Friday, January 7, 2011

Reference, Part 3

If ever you've been told that you need to shoot photo reference during a critique or interview, there's a pretty high probability that the person telling you this was thinking mainly about your figurative work.  As such, I will talk about that first.

A great deal of the photographic reference I shoot is figurative.  For me, it's all about reinforcing the drawings with more information so as to be sure things are in proportion, are reasonably anatomically accurate, and have a solidity to them that adds to their believability.  To do this, I shoot people... Let me rephrase that.  I take photographs of people.

Again, real revolutionary stuff.

So, who are these people I take pictures of?  Mainly I take photos of my wife, or she takes photos of me.  Or, I'll use the handy dandy timer on the camera and take pictures of myself.  I've also been known to grab some friends and photograph them, and on occasion have even hired a model or two.

No matter who you're photographing, the important thing is that you have someone who is somewhat aware of their bodies, how to position them, and can follow your directions.  This is one of the reasons I use myself as a model so often.  I know what I'm trying to convey.  I know what the pose should be and how it should look in a given space because I've already drawn it.  So, I set up my lights, strike a pose and hopefully get the shot.  I'm usually pretty close.

When working with someone else, it's all about clarity of direction.  I usually start out by telling the model about the scene I'm trying to convey.  What's the mood?  What's the person they're portraying doing?  Next, I show them the drawing I've done.  I mention the salient points of the drawing and the pose for them to consider and answer any questions they have.  Then, if necessary, I strike the pose myself.  Some folks get it after seeing the drawing.  Others need to see it for themselves in order to replicate it.  After they've struck the pose, I'll try and fine tune it as necessary with verbal instruction and snap away.

One of the more difficult things about this process is that some poses can be painful or near impossible to hold at length.  The way I deal with this is to be prepared, have everything set up, and take tons of photos just to be sure.  I have the model hold the pose as long as they can or repeat the action as many times as need be until I've gotten what I need.

Sometimes it's necessary for the model not to pose, but rather act something out — be it a simple run or a swing of a sword.  In these cases, I shoot a version where they're posing still in the position I'm looking for, then have them act the entire motion out and photograph as much as possible.  There's a lot that happens with the body in motion that you miss when someone is standing still, and that tends to inform any movement you're trying to convey.  What you may end up with in these cases may not be the crisp photos you require, but there might at least be an inherent gesture that you otherwise may not have gotten.  It's worth going the extra mile.

Beethoven's death mask* and a couple of sculpts I did that got mangled in the move.
Fun fact: take a look at Beethoven's death mask, then look at N.C. Wyeth's pirate paintings.  Yeah.  They're mostly portraits of a dead Beethoven.

Aside from living, breathing human beings, I also take photos of sculpted heads, action figures, and a collection of deathmasks I happen to have to augment my figures.  On top of these assets, I will look up additional reference online if necessary.  If I'm portraying a 50 year old man, I look up 50 year old men.  If I'm portraying someone running, I look up people running.  Every little tidbit of information you add will boost your confidence in tackling a painting, and is therefore worth collecting.

At the end of the day, for the most part, some reference is better than no reference.  Even if said reference only minimally informs the piece, it's still done its job.

Next: props and environments.

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