TRAINING. MASTERING PORTRAIT PHOTOGRAPHY WITH PAUL WILKINSON by Andy Sturt

Note: This post covers the 'Mastering Portrait Photography' location seminar provided by Paul Wilkinson FMPA FSWPP courtesy of The Societies Convention 2018. Links are provided at the end of the article for further information.

January is a time when I would prefer stay inside for a variety of reasons (post Christmas bank balance, killer flu epidemics, new season of Black Mirror on Netflix, not to mention the weather, oh the weather...) Depressing isn't it? So what better a time to get out an learn new skills and add a portrait Superclass to my convention pass. Having purchased an 85mm portrait lens last year with an aim to shoot more portraits I was certainly on the right track.

Location #1. Canon 85mm prime.

Location #1. Canon 85mm prime.

The time is 9.00am, the place is the Berkeley Room of The Hilton Metropole the host to 2018's SWPP convention. After an introduction and health and safety briefing we are on our way and heading towards Little Venice a tranquil canal area just 15 minutes away. With us are a fantastic model couple Mina and Nick (who will be doing this kind of thing a lot over the next couple of days!). Paul's wife Sarah joins the shoot with a pre-arranged permit - our get out of jail card should canal security question the sight of 15 photographers in a scrum like huddle.

Paul Wilkinson explaining and demonstrating his workflow when composing portraits. Shot with Canon 40mm pancake lens

Paul Wilkinson explaining and demonstrating his workflow when composing portraits. Shot with Canon 40mm pancake lens

Five minutes out the door and Paul stops. His sixth sense for an image has sprung into action and we have found the first spot to shoot. While some of us are still trying to remember his "Lamp Light Looks Lovely Pointing Straight The Eyes” verbal cue for shooting amazing portraits Paul has set a couple of killer portraits of Mina comfortably propped against the underpass railing. The day is overcast (not to mention cold!) but we still manage to add some nice catch-lights to Mina's stunning eyes with the aid of the reflector. With our shots of the setup in the bag we are led toward the canal following Paul's gleeful enthusiasm :D

Two posing setups, one killer location and a giant diffused softbox called 'the sky'.

Two posing setups, one killer location and a giant diffused softbox called 'the sky'.

and it doesn't seem long until we happen across the next location. This time an atrium clad with gloss yellow tiles. It intersects the underpass and is flooded with diffused light streaming in from the overcast sky above creating a giant soft box. It's model Nick's turn for a series of casual poses that fully utilize the light, shade and reflection of the location. Mina then joins Nick and we witness Paul compose the models for a completely different shot. One with added bonus potential for a striking silhouette of our couple (illustrated above).

Destination Little Venice

Destination Little Venice

So far I think our progress clearly illustrates that it's the journey that's important and not (entirely) the destination. Little Venice is a beautiful location but one that in my case would benefited greatly from my 24-70 wide angle (not with me) Hey-ho, what is great about this type of training is that you can just watch, listen and learn. Not only click. Paul managed three main setups by the canal (that I witnessed!). One of the kinetic variety involving our couple strolling past the canal boats dotted along the footpath. We are all feeling the chill a bit but are being kept warm by his passion to squeeze every frame possible from our immediate environment.

Could have stopped down to f4 for more definition on the railings (slaps wrist)

Could have stopped down to f4 for more definition on the railings (slaps wrist)

Powder blue and gold railings line the walkway of the bridge overlooking the canal.

Who doesn't like a brick or two...

Who doesn't like a brick or two...

It's been over three hours and we are heading back to the hotel. Our models are turning blue and we find ANOTHER LOCATION this time an authentic rustic brick wall with a strong lead-in line provided from a stairway rail. There's no way we are going to be able to walk past this. Paul HAS TO shoot and we are honored to witness another several setups. I haven't mentioned yet what consummate professionals our models are. Good looks aside it helps that they are a real couple and they also know a thing or two about layering their neutrals! After a group shot of all of us we make it a wrap and head for the Hils (of the Hilton variety)

Overhead spotlights in the underpass provide enough key light for our model.

Overhead spotlights in the underpass provide enough key light for our model.

but not until we have posed Nick against another underpass wall...

Keylight once again from a ceiling spotlight while the polished marble hotel wall is dual acting as a posing prop and reflective surface adding a further layer to the image composition.

Keylight once again from a ceiling spotlight while the polished marble hotel wall is dual acting as a posing prop and reflective surface adding a further layer to the image composition.

In summary this four hour practical tutorial was worth every penny and added so much value to this years convention experience. Let's put it this way - i'm finding it very difficult at the moment to not to notice a potentially exciting location for a client! On the day the tutor was engaging and enthusiastic about sharing his professional methods of sourcing the best location, shaping the light and posing the subject accordingly while being relentlessly resourceful. This was my first tutorial with a master photographer so Paul has set the benchmark very high indeed clearly illustrating to me the difference between taking a picture and making a picture.

Happy New Year!

 

 

My kit on the day

  • Think Tank Retrospective LC2  camera bag
  • Canon 6D
  • Canon 40mm pancake lens
  • Canon 85mm prime lens

Links & Further Resources