Family Travel Photography in China by Jared Platt (7)

The Seely-Olsen Documentary Session: China

Several of my last posts have been family portrait sessions from China.  This is the last family portrait from China, but it is a unique one.  We spent ten days with the Seely-Olsen family in China.  Becky (the mom) is a super great friend and she and her children have always been very important to us.  Becky was married this year to Jeff (also, super great guy with super great kids).  Well, Jeff works in Shanghai, China, so Becky and her children moved to China and the two families combined to make one very big family!  In China, a big family is a very big spectacle.

We spent a few of our days in Shanghai with Becky and Jeff’s family and then took a few trips out into rural China.  I will make one last post with my documentary/travel photographs from the trip, but this slideshow is a family documentary for the Seely-Olsen family.  We never did a formal portrait session, but rather a ten day documentary of their family as we traveled through China.  As you will see, the results are very different from a formal portrait session.  Both documentary and formal portraits have their place and both are important to a family, but I tend to gravitate toward the usefulness of pure documentary because a true documentary captures families and relationships as they truly are, which is how I would prefer to remember my loved ones.  That is why, even in my formal portrait sessions, I try to keep them very casual and documentary in feel.

Here are a few of my favorites shots from the Seely-Olsen Documentary Session.  I know I have not represented each and every member of the family in this blog post, only in the slideshow.  I have just posted my absolute favorite moments and shots here that can help me describe their life in China.

Becky’s kids are all over nine years old, Jeff’s are younger.  So Becky now has little ones again.  Aliah is the youngest and goes everywhere with Becky.  This is their transportation to and from the market.  All little errands, etc are done on this little scooter.  We would hope in the back and off we would go.  On one of our trips, we ran low on batteries and I was tasked with pushing the cart to get it up to speed where the batteries would keep it coasting a little longer than normal friction would have allowed.  I would jump in and enjoy a short rest and then, I was back out to push again.

Family Travel Photography in China by Jared Platt (14)

We took a bike ride through rural Guilin, China with all of the kids.  This was at the bottom of a mountain as we prepped for the hike up the mountain.  I love this shot.  These two are very close in age and make up their own little section of the family.  All the kids seem unite to take care of these little ones.

Family Travel Photography in China by Jared Platt (13)

Family Travel Photography in China by Jared Platt (12)

It was quite a hike to get up here, but everyone made it.  Don’t be so surprised that little Aliah made it.  Be surprised that Becky and Jeff made it.  I think Jeff carried her most of the way up the mountain.  I think Becky carried her too.  I only had to carry my camera.  Being a photographer has its advantages.  My photo duties trump good friend, “let me carry your child up the mountain,” duties.  So I only had to drag myself up the mountain.  That was hard enough.

Family Travel Photography in China by Jared Platt (11)

This was our countryside bike ride.  I could have enjoyed riding a bike through the country there for days.  Every time you came around a bend, there were more of these strange mountains and something very interesting to see.  The people, the farm lands, the buildings, the textures.  I think if I were to go again, I would want to spend a few more days just riding a mountain bike around the countryside.

Family Travel Photography in China by Jared Platt (10)

We also traveled by boat.  These little rafts are made of bamboo.  They can seat two passengers and a gondolier.  And no, he does not sing to you!  Sometimes, he will try to communicate with you, but ours knew three words in English, so most of our communication was in pointing and nodding.  This is Larsen.  I have known him for a long time (because he is one of Becky’s kids).  We had a good time on our river rafting adventure.

Family Travel Photography in China by Jared Platt (9)

There’s Jeff with piled high with kids.  By the time we reached the end of our river excursion, it was sunset.  But sunset here is much softer and darker than other places because the finger like mountains block the sun very early in the late afternoon and the humidity (at almost 100%) scatters and softens the light you do have.

I suppose you would have a hard time judging when you would get true sunset on any given week as the sun shifts around the sky because the sun can be completely obscured by one of the finger mountains one week and the next week the sun could be seen through a gap between the mountains, giving you another 20 minutes of direct light in the day.  At any rate, the soft quality of this image comes from the low and indirect and soft light of sunset in Yangshuo.  It is truly unlike any place I have ever been on the planet.

Family Travel Photography in China by Jared Platt (8)

This house was too much to pass up.  I only wish we had been there at a different time of day.  But you take what you can get when you are hiking from place to place.  The light wasn’t optimal, but the house is so strange, we had to grab a shot.

Family Travel Photography in China by Jared Platt (7)

Yes, it is a real place!  These are rice terraces in Ping’an, China.  I will show more images like this in my next China post, but I thought I would add this to give you a sense of the things we were seeing as a family.

Family Travel Photography in China by Jared Platt (6)

The kids are all waiting for their foot massages.  Everyone (except for me and Tate) got a foot massage.  Not a bad thing to get at the top of a long hike.

Family Travel Photography in China by Jared Platt (5)

You can see that the village spills through the rice terraces.  The pathways through the village are windy and steep with lots and lots and lots of stairs.  Hence, the foot massage.

Family Travel Photography in China by Jared Platt (4)

While all of the less tough travelers were getting pampered with foot massages, Tate and I went in search of a spot to record a video.  I was supposed to record a quick video inviting people to join me in studio at my creativeLIVE workshop in Seattle on Dec 6th, The Efficient Photoshoot.  You can see the video we recorded by clicking here.  Tate was a great director.  We found some steps to rest the camera on and set up the recording.  Once we were back in Shanghai with an internet connection we were able to send the footage to creativeLIVE and let them edit it into a video.  We got a little slap happy toward the end and were making some jokes, but they were all cut out of the video.  Maybe that was for the better.

Family Travel Photography in China by Jared Platt (3)

Let this be a lesson to you.  When in China and you come upon a fruit stand that has an open bowl of fruits and snacks for purchase, it is very possible that the owner’s child has been licking every sing one of them for the past 10 minutes.  These are dried fruits of some kind and have a sugary dust all over them.  I watched this little guy lick the sugar off each and every one of these dried fruits.  I stood there for about ten minutes to see if anyone would stop him… nope.  He was in heaven.  So was I.

Family Travel Photography in China by Jared Platt (2)

She is always so serious.  I was so glad to capture this smile.  This was on one of the last days.  I think you just have to be around a child long enough and you will find the moment you are looking for.

Family Travel Photography in China by Jared Platt (1)

Documentary Photography by Jared Platt, Platt Photography

Slideshow Music by Roy Ashen, Courtesy of Triple Scoop Music

Location: China

Child Life Portraits by Jared Platt, Taken in Shanghai, China

Portraits from China: The Driggs Family

This is my 3rd post of the China portraits I shot in Shanghai, China.  A few more posts on China to come.

This series of portraits was taken at a Buddhist Temple in Shanghai, China.  The grounds were fairly spacious and offered a lot of great opportunities for backgrounds.  Both of the boys are young enough not to be all that interested in the surrounding architecture and symbolism, but they did enjoy the coy ponds and the many small walls and walking paths.

The slideshow has a lot of great images in it, but I was particularly interested in a small few for the purpose of discussing the lighting.  In the next image, we were on the back side of the property where the light was getting dimmer and softer.  The main light-source was the open (sunless) sky, what we could call “north light”, although I don’t know if it was truly the northern sky.  That open sky was to the child’s right and just behind him.  Notice, how the size of the light source helps to wrap around the child’s face, making smooth transitions extremely soft and smooth.  Of course the sky is a huge light source.  But if the sun were visible in the sky, the sun would become that light source and would create harsh shadows and would not be so pleasing.

I like this shot.  This little boy is always on the move and always paying attention to everything, not just where he’s going.  I think the image describes that well.  While he is climbing on the wall, he is still keeping track of everything else in the area.  Probably keeping tabs on his little brother…

Here is the little brother.  Those eyes were the subject of most of my photos with him.  This was the perfect outfit to intensify them.  That large open sky, makes a perfect light for portrait.  But notice that I am not shooting with him facing the open sky directly, which would flatten the subject.  Instead, the open sky is off to his left, my right.  The shadow side of his face is toward me.  The soft highlights are coming from his left .  It’s all about volume and depth.  Without some shadow, you have none of that.

OK.  I have been looking forward to writing about this photo for a while.  The basic scene here is lit by the open sky off to the children’s left (the camera’s right).  You can see the lighting effect on the boys’ faces.  Highlights on the right side of their noses, shadows on the left sides.    But there was one very real problem, the background was quite dark.  Everything back there was sucking up the light and with a thick canopy of trees over the background, the open sky was not lighting the back ground with the same exposure as the foreground.  In essence, it was a black hole.

Enter a small Canon 600 RT camera flash placed off camera to the camera’s left and behind the boys.  You can see the light’s glare in the top left corner of the frame.  It is also lighting the grass and the bushes in the background a bit and most importantly, it is catching the edge of the kids’ shoulders and hair to separate them from the background.  Without this little flash, the photo would not be worth showing.  But notice, I only needed one little light to get a very well exposed and expertly designed shot.  This shot could have been designed with many more lights to get practically the same shot, but why?  The point is, that one small, lightweight flash or even a flashlight can escalate the production value of the shot with very little additional cost or effort… efficiency isn’t just for post production.  Efficiency during a photo shoot is just as critical.

If you are interested in these issues, I am teaching a free workshop called The Efficient Photo Shoot online at CreativeLIVE.com on Dec 6-8, 2012, where we will be demonstrating these very concepts.

This kids started running around and around on this little path and I realized, my light from the first shot could still be used to accomplish the same goal right where it was.  It just had to be turned slightly.  With Karen Liu at the light, that was easily done.  I ran to my new position and told the kids to keep circling the path and kept firing away as the got into the positions I liked.  I think they must have run around that path 50 times, over and over, which was good for me, I needed a lot of opportunities to get the right shot.  And good for mom, they must have slept well that night!

I love how the light cascades across the long grass and kisses the little one’s cheeks.  Imagine, without the light, his little hand would be completely lost in the shadow of the trees.

Now, with the open sky light coming from camera left and the flash also on the left, behind him, the light wraps all the way around his left side.  This makes for an even softer look because the rim light is not so pronounced and looks more like a slightly brighter continuation of the sky light.  Again, volume is created by the direction of the light.  The shot is slightly dramatic, but still pleasingly soft.  I love these shots.  If I had gotten nothing but this little series of shots in the tall grasses here, I would have been trilled.

 Child Photography by Jared Platt, Platt Photography

Location: Shanghai, China

Slideshow Music by Fisher, Courtesy of Triple Scoop Music

Street Portraits of Children in Shanghai, China

Portraits from China:: The Liu-McGee Family

This is my second post of portrait sessions from Shanghai, China.  You will see, we are in a different spot for every photo session and all of them are very unique, as are the photos themselves.  I try not to follow too much of a pattern when shooting sessions.  I want them all to have their own unique flair…

Karen Liu, mother of three great kids and an aspiring photographer, booked a photo session as a learning experience.  So, we shot a little less and spent a lot of time learning.  I took her through my thought process for shooting and lighting on the street with both natural light and additive flash lighting.  We also talked about compositional choices and selecting the appropriate camera settings.  All things I will be teaching in my upcoming free workshop at CreativeLIVE on December 6-8, 2012.  We got to the market in Shanghai, China early enough to avoid the throngs of shoppers and pedestrians that make this place a purely claustrophobic experience during the business hours.  This also gave us great light, since the market is a canyon of traditional Chinese style buildings (I say that with absolutely no understanding of “Chinese architectural styles” but when you look at the images you will understand what I mean).

In this first shot, we had 360 degrees of choices for the shot, but one gave us the best lighting for a complete existing light portrait.  Notice that the strongest instance of sun is coming from behind the kids which gives us the rim light coming from behind them.  Behind me is a large building with a light wall which is reflecting indirect light onto the kids, so, we have beautiful soft light coming forward on them.  So in an instance like this one, all that is required is the correct exposure at the camera.  No additional light is needed to get a nice shot.

As we got further and further into the morning, it got more and more crowded.  I love crowds for portraits, because you get all sorts of additional people in the shot.  If you wait for the “right” person, you get get juxtapositions.  I love this one.  Karen (mom) also loves this street photography style work, so I suspect she will love this one as well.

We stopped for a Chinese snack after the shoot.  I am not this good at chopsticks!!!

This is one of my favorites from the session because I identify with it!  My kids hang on me whenever I am shooting and they are around.  I am sure any of you parents out there with small children experience the same situation.  I think they do it because they know you are not paying attention to them.  Hanging on you seems to force the attention their direction.

Incidentally, I have the same problem when I am traveling with adults.  I get to taking photos and all my attention becomes focused on the shot.  So my wife and all the other adults with me tend to get annoyed with my lack of attention.  So, if you have a photographer in your life… just know that they still love you, even when they seem to be ignoring you.  Want their attention?  Take the camera out of their hand.

Children’s Photography by Jared Platt, Platt Photography

Location: Shanghai, China

Slideshow Music by Nancy Falkow, Courtesy of Triple Scoop Music

Subject: Photographer Karen Liu

Portraits by Jared Platt in Shanghai, China

Portraits from China: The Sloan Family

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…

 

Family Photography by Jared Platt, Platt Photography

Location: Shanghai, China

Slideshow Music by Mindy Gledhill, Courtesy of Triple Scoop Music