Last month I was invited to teach an urban portrait workshop for aspiring photographers from North West Dumfries Photography Group at Lincluden Community Centre. Kirstin McEwan from the Stove who curated this group asked me to give a talk about my Urban Portraits Dumfries project and found two wonderful models, Kirsty and Johnny, for a practical demonstration.

In my presentation I shared my insight into urban portrait photography as a genre, the evolution of my style as a practitioner, location scouting tips and a few stories behind my recent urban photo sessions.

The practical part of the workshop aimed to demonstrate that you only required to have passion and vision to get into urban portraiture. No need for expensive gear – you can use your smartphone, an old point and shoot, a bridge camera or a DSLR. No need for fancy locations – just a  street that anyone has access to, a healthy dollop of spontaneity and a bit of common sense not to endanger yourself or your models.

All you need is to make a small effort of picking up the camera and walking out of the door. Then any place can become your studio!

To prove that you can make the most mundane locations work for your shoot our first “studio” was a plain wall right near the entrance to Lincluden Community Centre. Kirsty wore black coat and a beanie and the wall was textured white, ideal to show how to create interesting dynamic urban images in hash sunlight playing with shapes, movement and shadows.

Kirsty in monochrome clothing against a plain white wall
Kirsty in monochrome clothing against a plain white wall
Playing with movement and projecting shadows onto the wall during my urban portrait workshop
Playing with movement and projecting shadows onto the wall during my urban portrait workshop
Dealing with harsh light for urban portraits
Dealing with harsh light for urban portraits
Creating graphic impact in direct sunlight
Creating graphic impact in direct sunlight

With Johnny we experimented further by introducing doors and windows as graphical elements for our urban portraits as a way of connecting a subject with his environment.

Window and a corner vertical as a graphical interest for a male urban portrait
Window and a corner vertical as a graphical interest for a male urban portrait
Blinds as leading lines and reflection symmetry
Blinds as leading lines and reflection symmetry
A simple minimalistic male headshot technique demonstration
A simple minimalistic male headshot technique demonstration
Johnny models at my urban portrait workshop for aspiring photographers outside Lincluden Community Centre
Johnny models at my urban portrait workshop for aspiring photographers outside Lincluden Community Centre

Our next location was what I called a patch of “urban eco green” or a nearby rhododendron bush with purple flowers where we worked with an open shade light.



I frequently photograph my urban portraits at the back of the buildings, on loading bays and fire escapes and near rubbish containers. Somehow in the course of this workshop Johnny ended up modelling outside the community centre waste bin enclosure – I loved the oval frame element on its door, the variety of textures and how the colours harmonised with Johnny’s blue jacket.



Next we moved to the local Abbey Inn.  I mentioned in my presentation that I like working with urban graffiti so my tongue in cheek students promised to show me the only graffiti in the area! Ha-ha!

Grant poses with the Abbey Inn graffiti
Grant kindly poses with the Abbey Inn “graffiti”

Someone liked the green metal fixtures on the windows of the Abbey Inn and asked me for advice how I would incorporate them in urban portraits. Here’s a sequence of Kirsty’s photos against these decorative grates – I love her intense gaze!




I had a lot of fun teaching local photographers from North West Dumfries Photography Group. They were a friendly bunch and made me feel at ease with them from the very beginning. I hope that I could inject them with my passion for urban portrait photography and grateful to Kirstin who were very professional and generally brilliant at organising everything!

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