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Photographing Characters in the Badlands:

Last week I attended a photography workshop in Drumheller, Alberta with Dave Brosha and Wayne Simpson called Character. It was so worthwhile to take my understanding of portraiture and lighting to a higher level with these two inspiring and humble photographers. We worked for three days in the Badlands with a variety of models. The imagery that came from our group of creative photographers was more than inspiring. I’ve come home pumped with new ideas and energy, not to mention some new gear, and can’t wait to get out there and do some more. Here are a few of my favourites from the worskhop.

And, I’d be delighted to hear from you if you or someone you know would be interested in a portrait shoot.

a man with a long beard and a black top hat
Lothar, what a guy! His face just screams “character” and we were so lucky to work with him.
a man with long gray beard and a black hat
Into the Mystic, with Lothar.
Bearded man with pipe
Layne is a pipe smoker, motorcyclist and very sociable bearded model! He was fun to work with in any situation.
Ray had to be coerced into modelling for us but what a great job he did. He’s not even posing, he really is a rancher.
Woman rancher throws a lasso.
Irene is a photographer, rancher and the wife of Ray (above). She’s responsible for getting Ray to model for us.
Hunter concealed by camouflage.
This is Ray, one day later. As well as a rancher, he’s a hunter and he was all decked out in camouflage gear including face paint.
Woman cowgirl against a stormy sky.
This is Jane, a woman who has lived on a ranch in Alberta all her life. Jane was a little shy about modelling for us (who wouldn’t be?) but opened up with such a beautiful smile when asked about important things, like chocolate. Caught this moment just before the rain came.
Meet Grizz, the most characterly of all our characters. The guns were loaded when he arrived and he enjoyed just being himself with us.
woman character in the Badlands
Dancing in the Wind
bearded cowboy smiling
The joy you see on Lawrence’s face was always close to the surface. I think he was really honoured that we wanted to make photos with him.

About the Photography

As an experienced photographer, I had a pretty sound understanding of portraiture and lighting before attending the workshop but it’s always so valuable to hear from others about their process, their struggles and their successes. It’s also reaffirming to learn that they do so many things in a similar way. What really struck me the most was how a little thing like adjusting the soft box just a tiny bit makes such a big difference. So, the approach for each of these photos was:

  • Choose your background as well as a starting point for your composition.
  • Expose for the ambient light and decide if and by how much to under or over expose. This contributes to the mood of the image. In most of the images above, the background is underexposed.
  • Add your light. All of these images were lit by just one studio strobe in a 2×3′ soft box. The light is a Strobepro X600II HSS M Battery Powered Wireless Strobe  which is a really great unit. No wires, great battery that lasts all day, and light powerful enough to light a subject in full sun. The soft box was a 24×36 Inch Rapid Pro Folding Umbrella Softbox. I mentioned above that I bought some new gear; this is it.
  • This is where the fine tuning happens. It takes time and several trials to determine the right amount of light on the subject and this is controlled by the power settings on the light as well as the placement and direction of the soft box. Also, which side of the subject do you want the light coming from? Every decision adds to the message of the photo.
  • Once this is worked out, then it’s time to work with the subject to try and bring out the expression you’re after. As Dave says, “Emotion trumps light!”. This might be the hardest part of the process.

Now it’s time to have fun creating character portraits!

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