While reviewing the capabilities of my new Samsung s21 Ultra, I had noted with much interest in their ‘Portrait’ mode, which if I understood correctly allowed the photographer to “Adjust the background of your shots for portrait photos.” Not sure what those adjustments were as I noted in the last article about the s21U manual, it is extremely thin on how to make ANY adjustments for any of the modes. Thus a great opportunity to practice my experiment/play process.
My idea was if this Portrait mode allowed me to adjust the background, this might be a creative tool for my Memory Pods series. I have noted in the past that due to the camera phone sensor design, these had a large depth of field and frequently capturing background textures that seemed distracting. So if the background textures and details could be ‘controlled’, that could be a big advantage to work with.
When clicking into the s21U Portrait mode (follow the ‘more’ button), there are a few options. At the top of the display is a helpful message: “Stay within 3 – 5 feet of subject”, assuming that is the focal length distance that is built into how the various features are programed. The basic photo framing choice are the wide-angle, normal angle and the close up. Another set of options are accessed by clicking a circle in the lower right of the screen. There are another six options; Blur, Studio (not sure what this controls), High-key Mono (a high contrast black and white ), Low-key mono (a low contrast black and white), Backdrop (with on screen message: Position face in circle”), and Color Point (center is in color with a black and white vignette). Each of these options also have a slider to control the effect. Even after the image capture, there are some post-processing options.
So what happened with my Memory Pods ‘portrait’? What is programmed into the Portrait function was not designed for complex objects, but for some one who takes up a specific mass and space, such as someone’s head. duh. To get an idea of what I mean, look at the blow-up of the photograph below. The ‘background’ values are masked over the subject and the camera’s program could not handle the intricacies of something as complex as a botanical object with various white spaces, gaps, segments and lines. I circled but a few, since just about every part of my subject was not masked completely, evenly or consistently. And the effect looks random and I am unsure how to control this aspect. Okay, Portrait mode was obviously not meant for botanicals or other complex objects.
As a botanist trying to accurately depict my subject, I would be going absolutely crazy. As an artist, I can lean into the chance and serendipity of the results as a cool aspect of the application of this camera mode. The full image is above and from a distance, the breaks and uneven application is not as discernible. Maybe this effect creates even more mystery and a subtle abstraction, which is absolutely fine with me. The whole reason for my experiment/play process; what happens when you do something you were not suppose to do.
Oh, I need to add that the background was sufficiently modified so that my botanical subject stood out very nicely. So in that respect, this Portrait mode works mighty fine. As an artist, I can appreciate a contrary application of this feature and I might use my experiment/play process with this a bit more. Kinda get excited about next years spring growth cycle of my Memory Pods!
Developing a Creative Photo Book, a virtual (Zoom) workshop I will be leading again in conjunction with Medium Photo, September 11th, 12th, 18th, & 19th. More details and sign-up available now at Medium Photo.