July 01, 2011 — How many times have you read about a young person who fell into photography by accident? “I started taking pictures just a few years back when my father handed me his old Pentax. I began by just taking casual snapshots of my dogs and things in my neighborhood; next I was photographing friends. I’d get them to pose for me in all sorts of crazy places,” photographer Pat Ramos says. As things ratcheted up, the progression usually led to the aspiring artisan going it solo or teaming with a pal who also enjoyed a view through the lens. The photographer would walk around the neighborhood with this older camera; the friend either shooting as well, or more often pretending to be a famous model dressed in the most ridiculous garb and makeup. Together, these two would spend hours taking pictures. At the end of day, they would dash home and start messing around with Photoshop.
So with a loose wave of approval from her semi-autobiographical recount above, student of photography Pat Ramos shares with me that this is indeed how she got started. Laughing, she then adds, “Neither of us had any clue what we were doing, and the pictures are just embarrassing to look back on now, but it sure was a lot of fun.”
But one look at the images produced by Ramos, the poise and grace exuded by her portraits, you’d be hard pressed to realize she is so new to the business. She’s found a signature look early into the game.
Taking It More Seriously
A San Jose, CA native, Ramos figured out how to use her first camera, a tiny Sony Cyber-shot, through trial and error. She eventually purchased a Nikon D70s and began pointing the lens to street and nature photography. It wasn’t until 2009 that she seriously started considering photography as a possible career.
“Right after I bought that new DSLR, my uncle gave me some of his old lenses, lenses that were not compatible with a digital camera, so the only way I could use them was to shoot in manual mode,” she says. Operating this way really forced her to learn how to use the camera properly instead of relying on automatic or semi-automatic modes. Ramos took a few photo classes in college, starting with black and white. “I wanted to learn how to develop and print with film. I loved working in the darkroom but it became so expensive and time consuming. I eventually decided to stick with digital.” She stacked on enough additional photography classes to earn a degree in fine art. “I think classes are great for learning the technical aspects of photography, but no one else can teach you how to find your own style and vision.”
Ramos enjoys photographing lifestyle, bridal, children and families as subject matter, but her favorite is definitely fashion. For her, this is where she’s most successful in telling a story and showing many different moods and emotions. “With fashion it’s less about capturing reality, and more about creating something entirely new and different. I love street photography and working with families, but I am so much more drawn to fashion.”
Dreamy, Soft Color
Taking a bit of inspiration from British Vogue fashion photographer Tim Walker, Ramos loves creating dreamy, romantic and emotional images in soft tones. She enjoys playing with natural light, allowing the rays to throw sun flares into the frame, strong contrasts of shadow and sun, or glowing halos around her subjects. Other times her illumination is diffused and subtle, offering next to no distinct shadow versus light demarcation line. Her fashion models are lushly feminine with strong makeup and hair that’s often long, tousled and in motion.
Ramos often uses an 85mm or 24–105mm with f/1.8 aperture to obtain those close-up looks with blurred backgrounds. She sometimes uses a Lensbaby for selective focus to get that soft look. These days she sports a Canon 5D Mark II, but will sometimes pull out a Nikon D80 with its own 50mm. Ramos frames to get as much of the look completed as possible in-camera, seldom cropping during retouch.
Ramos alludes that the starting point (aside from a great model) is to have a strong team to work with; this includes top makeup artists and hair stylists.
“We decided to shoot on the roof of the makeup artist’s apartment in San Jose. It was rather dark, overcast and windy, so I felt converting several of her photos to black and white was going to work best,” she shares. Ramos worked close to the model to gain tight focus, softening somewhat during post. “If I retouch, I will most often smooth out skin using Photoshop CS4. I let the images talk to me. Some looks will have contrast dialed down, some have selective tone enhancement. For this particular image I converted to black and white looking at a gradient map and adjusting curves somewhat.”
She adds, “Because the model is so young, I had next to no skin retouching to do. When perfecting skin my goal is always to make sure it doesn’t actually look heavily retouched (even when it is). It’s important to keep skin looking like a person’s real complexion, and not plastic. I do not do blurring or shortcuts.”
Developing and sticking to a signature look, theme or feel, often helps brand and give recall to a photographers’ work. For Ramos, she’s calling her use of side-by-side images as such.
Another signature element is a wish for her images to tell a narrative, making the viewer wonder what the story is. Paired, these sets are combined to further a mood, whether her client is a fashion or jewelry designer, private client or model. For the fashion side of an adjacent photo set, Ramos first created the dappled light image of model Allie Dubelko [pg. 94]. “It was late afternoon in the workroom of a peer. The light was streaming through an open window while we worked on this series of test shots.” Produced in August of last year, once retouched, a set of photo files was sent to the model’s agency.
Then on a photo trek a bit later with friends, Ramos visited the California gold mining ghost town of Bodie State Historic Park. She captured numerous images of both dry and barren landscape, its flowers, and images of desolate abandoned buildings. Peering through dusty old glass into the parlor of a ground level home, Ramos snapped a series of shots. “I used a higher ISO, around 400. It was an extremely bright day in August so shooting into the dark buildings offered a huge light differential. I was able to catch falling shadows and the lovely complementary tones in wood and decaying wallpaper. I ended up using various shots from that same room in several of my diptychs. I love the tones and frayed wallpaper.”
To build her diptychs, Ramos always starts by selecting the key image first—a portrait. She next searches for a second image that matches well. “I felt like the Bodie photo and shot with Allie went together well because the color tones are compatible, and the general emotion and vibe are harmonious. When pairing, I look for compatible mood/emotion and colors and lighting; then I view images side-by-side to see how well they match,” Ramos says.
For retouch, she says that the image colors are similar to start with, but she does make them a bit more closely matched using curves, color balance and selective color through Photoshop. “When it comes to hues, I try to get the images to look like they belong together naturally, instead of just looking completely random or out of place.” Ramos says her pairs are like building a story.
Elegance For A Career
A recent graduate, Ramos is new to full-time freelance work. For her fashion images she often works with local models and agencies that need portfolio development. She assembles a small creative team for this work. Since she’s just starting out, Ramos has learned about the value of building both rapport and a signature body of work.
To market this and her present work, Ramos has developed profiles on quite a few Web sites; the ones drawing the most traffic being her personal site, and Facebook. She owes much to word-of-mouth. “Lots of clients come to me because a friend offered recommendation or because they saw my work on a social media Web site.”
Ramos is looking forward to more creative collaboration in her new studio space, as well as building a brand and portfolio for her wedding work. And with synergy flying about in her new Oakland digs, she’s recently taken to making videos with her 5D Mark II. “I need a lot of practice, but I’d love to keep doing more in the future.”
View more of Pat Ramos’ work on her Web site www.patramos.com.
Martha Blanchfield is creator of the Renegade Photo Shoots and a freelance marketing and public relations consultant.