Project 5 | Conceptual Portraiture

Project Objectives

  • Observe how light can be used to communicate content. CLO 1, 6, 7.
  • Understand how the Elements of Design: Shape, Space, Value and Color can be used to communicate content. CLO 4, 5.
  • Explore techniques to control light.CLO 2, 3,  6, 7.
  • Understand how the Principle of Design: Balance affects the composition.CLO 4, 5, 6.

Project Description

In this project you are going to work in groups of three taking turns as photographer, model and artistic director. Your group should plan the settings by creating workflows where composition, props, light and color are intentionally used to convey content.

Project Considerations

Principle of Organization: Balance and Space Division

  • As soon as you hold up a camera and look through the viewfinder or at the LCD monitor you are dividing or breaking up the frame by what is in the viewer.
  • In looking at a photograph the human brain has a need for order and balance. If a photograph is not balanced our eye will want to slide off the page and we will not feel comfortable looking at the image. If we draw a line down the middle of a
    photograph our eye or brain likes to see equal visual weight on the two halves.
  • We can use any or all the elements of design to create balance.
  • Balance give us five basic ways to divide the frame.

1. Symmetrical
2. Asymmetrical
3. Radial
4. Rule of Thirds
5. Frame within a Frame

  • Use one of these three methods of space-division: Symmetrical, Rule of Thirds or Frame within a Frame, to create the portraits. Use the camera on tripod to create an image as sharp as possible.
  • This is a studio setting where you should have a key or main light on one side of the face and a secondary light on the dark side of the face, as well as explore different light sources to illuminate your face and change the content. Be very careful not to have any over-exposure particularly on the forehead and the checks.
  • Explore color by changing clothes, accessories and background.

Step-by-step Directions

Part 1:

Look at the work of the artists below:

In your group, discuss how you experience the photographs.

As the artistic director, each member of the group should develop at least three ideas for settings, thinking of the model location, clothes, make -up, props and light. You should research ideas and discuss with your group.Note that once the setting is defined and implemented, the artistic director has to work with the photographer who will be controlling the lights and camera and also helping direct the model.

To help you plan answer the questions below:

  • Who are the people you are photographing?
  •  What characteristics you will like to highlight? How are you going to use your photographic skill sets to try to capture the concepts/ideas listed above? Please list specific ideas/examples.

Only after your writing is complete, sketch your composition images using the Photography Development Template. Share your templates/ideas with your group and class.

Part 2:

Each member of the group will be working as photographer. The photographer will set up the camera, light and collaborate with the artistic director on directing the model. Use only changes in lighting to evoke three distinct moods, for example tranquility, danger, mystery, joy, etc. Remember to fill the whole frame– think about the rule of thirds, focal point, and a balance of negative/positive spaces.

Be creative with your various light sources: a flashlight, a desk lamp, living room lamp, candles, Christmas lights, sunlight, etc. as well as strobes, flash or “Professional” lighting.

Even though the end result of your work will be three images for each member of the group, you will probably shoot around 60 – 100 images (20 – 30 of each scene if not more). Don’t compromise your final piece by not exercising patience and getting enough pictures!

If possible, shoot  in RAW.

Document the way that you set-up your lighting scenarios. These “behind the scenes” images are great learning tools and fun to see!  

Part 3:

Upload the images you photographed to your Online Digital Portfolio under Project 5, under a child page called Raws. Do not edit out your mistakes, crop, or adjust any of the images.

Part 4:

Present the images to the whole class for critique.

Part 5:.

Your group should take more pictures if needed and each photographer should create a second page called Edits with your three strongest images (each one of these images should have a different lighting set-up) and write down the significant metadata (ISO, Shutter Speed, Aperture) next to each image.

Part 6:

Edit your final three photographs in Photoshop and prepare the images to print in 8″x 10″ mate paper. Use  CVS, Walgreens, Target or any other printing service.


  • Did you and your group members do research?
  • Did you in collaboration with your group members planned the three different setting as artistic director Photography Development Template.?
  • Did the members of your group take turns directing, photographing and modeling?
  • Did your photos show intentional use of Balance?
  • Did you use light to convey different content?
  • Did you deliver part 3 and participate in class critique?
  • Did you work on the Edits and upload them to your Online Digital Portfolio?
  • Did you upload the best three photos?

Grading Criteria:

This project is worth 8 points

  • All images where you were a model were uploaded to your portfolio under its on category/submenu.
  • All images where you were the photographer were uploaded to your portfolio under its on category/submenu.
  • All images where you were the director were uploaded to your portfolio under its on category/submenu.
  • The Photography Development Template for the setting where you were the director was uploaded to portfolio.
  • Your choice of best as model edited in Photoshop and uploaded to portfolio.
  • Your choice of best as photographer edited in Photoshop and uploaded to portfolio.
  • Your choice of best as model edited  in Photoshop and uploaded to portfolio.
  • The three finals photographs show intentional use of light to establish focal point in a power point of the the rule of thirds, and or balance the composition.

Sample Work:


Lighting Techniques:

Camera Metering:

Seeing Color:

Using Color:

Value + Color + Texture presentation by Curt Belshe

Balance presentation by Curt Belshe