Exercise 2.1 -Individual Spaces

The brief is to make a link between subjects and their background by taking 3 portraits in a place of their choosing, having first spent some time discussing where and why they chose that particular place. The key here is the interaction between you and the subject.

 For details about the planning of this exercise and some alternative ideas see:



Pauline is a long-term friend. She has some mental health issues and is a very private person, so I was surprised that she agreed to be photographed. She said ‘At Aberdour lighthouse, on the beach. It’s relaxing. It’s somewhere I can sit and think, clear my head. It reminds me of being at the beach as a child, all my teenage years were spent at the beach with my friends’. She took me directly to the exact spot she wanted, however was very clear that she wanted to be photographed looking over the sea with me behind her. No facial views were wanted.

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Gillian is a long-term friend. She has a difficult life as he has a son with severe autism. Gillian said ‘I want it to be outside somewhere, with trees and gardens, somewhere peaceful, somewhere I can go to sit and not think about things’. We agreed to go to the local park, where she frequently takes her son, but rarely goes without him. When we got there, we spent time wandering around the park looking at different places that she would like to sit in.

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Jennifer is my daughter. This was the most difficult shoot as she wanted to be both the model and the director. After a long discussion she said ‘I want it to be outside in a Botanical Garden, with trees’. We went to one garden and took a series of photos but she then decided that she would rather be photographed in Edinburgh Royal Botanic Garden where she used to work – ‘I want it to be in the garden I know best, at  one of my favourite places in that garden, where I actually did the work’ so we had a second session with a change of venue.

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This brief takes the concept of identity further than the earlier exercises. Part of a person’s idea of their identity is held within the place they live or feel comfortable in. An important part here is the conversation with the subject to understand where they want to be photographed and why that place is important to them. I then needed to work with the subject to get a successful image within those constraints.

While taking the images I took several images of each person from much further away, where the background became more prominent, overall I preferred the more close-up images, showing the face and the expression – but one could argue that as the object of this exercise was to show the person in place that would be a better option.

I am moderately happy with this series. The images fulfilled their purpose, although possibly do not sit together as a set as well as they could as the views are different, sideways and from the back, however they are all taking up a similar position in the frame. The place is linked to the person and contributes to the image.

Learning points:

  • Spend time with the person to explore their thoughts
  • During the actual shoot remember that you need to be in charge
  • Be patient and allow the person to relax to avoid the ‘smile for the camera’ syndrome
  • Family make difficult subjects


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