bought a woolly hat from her in Huaraz, Peru.
Just one of the many market traders selling woollen goods in Otavalo, Ecuador.
Of course it helps if you interact with locals and can make friends. We have found it a lot easier taking photographs with people whom we have talked to, shared a meal with, visited places with, or simply made friends with whilst out and about exploring. Often students approach us first as they want to improve their language skills and practise speaking English. That makes it much easier for us to broach the subject of photographs, particularly chatting over a coffee and a cake! It is definitely more comfortable taking a picture of someone who has become an acquaintance rather than a ‘subject’.
On the left sits Martina, our fantastic ‘Mama’ from our home stay in Raqchi, Peru.
But is this a technically a ‘portrait’?
On Wikipedia it says “Portrait photography or portraiture is photography of a person or group of people that displays the expression, personality, and mood of the subject. Like other types of portraiture, the focus of the photograph is usually the person’s face, although the entire body and the background or context may be included”.
‘In the Moment’ – Carnival fever sweeps through Barranquilla, Colombia.
With this definition in mind, we started looking through our photograph collection for examples of ‘portrait’ shots in our South America travel collection. Then we tried to categorise these images under the four approaches to photographic portraiture.
Four Approaches To Photographic Portraiture
Each of the four approaches, ‘The Constructionist’, ‘Environmental’, ‘Candid’ and ‘Creative Approach’ have been used over time for different reasons, be they technical, artistic or cultural. During our travels through South America, there were numerous opportunities for us to capture people on camera for portraiture shots, for example local people working on farms, selling goods at markets, making handicrafts, playing instruments and taking part in local ceremonies.
Visiting the Waca Wacani community of the Uros Islands on Lake Titicaca, Peru.
Fishing for piranha on the Upper Brown River, southern Brazilian Pantanal.
It was then that we realised that the majority of our portrait shots focus on the ‘environmental approach’ where the subject is shown in their own environment. In Peru, we had access to a number of these kinds of photographs as we met and interacted with locals when hiking through remote villages. This also included children who were often eager to get in front of the camera.
This is Wilbur, the son of our horseman Isaac, on the Lares Trek in Peru.
‘Not For Sale!’ A baby at Calca Market, Peru, at the stall where we bought bread.
A family from Cancha Cancha Village, Peru, who we donated supplies to.
More Peruvian children living in the countryside.
Waca Wacani Community, Lake Titicaca, Peru.
‘Best of Friends’ – Salento, Colombia.
Our home stay experience in the rural village of Raqchi, Peru, also provided us with another good opportunity for taking portrait pictures. Locals were happy to have photographs of themselves taken in their working and community environment as was the family who we stayed with.
We make friends with Mama Martina in the rural community of Raqchi, Peru.
Although few and far between, our ‘candid’ people shots were taken as part of general street photography and any ‘constructionist’ type portrait shots we have are actually photographs we have taken of ourselves!
Street photography passing through the town of Alausi, Ecuador.
Here are some more examples of our portrait photography from South America categorised under the four approaches.
The constructionist approach is when the photographer in their portraiture constructs an idea around the subject. It’s the approach used in most studio and social photography and in advertising and marketing where an idea has to be put across to the audience. This could be a happy family, a romantic couple, or a kind of lifestyle.
Living The Dream’.
‘This Is The Life’.
The environmental approach shows the subject in their environment. This may be at work, leisure, a social occasion or with family. With the environmental approach more is revealed about the subject, which may have a historical or social significance.
‘Life on one of the Los Uros Floating Islands’, Lake Titicaca, Peru.
‘Rural Family Life’ – Cancha Cancha Village, Peru.
‘Pottery is their Life’s Blood’ – Raqchi Community, Peru.
‘Teach Them Young’ – Pottery Demonstration, Raqchi Community, Peru.
‘A Life of Farming’ – Colca Canyon, Peru.
The candid approach is where people are photographed without their knowledge going about their daily business. It can be considered a kind of ‘paparazzi’ style of photography, which again questions the ethics and responsibility of photographing strangers.
‘Five Minutes Peace’, Cabanaconde, Peru.
‘Lost In The Moment’ – Cusco, Peru. (Taken from an open-top city tour bus).
‘Street Vendors’ – Ollantaytambo, Peru. (Taken from a bus window).
The creative approach is where post processing and digital manipulation play a large part in creating the finished image. Techniques and software are continually developing which enables the photographer to play around with, enhance and produce very different and unique pictures of people.
‘Little Ray of Sunshine’, Barranquilla Carnival, Colombia.
‘Time To Party Colombian Style’, Barranquilla Carnival.,
In the last two portrait photographs, we have tried hard to capture the mood of the carnival. We think we have achieved this through the look of delight in each subject’s face and the vibrant colour that is present in each shot.
The reason we picked these choices for ‘Creative Approach’ is that both photographs underwent some post-processing. Wayne has effectively used Lightroom to enhance the vibrancy and saturation of colour in each image, which adds to the effect on the viewer. One of our Facebook followers commented that these pictures “Just made her want to dance!” after seeing them on an earlier post ‘The Best of Barranquilla Carnaval‘.
We have not really experimented with black and white shots however, which is something we would like to do as we continue to develop and improve our portraiture photography.
Wayne is much more comfortable taking shots of landscapes and wildlife.
We need to push the boundaries and get out of our comfort zone for better results.
What do you think to our portrait photography? We still find it difficult and have a long way to go if we want to achieve that National Geographic portrait shot.
We are both far more comfortable with taking photographs of landscapes, but we agree that we need to push the boundaries and experiment with different genres when the opportunity arises.
Do you have any hints or tips on helping us achieve better results with portraits? Wayne is currently upgrading his camera and lenses, which should make a big difference in the depth of field we are able to achieve in our shots. We now just need some willing subjects to pose in front of the camera!