Playing With The Exposure

“That pictures’ kind of washed out, isn’t it?” says a young Dad as he looks at the High Key Portraits of his family.

“Here, let me darken a little for you.” The Passer says as she applies a black vignette around the image. “Is that better?”

“Yeah, I like that.”

The problem with trying out new things in Assembly Line Portraits is that most of the people around you have no idea what your doing or why your doing it.  I have tried, from time to time, to ‘educate’ my Passers and Subjects-but this is pretty dry stuff for the most part.  No one really cares about lighting ratios and over or under exposure or intentional lenses flare.  It just looks wrong to them, even if you tell them-it’s supposed to look like that.

My most recent photographic experimentation have involved over exposure.  This is dead easy to do with digital and you can see the results instantly.  One step too far and the images is a white fog, but just far enough and you lighten skin and hair tones and turn everyone into a vampire.  Some people like that kind of thing these days.

Over Exposure works best on a white background, with the light wrapping around the Subject and giving the image a soft touch.  This is more Christopher Grey stuff, he does some amazing stuff, but he also does s0me stuff I am not crazy about.  As Morpheus said-I can only show you the door. . .

I have tried a few shots on darker backgrounds with less than stellar results.  Over exposure on older subjects seems kind of pointless as well.  Underexposure works best with the Oh-I-Hate-My-Picture! crowd.  As dark as can be and maybe a bit of Rembrandt or Butterfly lighting.  The effect is one where the background kind of swell and take over the images.  The White becoming pure white, the Black becoming pure black.   There is something very interesting about achieving these effects.  I can take a bit of pride in what I do-only to find that The Subject didn’t like the image at all.

In the end, there is a reason that Assembly Line Portraits all look alike-that is what the Subject buys. And least we forget-it all about what the Subject buys.

At this time of year, in The Big Box stores I used to have a Christmas Background and a set of boxes wrapped in pretty paper and maybe a Santa hat or two.  This was always a trying time.  The Children are not all that happy, none of them want to get dressed up and have some strange man move them this way and that.  But we usually got one good shot-where the kids were surrounded by presents and a smile was on their greedy little faces.

A second after the shot was taken they would be ripping the paper off the packages and they would then be disappointed to find nothing inside them.  The Wife found a way to solve this problem for us-she found some pretty Christmas fabric and sewed it around the boxes so that it looked like a wrapped present.  No matter how determined the child was, they could not rip open one of those packages.

I remember one sitting where a beautiful Chinese girl in a very lacy and pretty dress was brought in.  She was not happy and refused to smile for any of the portraits.  Then we set up the last shot and put the presents around her.  She lite up like a Christmas tree and I captured the perfect image.  A moment later when we took the ‘presents’ and tossed them back into the Prop Box, she started to scream.   She cried all the way out of the store.

That was another Company that wanted us to be creative and do things that no one else was doing.  Well, we were not all that creative and we didn’t do much more than buy toys and set them around the kids.  Sometimes this worked, sometimes it didn’t.

My best selling Prop was a small straw hat which was frayed at the edges.  The little Bubbas in their tiny overalls looked really cute with the hat pushed to the back of their heads.  But hats and kids are not always a great idea-though I never had any problems with lice, I heard that other people did.  So we had to stop using hats.  Pity that.

I used to have a lot of props I carried around and other Assembly Line Photographers had whole wagons full of props.  I was never that crazy about props-and I still only carry the bare minimum around today.  An arm poser and a paper umbrella are about it.  And I only recently bought the paper umbrella and don’t actually use it that much.

So I have pretty much left myself with playing with the exposure.  Exposure has a profound effect on all aspect of studio photography.  The background has more detail and gels have more color saturation.  The subject is more or less likely to notice wrinkles in their clothing.  The shadows on their faces go from black to subtle-though this also involves the position and power of the lights involved.

I find myself rambling a bit more than usual, so I will stop now.

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