Exercise 1.2 – Background as Context

The brief was to make a portrait of someone you know, paying attention to the background and using it to tell something about the subject.

I chose to do an image of Alby. Alby is the owner of our local comic bookshop. He is also a photographer and is studying for a degree in photography at about the same stage I am at – so we have a lot of discussion about this. Alby is supported by his dog, Atticus, who is convinced the shop is there just for his personal gain, so he can get made a fuss of regularly. Atticus tried very hard to be the main subject of the mage and I have several pictures showing him in beautiful focus as he pushed Alby out of the way. We had some discussion about where to take the picture. The corner of the shop that Alby works in does not have the best lighting and is very cramped – but I decided that in spite of these drawbacks that area told the most about him and moving the shop around to get better light was not really practical.  Ideally, I should have used flash – but I do not have a suitable set up, and we were also working when the shop was open, and around customers, so that did limit the flexibility of what I could do. This was, however, a useful learning experience about how to take images in limited circumstances. Alby started off trying to be very serious – which is not his usual self at all – and when teased by his family about it then tried to ‘make a smile’ which was also not very like his normal expression. Eventually I just decided to take a lot of images while talking to him, so that he relaxed enough to be natural.  The whole shoot took about 45 minutes.

These were the best images


I then spent time considering a relative close up – as actually my favourite image of Alby is :Albie (3 of 9)

but it does not show much background or say much about him. So, I thought that in the context of the brief this was a better image:

Albie (1 of 1)-2.jpg

although I was very tempted by this (where Atticus is showing that he is definitely in charge):

Albie (1 of 1).jpg

Both of these images say a lot about Alby, he works in a shop, he is a colourful personality (I briefly considered a monochrome image, but the effect of the fabulous tattoos was lost). He owns (or is owned by) a large dog, and he has a sense of humour.

Learning points:

  • Allow yourself plenty of time
  • Spend time talking to the subject until they relax (even if you know them)
  • Think about a variety of distances (close-up v 3/4 v whole body)
  • Consider getting a flash set-up when I can afford it
  • Animals always take over!

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