My top portraits of 2018

This is the first article in a new series, Top Photos and we’ll be covering my top portraits in 2018. It’s a tad late into the year, but reflecting on your work is an important process towards improving.

I don’t often reread books. I think I’ve reread George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire twice and Dale Carnegie’s
How to Win Friends and Influence People three times. While I reread Martin’s work to nerd out, there was a forward in Carnegie’s book that I still take to heart (even though I don’t reread it regularly today). It says that it’s a book meant to be read and reread; it’s a book to be written up and written over; it’s a book means different things in different parts of your life. It calls on you to reflect.

I think with my last big hobby, video games, I didn’t get much of that (excluding maybe Starcraft). I consumed and consumed and never reflected to improve. It was a one-way street where I watched videos/streams and played the games. Photography is different – I want to grow and give back. I want to see progress in my technical and creative skills when I review moments in my life in the future.

I never did this in over a decade of photography. and I never spent this kind of money and time either. In high school, I bummed off my friends whose family could afford nice cameras. I didn’t really own my own camera until high school, and I had a puny little point and shoot I bought during Black Friday. That first camera sparked something that’s consumed my life since and I don’t see any signs of it pausing.

Note, the portraits below are in no particular order.

Bowtie and black dress

Bowtie and black dress
Bowtie and black dress | Taken on November 24, 2018 using my Lumix G9 & Olympus 17 mm Pro

I had my Lumix G9 for about six months by then but just recently purchase the Olympus 17 mm Pro. It hadn’t been really tested in an event by then. This was taken during Friendsgiving where our friends were asked to dress up, giving me a good opportunity to see what a 35 mm full-frame equivalent could do.

I like this photo because it gave me a chance to see how I can use background blur in portrait photography. It’s one of the things I’ve struggle a bit with in our social outings in low-light situations. Thankfully the room wasn’t dark by any means but it was a bit tight. I couldn’t use distance between my subject and background to really produce anything more than this. However, thanks to the faster aperture, I feel like it allows me to keep my ISO a bit lower while benefiting from the slightly more separated background.

To reflect on this shot, I need to move less when using such a faster aperture. The lovely lady on the left is in focus, my friend to the right is not. I recently watched a few other tutorials where they used other methods to increase background separation while increasing their aperture, to avoid missing focus. The other thing I’ve learned is that 35 mm (full frame) focal length does have its distortions. I’ve been forcing myself to use my Olympus 45 mm f/1.8 in more of the candid photography I do during parties and other social events.

Portrait in Denver park

Portrait in a Denver park
Portrait in a Denver park | Taken on October 28, 2018 using my Lumix G9 and Olympus 12-40 mm Pro

If I had to choose one favorite portrait, this would probably be it. I don’t often direct my subjects (almost always my friends), but this was one of the few times I did. I told him to “smize” (smile with your eyes) but to REALLY open his eyes. He’s always squinted and because it made him laugh, I shot a candid shot I’m really happy with. Combined with the October colors in Denver in the background, it really just brings out the best in the subject up front.

If I could have brought a flash, I would have gone with higher shutter speed and used the flash to help control the really bright background. If I recall correctly, all of the portraits I shot here were over-exposed in the SOOC jpgs.

Queen Bee in Monochrome

Queen Bee in Monochrome
Queen Bee in Monochrome | Taken on November 3, 2018 using my Olympus E-M5 II & Olympus 17 mm f/1.8

I took this picture of my wife in our Las Vegas hotel. I never really considered using monochrome in any of my photos until I received feedback on this photograph. I shared it in color on a forum and received some useful feedback. I wasn’t aware of the distracting orange-warm blur on the photo behind her. If you check out the photo on Flickr, you should immediately notice the distracting element.

The monochrome setting sort of set off a new curiosity. Neither the Lumix G9 or the Olympus E-M5 II don’t really give me the artsy drive. Recently, I picked up the Olympus Pen F though and I’m excited to use the monochrome profile two more than ever. Also, because of the distance I put, it downplays the distortion of the 35 mm (full-frame equivalent) focal length. Comparing some of these portraits helps me understand how to comose based off of focal length in the future.

To wrap up this reflection, the composition of the photo could be improved. I awkwardly cut off the top of the framed photo and the rest of the lamp over to the right.

What’s coming in 2019

I’m taking more portraits with a long focal length. I hope to get closer shots that are focused on the subject of the photo. I also want to start using Photoshop CC more to touch up these portrait photos in the future.