Today starts a series of Portraits taken in China. I will be posting once each day for the the next few days. Today, I will introduce you to the Sloan Family. We went to the Former French Concession in Shanghai, China for a walk with the family. The Former French Concession is unlike anything else in Shanghai. Enormous trees canopy the streets and you feel like you are on a street in Europe, except that there are an awful lot of Chinese nationals running around…
The kids were great to work with. They are extremely expressive and are pleasant children. So, they make for easy subjects. Something I had not accounted for, though, was the Chinese people’s fascination with blonde hair. The boys are all ultra blonde, so these kids are a hit everywhere they go and attract a lot of attention, so we had a lot of people staring. Fortunately, they were less invasive of our personal space since we looked all official as we shot the photos. But, it is a common occurance to have the Chinese people run up and take their photo next to your child if you have a blonde child… Anyway, that is one thing I could have never anticipated about the cultural change between the US and China.
This first shot is pushing the composition, but I really responded to it. It has a lot of energy and movement in it. I had to include it as one of my favorites.
I seem to recall some question when we first met being raised about her blouse. Was it a good choice, etc. I liked it and now I see why. That soft pink matches her so well. You can see that same shade highlighting her cheeks and in her lips.
The light here was quite perfect too. Everything was soft. Shanghai is an extremely hazy city (due to it being very polluted), but that works well for portrait light. Then, the buildings, keep any direct light from hitting the subject and the canopy of trees keeps the light from the sky from being too bright (creating raccoon eye shadows). So the main light source is reflected and filtered light coming from the street to her right and from behind here. This puts the shadow of her face forward, creating an alternating light pattern on her face shadow, light, shadow, light. In this case, it is simply about seeing the right light as it exists and exposing for it. No other lighting necessary. It’s simple light, but very pleasing.
There’s the curly blonde hair that is the ultimate stand out in China. I have a shot or two with his head up, but I love this shot. I think a lot of who we are comes from our hair, when we have unique tops. I am completely bald. That is quite identifying and I tend to wear that proudly (as I wear most things). So hair like this is also worn with pride, and makes a major identifying mark on a person. I’m pretty sure he loves his hair. Who wouldn’t!
There are the trees. Minus the all the cars on the street, this was a perfect place for photos. I had to constantly re-frame to avoid too many cars and people. I love the look on his face.
Talk about expressive. The youngest boy is great. I know Mr. and Mrs. Sloan were a bit worried that he was getting out of line or that he was not being cooperative, but sometimes a character like this has to be set free so you can get those great shots. And it’s not all just about the funny faces. It’s about all of the expressions you will see in this post. Taking a photo of a child is an art in and of itself, and the art is based in knowing how far to push and when to let go of that control. There has to be a good balance of discipline and freedom to get the expressions and still maintain control over the photo shoot. The Sloans had the balance and it shows in the final results.
Now that is a shot for the wall!
I love the light on this image and the texture.
This is the Shanghai sky line on one of the only clear days we had in the city. So we had to take the opportunity to shoot with the skyline in the background. The first day we got there, we came to this spot and could see only the shadows of the buildings through the smog. I’ll post those photos later this week.
The light on this shot is simple. I exposed for the ambient light from the sky and the buildings in the background, but that leaves the family in dark shadow (not silhouette). So some additional light was needed. A Canon 600 RT flash does the trick. It is off camera right just above head level. That provides all the light needed to match the exposure of the buildings. Notice that I put the flash to the side that mimics the direction of light hitting the buildings. You can see this best on the tallest building in the city. The shadow is on the left, the highlight on the right. The same is happening on the family’s faces. Highlights on the right, shadows on the left. Put the flash on the other side and it would start to look a little strange.
And this is The Bund. Look a big like London? That’s because the English built this part of the city. I like this photo as well. It’s shot at 6400 ISO f2.5 at 1/125 of a second with no flash. This is a risky shot. You don’t always get it right when you play at low shutter speeds and wide apertures. But it worked and I love the shot. The thing is, like everything in life, if you always play it safe, you get predictable shots that are good enough, but the truly fantastic shots come from accepting some risk and accepting some failures to achieve the great shots. Did I get every shot in this series? Not even close, but I got three from it, that I liked. Is everyone tack sharp? No, I’m shooting at f2.5 at 1/125. But the photo is strong, there are a few people in the focus plane and the rest become supporting actors in a very cool documentary shot that I love. I’ll have to see whether the Sloans love it, but I suspect they will…
Location: Shanghai, China
Slideshow Music by Mindy Gledhill, Courtesy of Triple Scoop Music