Creating Environmental Portraits During a Protest

After seeing Gina LeVay’s work from the March on Washington I wanted to try something similar here in Boston during a demonstration. I loved the feel of separating the subject with beautiful portrait light juxtaposed with the darkened ever changing crowd behind them.

Shortly after seeing the project I heard about a demonstration taking place in Copley Square opposing the immigration ban. I only heard about the demonstration the night before and there wasn’t much time to plan. Luckily, the morning of the demonstration (only 2 hours before it started) I found a buddy that wanted to help. After a quick 15 minute discussion and a breakfast sandwich, my buddy Max Esposito and I packed up a Profoto B1, a 2 ft octabox, a monopod to use as a light stand, and our camera gear to head down to the demonstration to see what we could create.

We scoped out areas looking for good backgrounds, checked lighting, then realized we had to find a different space in which to work as the crowd kept growing and growing. As you can see from the photo above, there wasn’t much space in which to walk, let alone try to carve out a mini studio.

We moved more towards the outskirts of the crowd to find a little bit of space and start asking people if they would participate in our project. Everyone we asked was not only happy to be a part of it, but thankful to us for documenting the experience.

Creating these images was an amazing lesson in taking portraits.

We were in a crowded place, asking complete strangers to take portraits, using only about a minute to take them, and the light was changing throughout the day/location. I can’t say enough how much it helped me improve my portrait skills of lighting a subject, making a connection with a stranger in a short amount of time, and composing all at the same time.

It was an amazing experience to create something completely different than you’d expect to see from a protest and learn while doing it. To see more portraits and read thoughts & quotes from the subjects, check out the gallery here.

Below are a few “traditional photos” from the demonstration after we put the lighting gear away.

About the author: Paul Rutherford is a freelance photographer based in Boston, Massachusetts. He chooses to focus on sports photography (both action and portrait), landscapes, and editorial work. A core belief of his is that amazing images can be found anywhere, independent of the caliber of athlete, location in the world, or subject in front of the camera. You can find more of his work on his website. This article was also published here.

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