This week on the Community Blog, I am talking about a portrait photographer that I admire, but I’m not only going to talk about the depth he achieves in portraits, but also the depth he achieves in his other personal projects. Another of the Offbeat crew, Ian never fails to keep a positive perspective. I have been following him since the beginning of my photography journey and that perspective is so encouraging. Especially when you consider that Ian moved from one side of the country to the other during a pandemic. Being comfortable with being uncomfortable is likely a big part of why he achieves such amazing depth.
First let’s talk about what “depth” means. According to my Oxford Canadian Dictionary it is:
With just a cursory examination of the above grid, you note the distance from front to back is achieved with both light and sharpness of focus. Clearly, he has thought thoroughly about what he wanted to include in each image. There is an incredible range of emotion and expression as you travel from image to image. I might be a bit envious of all those unique expressions! Such a talented portrait photographer!
So let’s learn a bit about how he achieves this by unpacking a few images.
When I first started following Ian he was sharing images from his personal project YYC Gothic which has a similar aesthetic to this image (I’m not sure if this one is part of that project). Being someone who loves to play in the darkness with my work, the tones of this image speak volumes to me. I believe he achieves this in a similar way to the famous photographer, Ansel Adams, who used a red filter to create black skies in his 1927 image Monolith, the Face of Half Dome. However, he might have achieved this in the digital darkroom as opposed to in the field. Yay for technology making some things simpler!
Despite the amount of black in this image, there is an incredible range of tonality that highlights his subject and brings it to the forefront in a magnificent way. While the main focus sits in the rule of thirds area, he makes wonderful use of negative space to also highlight the subject, Calgary Tower. The buildings both tower above and recede in the distance which creates a sense of depth and space.
This might seem like a simple image, but it really isn’t. I happen to love this one very much. It might be all the water in my astrological chart, but water images steal my heart every time! I know that Ian would have had to use a filter of some sort to achieve the softness of the water. Likely a Neutral Density (or ND) filter and that makes me move one to the top of my wish list. They are used to reduce the amount of light coming in so you can create a long exposure. Long exposure of moving subjects creates that softy foamy look of water and light trails. Both of which are neat and interesting effects.
In this particular image, despite the water being foamy, Ian has managed to also keep light and shadow in that softness. Doing so provides a sense of volume to the stream as it flows and also directs your attention deeper into the forest where the stream rounds the bend. There is also a strong contrast between the blurred water and the sharp trees that is interesting and a touch surreal. I would love to shoot some environmental portraits in this secret magical place!
I would be here for days breaking down Ian’s portraits, but I am limiting myself to just one. But it’s a doozy. Like, I have goosebumps people! I happen to also follow the subject of this portrait and trust me when I say, you wouldn’t believe this was him. Would I have guessed this powerful and intimidating portrait was of the kind and funny, Curtis Jones? Nope! I absolutely adore this portrait because I believe we all have this power within us. I love to create images that reveal the aspects of people that you don’t see every day. Ian did this so ridiculously well!
Once again, those blacks dominate. This would be considered a “low key” portrait and is very much the tenebrism that I talked about when I wrote about Mandeep. To recap a bit, tenebrism is a type of chiaroscuro (light and dark contrast) where the detail in the blacks is completely lost. I am working with this technique as part of my personal photography project exploring Tarot’s Major Arcana. This type of lighting creates a very dramatic feel but also provides that sense of depth by bringing your subject forward out of the shadows.
Can we say “intensity” again? As mentioned in the definition at the beginning, Ian achieves both intensities of darkness and of emotion with this portrait. And not just the emotion Curtis conveys, but yours, as the viewer. I guarantee this portrait made you FEEL something. Unsettled, intimidated, afraid, and curious to name a few possibilities. Ian captioned this as “evil Curtis” but I see fierce determination. I see someone who isn’t afraid to get dirty and make things happen. I see a warrior. And that’s what makes an image like this so fantastic, it lets your imagination flesh out the story.
I’ve learned that I hope to one day meet Ian and pick his brain! I love so much of his portraiture and it would be wonderful to spend time chatting and learning from him. For now, I will pay closer attention to the light and shadow in my scene and ask myself how I can use it to tell my story (also, what story do I want to tell?). Being that so much of what I do is self-portraiture lately (aside from the tarot project), I think I need to explore more facial emotion. How can I tell a story with JUST my face?
Here are a couple of images that I’ve made, that I think achieve a sense of depth.
As always, I invite you to share your thoughts and to go give a follow to Ian. If you are interested in working with me to create unique and interesting portraits, reach out to me at Contact or firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can find out more about me and my services here: About Tara