September 24th 2012 by Andrew S Gibson
The Red Rocks are found on the south coast of New Zealand’s North Island near Wellington. They formed during underwater volcanic eruptions 200 million years ago and contain iron oxides which give them their red colour. It’s a popular place to take a walk – and a good location to take some portraits.
I went there yesterday with Wimmy, a model regular readers will be getting to know. It was a bright sunny day. During the middle of the afternoon this is not conducive for portrait photography. The light is too strong – there is plenty of it but the quality isn’t good.
Once on location I searched for some shade and found some behind a large red rock. Portraits need good quality light and the quality of light in the shade is beautiful. It’s soft and flattering to the sitter. Another benefit is that the contrast range within the scene is not high and your camera’s sensor will handle it easily.
EF 40mm f2.8 pancake STM lens
I used my new 40mm pancake lens. I like the moderate wide-angle focal length (on my full-frame camera) and enjoy using it as a portrait lens. As the lens is fairly new I’m still in the process of getting to know it by taking photos at different apertures. I’m gradually getting a feel for the perspective, depth-of-field and bokeh.
I like the simple approach to photography. I had one camera, one prime lens and (for the photos in this article) natural light. The rest is down to the model, the way I direct her, composition and my use of colour. The challenge is working within these limitations. The limits of my equipment mean that I have to push myself to get the best out of what I have. It’s a good learning exercise and my skills are improving with every shoot.
These portraits were taken at f2.8, the maximum aperture of the lens. The Red Rocks really are red, creating an unusual and interesting background. I warmed up the white balance in post-processing to enhance the ochre tones of the rocks:
These two images were taken at f3.5. For the first portrait I positioned Wimmy to catch the sun in her hair. Then we moved into the shade:
These portraits have a luminous feel. That’s due to the light bouncing off the rocks and the sea. Wimmy was in the shade, but surrounded by an area lit by the sun, and consequently much brighter. This close-up of her eye from one of the portraits shows how bright the surroundings were. You can also see my reflection quite clearly, almost as if her eyes were mirrors:
There are several historic baches (that’s the kiwi word for beach houses) near the Red Rocks. One of them was locked up and empty for the day so we took some photos there as well.
These portraits were taken at f2.8. I wanted to experiment with using different angles. I couldn’t add variety to the images by changing focal length, so I did it by varying the backgrounds and my angle of view. That’s why some of these photos were taken from above:
And this last photo was taken at f4:
If you’d like to learn more about portraiture, then you’ll be interested in the latest Craft & Vision eBook. It comes out on Tuesday and it’s written by Vancouver based portrait photographer Kevin Clark. I’ll write more about it then:
If you’d like to learn more about Canon wide-angle and kit lenses, then you will enjoy my eBook Understanding Lenses: Part I:
Understanding Lenses: Part II is finished and comes out on Thursday. Here’s the cover, featuring another photo of the gorgeous Wimmy: