In the last four months, I have not had much time for portrait shoots. Work, a trip to America, and various weekend events have kept me busy, and scheduling times with a model has been difficult. Instead, I’ve focused on macro photography, cityscapes, street scenes, things I can shoot without being dependent on someone else’s schedule. I love all sorts of photography, and am happy as long as I’m shooting something, but as with any skill set, I want to keep up all aspects of my game, including portrait photography. So, recently, I’ve been turning to the only model who is available whenever I can find a small window of opportunity—myself.
And, my most consistent window of opportunity is in the early mornings at school, before the students and other teachers arrive. The school I work at is a private Buddhist middle/high school in Nagoya, Japan, with a 150 year history. Over the years, new buildings have been erected, old ones torn down, and all of it has been patched up, retrofitted, and connected by a complex system of stairwells and walkways, making for an interesting architectural setting with a gothic flair, especially in the ashen morning light. I can almost imagine a giant floating pig hanging over the school, like a scene from a Pink Floyd album cover.
This patchwork architecture results in many diminishing lines and frames, and I’ve often thought that it would be a great location for a portrait shoot.
Unfortunately, it’s not really feasible to bring a model there, so recently I have started inserting myself into the architectural backdrops.
For example, this one little corner of the school is rife with lines, angles, and shadows, and works as a photo on its own. But, adding a human figure to the scene creates a different mood. Unfortunately, as I do not have a tripod at school, I end up having to balance the camera on walls, or on the ground, which creates a further challenge, by limiting the angles I can choose to shoot from, though I try to mitigate it somewhat by propping rocks or whatever is at hand under the camera to change the view a bit.
There are many frames to choose from in and around the stairwell. The challenge is to get the right focal point, especially as I like to shoot with a narrow depth of field. Generally, I focus on a point on the wall near where I plan to insert myself.
I also like to take portrait shots that encompass more of the surrounding scene, but this is another area where being my own model can be challenging, as the self-timer on my camera only gives me ten seconds to get where I need to get. In this case, I had to balance the camera on the wall, sprint down the narrow walkway on the left, turn into the stairwell, and then jump up into the open space and try to look relaxed before the shutter clicked. Fortunately, it was early morning, so there was nobody around to see my antics.
Some days I play around with reflections, shadows and silhouettes.
I still dream of somehow sneaking a model into the school for a portrait session, but in the meantime, I guess I’ll have to make do with myself. At least until I get caught by the school security guard.