May 292016

Photo copyright Cassandra Coyle

Does this picture have you wondering? Do you have questions about it, such as who is this girl? Why is she hiding? Is she as mysterious as she seems? Why is she staring so intently? What is this photo trying to tell me as a viewer? One of my favorite quotes about photography comes from Diane Arbus and it goes, “a picture is a secret about a secret, the more it tells you the less you know.”

In our class earlier this semester, we were given a portrait assignment with off-camera flash and I knew immediately that this photo would be a challenge for me. Most of the portraits I take are of my nephew, who is just over a year old. I love the kid, but he doesn’t listen very well to instructions for photos! I’m not used to having so much control over my subject, and it can be hard for me to come up with poses or ideas for the portraits. I went to my roommate, Marti, in my Tuesday afternoon crisis (our photos for class are due on Wednesdays), and persuaded her to be my model. We set up in our apartment living room and the shoot started out with me blinding her a few times since I’m still new to the world of external flashes. Once I managed to get the flash figured out, it was just the question of what to have her do.

I like portraits that show happy, smiling people best. I started with telling Marti to smile. We tried more candid-looking shots of her laughing, as well as some other basic happy shots. We tried using props including a coffee mug, a Fifty Shades of Grey novel, and a chef’s knife. I looked at her at some point during the shoot and decided that since she has such beautiful eyes, I wanted to focus on them. I came up with the idea of the scarf hiding some of her face, leaving an air of mystery in the shot. I feel the vibrant red of the scarf was a great contrast to her lighter eyes. I was a bit worried about the scarf being a distraction from her eyes, but I think viewers are still immediately drawn to them.

I shoot with a Canon Rebel T3, and I use the kit lens, an 18-55 mm. My focal length was at 42 mm for this photo. My aperture was at 6.3 and my shutter speed was 1/160 of a second. I currently use is a Yongnuo YN560-IV flash. I don’t have very much experience with Lightroom, so I don’t do much post-processing on my photos. I believe I softened her skin just slightly for this one. I was very happy with my result in the end. Not too bad for a girl who doesn’t take many portraits!

Going back to the quote by Diane Arbus, I think knowing the story behind the image can change a person’s feelings about the photo. I find that sometimes I want to know the story, but sometimes it’s fun to be left to my imagination and fill in the blanks myself. You might not be able to guess the true story behind my photo here: a tale of challenges, trial and error, and even a bit of humor (at least I find it funny). Some might feel that this story detracts from the photo, making it less interesting. I think it adds to it. This photo is from a time of growth as a photographer for me. I feel more confident in taking portraits now.

About the Photographer:

I come from a very small town in Southern Arizona by the name of Ajo. My passion for photography began when I was a little girl, playing with the family camera. I photographed anything and everything. I finally got a DSLR in high school, and I often took photos for my yearbook class and local newspaper. My favorite subjects to photograph are my nephew and vehicles, but I love being able to capture a moment and I’ll shoot just about anything I find interesting. Photography will most likely end up a lifelong hobby for me. I have no goals to become a professional, but I enjoy improving my skills and learning more about both my camera and myself.

To read more about the Northern Arizona University “Behind the Image: Guest Blogger” project on our blog, please read the introduction at take a minute to leave your thoughts and constructive comments in the Comment section below – Cassandra would love to hear from you!

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