Tuesday, 31 May 2016

366 Project Month Four - April Portrait Project

April - it was the best of times, it was the blurst of times. A month later, I’m still not entirely sure how I feel about my April Portrait Project – the project to take 30 portraits of 30 different people over 30 days.

When I originally decided to make April all about portraits, the inspiration behind it was to actually make my photography life easier for a month. It would play to some of my strengths, and it would mean I no longer had to go out hunting for a new scene every day. In my head, I imagined mostly sitting back in my place, people popping by for a quick head-shot, and done. This didn’t happen.

The Beginning

The project got off to a great start. I went to a location that had fascinated me, an abandoned factory called the Bradmills. Not only was it an intriguing place to visit with Axel, I was lucky enough to find some money on the ground that later paid for our lunch. Spirits were high and all seemed good – for 2 days.

My first blunder was not allowing for daylight savings coming to an end on April 3. This meant I no longer would have the access to natural light in the evenings I was expecting. Indeed, on April 3 itself I had to change my intended image to allow for the fact the sun had gone down an hour earlier. Throughout the month, I would often be battling against time to get the last of the sunlight.

The second mistake I made was underestimating just how much work it would take to find subjects, book them in, rearrange when someone’s work/life got in the way, etc. April 3 also was also the first day I had a subject cancel on me. Although I encountered cancellations multiple times during the month, I was lucky enough to always get enough notice to be able to book someone else in.

If you, gentle reader, ever plan a similar project, I suggest getting several good friends and family to act as standbys – people you can call up at short notice and be ready to be your portrait subject. I still had several in reserve when the month came to an end.

As the month progressed, I found the amount of time I spent with each subject varied greatly. It could be as quick as 10 minutes, or as long as a full day. On average though, I was usually spending between 1 and 2 hours with each subject. That meant though, for the majority, I had more than just one image.

The Progession

My feeling about the month is that it was somewhat similar to a physical workout. I was feeling more and more tired as the month went on, relieved it was over and happy with what I had accomplished. The month did seem to last longer than a normal month, and I was constantly underestimating how much of the month was left. “Not even halfway there? No way!” There was a definite drop in my energy levels towards the end of the month.

For the early shoots I was often trying to get several different looks so there was a choice of options at the end. For the final shoots, I was pretty content the moment I got a single frame I was happy with.

The Controversy

A long time ago, so long I don’t even remember the circumstances, I was posited with the question of whether a portrait had to include the subject. Could a photo of a worn out pair of ballerina shoes be considered a portrait of the ballerina? On April 25, ANZAC day, I decided to push the limits of the definition.

Some people accepted this as a portrait, some didn’t.

The photo I wish told more

As a photo, this is fine. Light is good, and the subject is clear. But, I don’t think I managed to tell all the story I wanted in the photo. Maybe it can’t be told in one image, or maybe I’m just not able. I just wish I could have captured more in the image, and not had to rely on words to tell the important story behind it.

The End

On my first shoot with Axel, I managed to find some money on the ground. During the last moments of my last shoot of April with Hope, my flash trigger, with a replacement cost above $100, dropped to the ground and broke. Not sure that there is any lesson there; I just found it a little poetic.

I didn't even use flash in the final photo...
However, using the workout methodology of before, I think this month was definitely good experience in developing my photography skills. There were some portraits I was proud of, and some I thought could be much more. But, with almost all of them, I learnt more about portrait taking.

Final thoughts

Actually, I am really glad I did this. Some of these photos I had wanted to take for some time, but this gave me the push to make them reality. If I hadn’t committed to taking 30 portraits in 30 days, I’m sure those photos would still only exist in my mind’s eye.

Case in point, since the end of this project I’ve yet to take another portrait – even though I’ve had some ideas and requests for some.

Would I do it again? I’d definitely like to do something similar, and I’ve had requests from people who missed out on the project, but perhaps a month at a time is too much. I still definitely want to do more portraits as part of my 366 project, so please reach out to me if you’re interested. Who knows, maybe I have another 30 in me.

Perhaps the greatest part of all was the feedback I received from the portrait subjects; all feedback received was overwhelmingly positive. So I will look back at this month as hard work, but worthwhile.

P.S. You can read about my experiences from other months here.
P.P.S. If you want to follow along in my journey, you can see how my 366 project is progressing on Instagram: @andrew366

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