Wednesday, 8 December 2010

52 Portraits...

Project 52 is done and dusted, all that is left to do now is give all those who took part their print as a little thank you from me. The book has been printed and I shall post about it in a few days. I set out to do this project in a year; it took a year and a half. A little longer than I had anticipated, but if a job is worth doing…


Why portraits. A lot of people ask me that. I have asked myself the same question many times in the past. I prefer portrait photography over all other forms of the art. In the end it comes down to one thing; I am fascinated by people. I want to know what makes them tick, what drives them, what motivates them. I suppose that makes me something of a voyeur. I guess all photographers are voyeurs of one sort or another. But I try to make my portraits anything but voyeuristic. I want to show people how interesting they are.

Above all I want the photo to be something more, to reveal something about my subject. And this is where it gets interesting.



In the first photo is Chris. With the addition of a slide rule, I am telling you a bit more about him. Your own world experience then fills in the blanks. Most people, of a certain age, know what a slide rule is; engineers and scientists use them. Chris is a structural engineer, while today he might use a computer, as do we all, back in the day he used a slide rule.

In the second photo, Joe, who is a building contractor and of Sicilian descent and all round great guy. But from the photo you cannot guess that. Everyone who knows Joe and sees the photo loves it and say ‘that’s Joe’. They are not just seeing the image; they are seeing beyond it and something of Joe from what his face is saying. But you have to know him to get it. As it happens this is one of my favourite shots.

The question here is audience. What is your audience? For a shot to be personal and meaningful to a family, then Joe’s shot works; for a shot to be more commercial then you have to tell more of a story. I hope that Joe and Chris’ photographs will be part of their family gallery for sometime to come.

Both approaches are valid; you take the shot to suit the market. It’s all about pleasing people. This project was primarily about pleasing myself, and that is how I tackled it. Some of the shots are more personal than others, some you will ‘get, some maybe not.

you had to be there to get this one...

The experience I have gained has been unprecedented. Apart from the obvious lessons of improving technique, there was the working under pressure; often it was half an hour in someone’s kitchen or ten minutes in work, dealing with people; not just themselves, often their family as an audience. Setting up the next shot was a good one; who was going to be next weeks model? Many a sleepless night.

Pre-visualization is also important, I did know all the people I photographed, some more than others. But I generally had an idea of how the shoot was going to pan out. I was hit by surprises on a number of occasions, thats to be expected, but it all worked out in the end. On the whole I was lucky; not one of my models were reluctant – the odd few were a bit shy, but once we got going there was no stopping them or me.



Portraits are forever, that’s why I love them. I have so many books of the great photographers and it is always a pleasure to leaf through them. I go back to them again and again. The great black and white movies of Hollywood are my favourite genre, and I hope to be doing much more in this area in the future. The atmosphere and the lighting are very evocative and the emotion is easy to see and feel. What do you think about when you see a persons face? What does it tell you? All the emotions that can be conveyed are in there. Sometimes happiness, sometimes sadness, anger, relief; the list goes on. All it takes is a moment and its captured forever! Why would any photographer want to shoot anything different?


Which brings me onto technique; the lighting had to be simple. I prefer portable speedlights, so does my wallet and my wife (more money for shoes…) I use a Nikon SB800 and a Vivitar 285, both of which I trigger remotely – there is only one shot taken with on-camera flash in the entire project – find it if you can. I used umbrellas, softboxes and gridspots to control and modify the light from the flashes along with the occasional gel filter.

My favourite setup is a crosslight shot; the umbrella close to the model and then a rim-light from a flash further away with a gridspot to control the spill of light. I know this setup works; I use it time and again.

Which brings me back to why do a project like this? I have come to the conclusion that these kinds of projects are where the creativity really lets loose; answerable to no one; only your own imagination. I have already thought of a dozen projects for next year, the only question is which one…





Once again, thank you one and all, for your patience, and kindness in allowing me to take your portraits. It has been a real pleasure. I must also thank Catherine and Cein for putting up with my incessant talk about the project, thanks guys! And there is one person that has to be thanked for help above and beyond the call of duty; Katy.


I can safely say that this project would have got nowhere without her help. Thank you Katy.


  1. Noel,

    Glad to hear the book has been produced and your efforts are available for all to see. You'll have to let me have a look at it, over a pint or two sometime and maybe then you can try to fill me in on that story behind the photo of David ;-)



  2. Hi David, thanks for the comment - it was great to see you last week! A pint is definitely a great idea... And thank you for the whiskey, I shall enjoy it on Christmas day!
    Nolaig Shona,