National Portrait Gallery Portrait Photography Workshop

Last weekend I was delighted to teach my Weekend Portrait Masterclass at the National Portrait Gallery in London. The second time the gallery has invited me to teach, and it is a real treat to use the Collection as inspiration. I had the pleasure of working with 12 delegates throughout the weekend. No stranger to the gallery I’m always popping my head through the door, to gorge upon the feast of art and intrigue. Over the years seven of my portraits have been acquired by the Gallery.

National Portrait Gallery Photography Workshop Rory Lewis

Day one began with a talk about my style of portraiture and how art has provided a great deal of inspiration in the lighting and detail of my own work. Then we moved on to talk about the work of Artists, such as TitianHans Holbein the Younger and Sir Thomas Lawrence. After some refreshment, the delegates toured the gallery, with a talk by myself on some of the most interesting pieces of the collection.

National Portrait Gallery Photography Workshop Rory Lewis

After lunch it was time to learn about lighting techniques using the galleries well equipped photographic studio. The delegates practiced their technique using a light meter to setup basic one and two light Renaissance Chiaroscuro Lighting with our first model. After lighting skills where taught, I demonstrated direction and how to create different emotions and moods. The delegates then took it in turn to capture a varied collection of portraits illustrating different sides of our subjects character.

National Portrait Gallery Photography Workshop Rory Lewis

Day two began with a review of all the delegates portraits from day one. We then recapped on the lighting techniques and skills. The delegates then worked in groups to re-create versions of the renaissance portraits in the gallery.

 

After lunch it was time to work with our Second and Third model, the delegates working in groups visited the gallery to plan a series of portraits using the collection as inspiration. Then taking it in turn to re-create their own versions of portraits with the subjects. Shoots completed, I reviewed all the portraits captured, and gave individual feedback on lighting and direction.

 

The course was a wonderful success, packing in as much as I possibly could over two days, the Delegates walked away with a new appreciation of art and photographic skills. In turn Capturing their own collection of portraiture. It was fascinating to see everyones unique style and approach to the practical photography session. If you are interested in my photography workshops in the UK or USA, please take a look at my Photography Course Page.

Field Marshal The Lord Guthrie Portrait Sitting

Soldiery as a project, has given me the opportunity to indulge my historical ambitions. One of these creative urges has been to photograph a British Field Marshal.

 

Field Marshal is the most senior rank of the British Army. Higher than all the Generals I’ve captured thus far. Considered a five star rank in today’s modern militaries. In the British Army, Field Marshal has been the most senior rank since 1736.

 

Since the end of Empire, the rank has become somewhat redundant, this is due to the reduction in the size of Britain’s Armed Forces. The rank is now ceremonial, a gift of recognition from the sovereign to senior military figures, and bestowed on members of the Royal Family.

 

I wrote to several Field Marshal’s and to my delight a reply, Field Marshal The Lord Guthrie accepted my invitation to sit for a Portrait in London.

 

Field Marshal Guthrie, Baron Guthrie of CraigiebankGCBLVOOBEDL was Chief of the General Staff, the professional head of the British Army, from 1994 to 1997 and Chief of the Defence Staff from 1997 until his retirement in 2001.

Field Marshal The Lord Guthrie Portrait Sitting, London Portrait Photographer Rory Lewis

Guthrie’s military career saw service with the Welsh Guards and the Special Air Service; he was closely involved in military operations in Northern Ireland and provided advice to the British Government during the Bosnian War and the Kosovo War.

 

In 2012 Lord Guthrie was handed his Field Marshal’s Baton, in recognition of his remarkable leadership and service by Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth II . You can view a Pathe News Clip of another Field Marshal Jan Smuts being handed his Baton back in 1941.

(Below Field Marshals Baton Presented to Field Marshal Jan Smuts OM, CH, ED, PC, KC, FRS)

The Baton is the main symbol of office, only given to Field Marshals. It stems back to ancient origins; namely those of the Roman Empire. A short heavy white Baton was a symbol of  the Imperial Mandate given to Roman Military Legates. The Legate would hold the baton upon high, proclaiming, “above your head and mine to represent the power of the emperor”.

 

The British Field Marshal’s Baton is a symbol of the magnitude of office. The figure of St George and the Dragon is at the top, and at the bottom an inscription from The Queen to Lord Guthrie. The body of the Baton is covered with red velvet.

 

Field Marshal The Lord Guthrie Portrait Sitting, London Portrait Photographer Rory Lewis

Looking for inspiration I started with Sir Thomas Lawrence, studying his portraits of the Duke of Wellington.  Neo Classical in Style; Lawrence painted the Iron Duke on several occasions. His most vivid depiction, a triumphant portrait of Wellington which dominates the Waterloo Chamber at Windsor Castle. Lawrence’s composition is that of victory, heralding Wellington as the finest of military commanders and the liberator of Europe.

Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830)
Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769-1852) 1814-15

Then I moved on to looking at Singer Sargent’s portrait of Field Marshal Frederick Sleigh Roberts. The work similar to Sir Thomas Lawrence’s neo-classical depictions.  I turned to photography, browsing the National Portrait Gallery archive, I discovered the photographer Alexander Bassano, who photographed Field Marshal Hague. The portrait captured in a solemn and dutiful style, the depictions relay the finery, yet the obligation and commitment of Hague’s role.

Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig by Bassano Ltd whole-plate glass negative, 19 July 1921 Alexander Bassano

With all this in mind I set to work, with a desire to create my own interpretation. Using a red velvet backdrop, I aimed to recreate the symbolism of the fire and blood, that is the Red Coat. The British Military Uniform associated with energy, war, danger, strength and Royal power. These words associate with the office of Field Marshal. Full finery was the order of the day, medals, orders, and number one dress uniform. Wanting to portray Lord Guthrie as the man he is; the Commander held in immense regard.

 

The positions directed for the sitting are reflective, shooting from a low angle to make Lord Guthrie look prominent and tall. Harsh lighting is utilised to preserve the detail. To me the Portrait is historical , a document, all the detail must be safeguarded. With this in mind I hope I’ve done my predecessors, proud in this my first portrait sitting with a British Field Marshal. Currently I’m accepting public & private commissions both Military and Non Military for Portrait Sittings so please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

HyperFocal: 0 (Rory Lewis)