Assignment 2: Abu Mohammed

The Brief:

The objective of this assignment is to provide you with an opportunity to explore the themes covered in Part Two with regard to the use of both studio and location for the creation of portraits. This assignment is about taking what has worked from the above exercises and then trying to develop this further in terms of interchanging the use of portraits taken on location (street) with portraits taken inside (studio). You need to develop a series of five final images to present to the viewer as a themed body of work. Pay close attention to the look and feel of each image and think how they will work together as a series. The theme is up to you to choose; you could take a series of images of a single subject or a series of subjects in a themed environment. There is no right answer, so experiment.


Initial Ideas:

Plan A:

I had two plans for this assignment, the first plan was to photograph a wonderful female artist from Srilanka called (Priyani) at her own apartment.  The photo shoot was postponed twice because of certain circumstances.  Priyani is a freelance art teacher, she visits her students at their own homes and teaches them arts and crafts.  Priyani and I had a chat about her daily routine and she agreed that I photograph her while she goes about doing her daily routine.  I visited her one early morning at her own apartment and I took several portraits of her.  Unfortunately, the apartment’s lighting was very low so I asked if there is a window and there was one big window in the living room but the sun was high and there wasn’t enough light coming from the window as well.  I had to use my flash which was hard for me because I am no expert in that, however, I did read a bit about using a flash before visiting Priyani expecting to encounter the low light problem.  Priyani was very kind and willing to help with anything, however, I felt lost and clueless on what to photograph and where.  After going back home and working on the shots, I felt that the photographs were ordinary and average, the model, her clothes and the furniture all blend, there was nothing that talks about her art because she had no studio and she goes to other people’s homes to teach which means it’s hard for me to join and take photographs.  Priyani managed to get me some of her work and I photographed her talking about it instead.  I emailed her the portraits as a thank you gesture.  The series can be seen on this post.

Plan B:

I was totally unsatisfied with my work (plan A), I felt it would be something that I would use for my exercises but not for an assignment.  They are ok but ordinary, there is nothing special or unique about the photographs.  Here is when I decided to work on plan B (photographing Abu Mohammed).  Abu Mohammed is an Egyptian man working as a gateman to one of the families in my city and he takes care of their ducks, geese, turkeys and chickens (farm animals basically).  I was drawn to his bubbly character, striking expression and unusual clothing.  I felt he would be a wonderful subject for my assignment (See Post).

“I think art is at its best if it makes you pose and reflect and think about things then it’s doing its job” – Roderick McNicol.


Assignment 2: Abu Mohammed

Despite the hot weather and humidity, I managed to photoshoot Abu Mohammed in different locations, poses and angles.  From the series I was pleased with 11 photographs and had a hard time bringing them down to the final five.  Below are the 11 photographs and information about each:

Photo #1:  The photograph was taken with a focal length of 24mm.  The idea was photographing Abu Mohammed from below by shooting into the sun and positioning him to block the sun with his body.  Unfortunately, the shot did not come out as expected.  The sun was very high in the sky and could not be blocked with my subject’s body and I also forgot to use the flash!  So this photo is not included in the final five.

Photo #2:  The idea was the same as photo #1 but I had to position my subject in the shade and shoot from below.  As it shows here my subject hasn’t loosen up quite yet therefore he looks stiff and uncomfortable.  The angle gives the subject a powerful look.  Abu Mohammed is a strong and a serious man when it comes to work but he has this sweet, kind and humorous side of him when he is around people he knows and loves.

Photo #3:  Using my 50mm lens I shot a horizontal close-up of head and shoulder portrait of my subject and the background was slightly thrown out of focus.  Abu Mohammed was so excited with the prop I gave him (the stick) and he decided to wrap the white piece of cloth around his head this time asking me if it’s ok and I was even happier for him to do so, it’s who he is.  I asked him to put the stick behind his neck so it won’t stay there dangling as that would kill the mood.  Plus it’s a comfortable position for him.  He looked away after the conversation wondering a little and that’s when I decided to take the shot.

Photo #4:  Another shot with my 50mm lens of my subject from a low angle but I went close trying to give a familiar shot a little bit of unexpected twist by using a fresh angle as photographer Brian Smith suggests we try in his book “Secrets of Great Portrait Photography”.  I also used the lines of the walls to frame my subject and add to the photo. I preferred using the 50mm lens instead of my telephoto lens because with this focal length even a slight distortion adds to the image by drawing the viewer’s attention more into the photograph and it makes one feel as if he is in the scene.  Here it shows the rings on my subject’s hands which explains about his marital status.

Photo #5:  A full figure shot of my subject taken with a 50mm lens to add a very natural look to the image and to give a feeling for the viewer that he is in the scene rather than observing from far away.  This shot was very hard to capture because the turkeys were scared and they would run away every time anyone of us came closer.  I had to ask for help from two more people to surround the turkeys so I can get the shot.  My subject was in the back, I was in the front and I had my friend on my left hand side and someone else on the right so the turkeys had no place to escape!  The photograph shows the environment he is in and the foreground shows the animals he take care of, it explains his job and place.

I had to crop the photograph later in post processing from both sides left and right to get rid of objects I found distracting.

Photo #6:  Abu Mohammed wanted to pose with a turkey instead of a chicken!  Since the turkeys are hard to catch; I was able to convince him about posing with a goose instead.  It took us about twenty minutes to catch one.  I decided to go with my wide angle lens (EF16-35mm) to add a bit of humorous touch to the photo.

“It’s the subject matter that counts. I’m interested in revealing the subject in a new way to intensify it. A photo is able to capture a moment that people can’t always see.” – Harry Callahan.

Abu Mohammed likes to crack jokes and I felt the idea fits him well.  The slight smirk on his face was natural and reveals his humorous side.  Although he is out of focus and the goose is in focus; it still shows his face expression and the shot was very natural that it appealed to me more than the other shots of him with the goose.  It brought into my mind the portrait of Charles Snelling when preparing his meal in the series “For Every Minute You are Angry, You Lose Sixty Seconds of Happiness” by Julian Germain.  Snelling was out of focus but we can still interpret what is going on.  The goose was staring at the lens as if it’s wondering what I’m doing which adds interest to the photograph, while Abu Mohammed is gazing away with a smirk on his face cracking jokes about the goose, perhaps it’s him expressing rejection since he wanted to hold a turkey in the first place!  The empty space in front of him gives the viewer a place to wonder.  The background shows the geese place and environment.

Photo #7:  Basically its the same as the previous photograph except that Abu Mohammed was gazing directly at the lens and he is in sharp focus.

Photo #8:  This was a head and shoulder portrait of my subject taken with my (EF90-300mm) lens.  The background was interesting so I kept it simple.  It’s a simple shot but seems that Abu Mohammed was squinting because of the sun.

Photo #9:  I used my telephoto lens for this shot (EF90-300mm) to get close to the subject’s face and be able to get a good depth of field in the background.  I wanted to concentrate on the face and throw everything else out of focus.  I asked my subject to play with his long mustache (since it’s something he does naturally) and I shot tight into his face.  I made sure the eyes especially in sharp focus.  The sun was on my subject’s left hand side and on his right hand side I used a white reflector to reflect light back on his shaded side.

“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough” – Robert Capa

Abu Mohammed looks straight into the lens which makes him the focal point and brings a sense of depth and emotions to the photo.  The half squinting of the eyes suits him as a male model. “Squinch” is what Peter Hurley call it!  His facial lines tells interesting stories about him and his experiences, joyous and sorrowful.

Photo #10:  This is the only photograph out of those 11 that shows Abu Mohammed as a gateman.  I took this shot using my (EF-24-105mm) lens.  In post processing I had to crop in the photo a little bit more.  I was intrigued by the shapes, lines and curves in the walls so I asked him to pose there framing himself inside it and close to the door gate.

Photo #11:  The family who Abu Mohammed works for decided to expand his room for him so he took some of his furniture outside so the workers will be able to work in his room.  He had a wardrobe with a mirror and we decided to take a shot of him posing in front of it. I asked him to take his time looking at himself in the mirror, he started fixing his clothes and touching his face till he almost forgot I was there, it is when I took this shot of him.  I like how his eyes conveys emotions and tells stories.  Perhaps he was looking at his younger reflection or as one of my fellow students (Holly Woodward) said “looking at himself in a mirror, in a sort of hidden moment – the person he sees himself, rather than how he would like others to see him”.

General Information:

Clothing:  My subject had this clothes on (in the photographs) and we decided to keep them on instead of the others that he showed me as they suit him and the shots best.

Props:  I got a stick for my subject to use, he normally uses one of his own but this one fits more and he liked it.

Post Processing:  Images were taken in RAW.  In Adobe Photoshop, I added a slight cross processing effect to the photographs and slightly dramatized them with a touch of HDR to exaggerate the look in some of the photos.

I used my Canon EOS 5D Mark III camera for the shots.

The Final Five Portraits:

The final five are the portraits I liked out of the 11 and I think fit more into the series.












I had to include photograph #10 because it describes him as a gateman otherwise I would have preferred photo #11 of him looking at his reflection in the mirror.








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