It’s no secret that traditional agriculture has long been dying out in the United States, replaced by factory farms and microwave dinners. The Great American Frontier is disappearing, and that’s why Tyler Stableford‘s photography project on farmers and ranchers in western Colorado is so important:
“The Farmers” started out as a simple vision for a fine art portrait series featuring agriculturalists. Stableford imagined producing large format canvas prints and holding a gallery opening bash, inviting all those who helped him along the way, as well as their friends, families, and neighbors. However, over the course of the four months that it took Stableford and his team to craft 45 amazing images for the gallery showing, Stableford began to see the larger picture.
“There’s real consternation among the ranching families of how they’re going to make a living doing what their family has done for many generations,” said Stableford. “I feel like I’m capturing the last of a dying breed of farmers and ranchers here in western Colorado.”
Throughout the short film above, Stableford and his team highlight three major shooting mentalities that can help any portrait photographer succeed in creating a collection of iconic images that stand the test of time:
1. People Can Enliven Landscapes
Many landscape photography purists fiercely disagree that one should include either a living focal point—be it human or animal—to draw the viewer’s gaze and tell a story. Landscape photography legend Ansel Adams was one such critic of that mindset. However, in a portrait-oriented photography project, it’s important to keep your subjects as the main focus. In the above image, Stableford sought to capture the beauty of this farmer’s land, while also keeping the farmer himself in the spotlight.
“The clouds and the landscape are a big riot of color and celebration, and the person is just a small accent that really lets the print explode,” Stableford said. “It wouldn’t be half the image it is without this small cowboy and a horse.”
2. Faces Matter Most
You’ve heard it said that, in portraiture, you should always focus on the subject’s eyes. Stableford is absolutely a fan of this way of thinking and his portraits are deeply emotional for it. But driving the viewer’s eye to the subject’s face and eyes is more than simply a focusing matter. Instead, you’ll need to direct viewers’ gazes by controlling depth of field. The shallower your depth of field, the softer all of the distracting extraneous details in the background will become.
“I’m always thinking, ‘How shallow can I bring this depth of field?’ because I want the viewer to connect intimately and immediately to the subject,” Stableford said.
3. Printing is Powerful
“I see images on the back of a camera, I see them on the computer, and then they come out in a large format print and they’ve gained a life,” said Stableford. “That is where the real soul of an art, of an image, of a person is. It’s not through an electronic LCD screen.”
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