Thursday, January 31, 2013

Multiplicity Self Portrait, pt. 1

A fun little project we have done with our group in the past is a 'multiplicity self portrait'. It is a simple technique that challenges several skills to accomplish good results; storytelling, staging, maintaining continuity, photo composition, layers, blending and so much more.

If you're an advanced photographer this is all child's play and you might want to skip over this, but sometimes playing is good for the soul. This is also a fun project you can sell to potential customers, specially young people. Kids really get into this.

If you're a beginner this is a great way to learn several skills at once. It gets you thinking in terms of a project rather than just going out and snapping photos. Doing this exercise requires planning, attention to detail and patience. Skills needed if you are to advance as a photographer.

In this first part I will go over the setup and things to consider when doing the actual photo shoot. Part 2 will cover the post processing and editing part of this project. Some of this is covered in a previous post; "Self Portrait Clone Style".

This project works best if you have a partner to help you. It doesn't have to be another photographer, just someone who can guide you in positioning yourself within your scene. It's hard to tell if you're within the frame when you are in front of the camera rather than behind it.

Basic Equipment

In order to ensure your scene stays consistent for each frame you will need the following pieces of equipment, or a suitable substitute;

  • Tripod - A sturdy platform to prevent your camera from moving
  • Shutter Release - Either a cable, IR remote or radio trigger for hands-free activation of the camera’s shutter

Additional useful equipment includes props, costumes, off-camera flash and anything else you feel would be useful in helping you create special effects.

Location Setup

Interaction with the environment is key to creating an interesting multiplicity photo. Locations that allow you to sit or lean against different objects lend themselves for some creative exploration. The more interaction you have means the more yous that can be put into the scene.

Think in terms of a group photo, except that you will be creating the group. For example; a bench sits two or three people. What would those people be doing? How would they interact with each other? How would they interact with their environment? Are some standing while others are sitting? Maybe one is trying to read a paper but the people on the left and right are trying to talk to each other. Another person could be standing behind the bench reading over the others shoulder while drinking a cup of coffee. See the visual?

When you set up your scene take a note of the borders while looking through the viewfinder. Remember, subjects get larger the closer to the camera potentially obscuring the background. Sometimes it helps to do a rough layout of the scene showing the position of the camera and all the elements (house, porch with columns, bushes, bell, etc.). If you draw the line of sight from the camera to the edges of the scene you can then mark the positions where you can be placed without too many overlaps.

Explore the potential. Use props or change clothing. Use a stand-in for special effects. Remember things can get edited out just as easily as editing yourself in. In the example image above we used a stand-in to hold the opposite end of the scarf in order to keep it in place. The two people switched places maintaining the scarf's position for the second frame.

When you work with a partner they can guide you within the scene and trip the shutter and help with continuity. Having someone who is looking through the view finder telling you to, "take a small step to the left" or, "look up a little more" is a big help. It will also be to your benefit if you take multiple frames at each spot in the scene. It will give you choices to select from for the final composition.

Camera Setup

Set your camera on a tripod and compose your background scene. Get all the element you will be interacting with properly framed. Remember that keeping the camera stationary will make aligning all the layers in post processing.

Set your camera on manual mode and get your exposure. Once your exposure is determined it should not be changed otherwise the images won’t look right in the final composition. If you want to use fill flash make sure the flash is positioned to the sides. Light stands and other elements can be edited out later.

Once you have your scene framed focus 1/2 to 2/3’s into the scene then set your lens to manual. You can also have your partner stand in for you to set focus. If your lens has anti-vibration make sure you turn that off. If you are working in a really bright area you will also want to block the viewfinder to avoid light leak. A good working aperture should be f/8 or f/11 (f/16 for wider angles). This gives you a good depth of field which allows you to move around in relatively sharp focus.

Now that your camera is set take an empty photo of your scene. This can be used as a your base layer. Maintain continuity by remembering previous poses and thinking ahead to future poses. Try to tell a story in pantomime. As I mentioned before, your partner can help with this. If you review any of the photos mid project make sure you don’t move the camera.

Vary your poses at each spot. Try looking at the different yous in the scene. Take multiple images at each location. You may find one look works better than another. You never know,  a shift left or right can make a big difference in the end results. If you want to really get creative, change costumes between each variation of you. – Have fun!

Go to Multiplicity Self Portrait, pt.2

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