Portraiture at the Dallas Arboretum

I’ll be back at the Dallas Arboretum on Mothers Day weekend in May (May 8-9, 2010) to take portraits for Arboretum guests as part of the annual May Flowers event. It’s a fun assignment, and really lets me flex my portraiture muscles, since I typically end up shooting 40-50 portraits in two days. Not sure what fee the Arboretum will set this year but it’s been $15 in the past, which is a fraction of my normal fee for a personal portrait session at the Arboretum. And you get a 4″x6″ print mailed to you as part of the deal. Can’t beat it with a stick, as they say.

It’s a lot of fun for me—but it’s hard work, too, and a real photographic challenge. Where’s the challenge? Well, for starters, the Arboretum asks me to be there when most of their guests are there, which means afternoon. When I shoot personal portraits at the Arboretum, I’m usually out there when they open at 9am and always wish I could get out there earlier. The afternoon light can be harsh. Depending on where they place me, I may have mottled shade and light filtering through tree branches overhead. And depending on where they place me, the light may be coming from the wrong direction. And of course, it changes constantly throughout the afternoon, so I have to stay on top of my exposures.

Still, it’s possible to get some really nice photos. Here’s one from a couple of years ago that I pulled out almost by random:

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During these quick sessions, I try to be less formal. This is easier to do with children than with adults, who invariably want to pose for me.

Another problem that I solve shot by shot is, how close should I get? Or rather, how much of the background should I include in the photo? There is usually some sort of fantastic house built of flowers serving as a background for my sitting area. You might think that I’d want to include it, as I did in the shot above. But as I’ve done more and more photos there, it seems to me enough to have just a hint of the background, and to focus in on people’s faces.

This isn’t how I shot this beautiful mother and daughter originally. The original shot includes a lot of background, as in the shot of the little girls above. But I like this crop. This year, I think I’ll be shooting tight like this to start with. And call me perverse, but I like even better this treatment of the same photo:

Yes, mother and daughter have beautiful red hair. But, well, it’s possible to have too much color. All that color in the clothing, in the flowers in the background, it confuses the issue. The black and white (well, duo-toned) treatment, by muting the colors, removes anything distracting from their faces and the play of light in the photo.


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