Making a rough male portrait - in studio with Wallu Valpio

I've had this idea of a "not pretty" portrait for some time. Last week I wrote about making a photo series to Mika Ikonen for his new single release. This photoshoot was going to be something else.

As I collected the mood board in Pinterest, I got the idea of a smoking man. Not trendy, not good role model, but just right for this photo I had in mind. Also I wanted to leave a lot in the dark. Almost as if more of the photo was beyond what the light would bring to our eyes.

The mood board for this photoshoot.

The mood board for this photoshoot.

As I went through models for this photoshoot in my mind, I quite quickly came up with Mr. Wallu Valpio that I had met previosly at VÄKIVALLANKUMOUSIn my opinion he's got the kind of rough charisma that I wanted in this photo series. With a quick google image search I also noticed that he had no trouble showing his tattoos, which suited this photoshoot perfectly!

I contacted Mr. Valpio via Facebook asking if he'd like to be the model for a rough portrait. His first answer was "Yes" and then he asked, if it was going to be a photo or a painting. I promised that the final product would be a lot more kind to him if it wasn't a painting. So we agreed on a photoshoot at my studio

As it was our first meeting at the studio, we sat down in the upstairs coffee shop/lounge and had a little chat getting to know each other before going downstairs to the studio. It was a typically grey Finnish day, so we got to talk about the pathetic weather. Wallu told me about his flat in Turkey and I have to admit, the thought of a warm summer breeze and sunlight sounded very tempting. 

Wallu showed me some of his tattoos and told me the last one (The Dance of Death) had never been photographed before. 

We looked at the Pinterest board and had some final talk about what we're trying to accomplish. The good news was that Wallu had an electric cigarette looking a bit like a real one with him. The bad news was that the cartridge was empty, so we couldn't get any smoke. (I added some smoke to one of the photos in the post production.)

However, we got to the studio and Wallu was really comfortable in front of the camera. He mentioned that he really liked the way of photographing where he didn't need to "pose" for the camera, but instead he got to be as he felt natural. Finally we got a series of photos that both Wallu and myself were really happy with.

Here's a collection from that series.

Wallu Valpio at the Felt Fotografi studio.

Wallu Valpio at the Felt Fotografi studio.

The Difference that a Cup of Coffee Makes.

For me it’s always been the person I’m photographing. Not the photograph itself. I know there’s a bunch of technical stuff I need to master in order to make a great photo. But the content in the picture, that’s what really makes it.

”Smile is just an expression”.

It’s something I overheard as a joke when I was spending time with my colleagues. As cynical as it may sound, it’s true. In most cases a smile makes a person more beautiful. But the beauty of a smile is in the content it has. If you get a smile - a real one that is - from a person, it gives you a signal that you’re on the right track. If you get a smile from a person you find attractive, it explodes the little fireworks in your stomach. If you get a smile from a person you’re trying to impress, it’s a sign of acceptance. Whenever I get a smile from my daughter, I feel ”there’s a reason why” (a quote from Europe: New Love in Town).

Oh, and we all know a fake smile when we see one. There’s nothing beautiful in that.

I don’t necessarily want to capture the ”obviously beautiful” moment. There’s so much in the delicate little expressions that anyone does, when they’re simply being themselves. There’s so much beauty in everything anyone does or is.

The challenge being a photographer is to see those ”real” moments. A lot of times there’s no way of telling if the expressions are real or if they’re something that comes out just because of the camera. 

Time is the enemy.

If I’m given 30 minutes to take a photo of someone, there’s a good chance it’ll be a ”technical portrait”. Nice lighting, a look into the camera. Who knows, may be we even manage to get an expression that ”looks like the person”. But there’s no way of telling. That’s why I prefer spending at least an hour making a simple portrait of a person. It includes a cup of coffee (we make a killer coffee at our studio btw, it’s freshly roasted and I know how to brew it!) and a lot of chatting. The objective is to get to know each other even just a bit. In order to know what’s real.

Me & my cameras at 22-Pistepirkko’s studio

Last week I got a chance to hang around with my cameras at 22-Pistepirkko’s studio while they’re working on their new album. The original idea was to take a portrait of Asko, but on top of that I ended up taking a lot of documentary photos during the day. What I love about musicians is that once they get to be with their instrument they relax. And that’s when you get the good shots. Oh, and we did start this photoshoot with a pot of coffee I made. I took a small bag of fresh coffee with me.

We got some nice look-into-the-camera-portraits, but for me in this case, the beauty was in the moments when ”the spotlights were turned off”.

What do you think?

Lari Järnefelt is near 40-year-old photographer based in Helsinki, Finland. His emphasis is on photographing portraits - both traditional and non-traditional - but anything that makes an image is a challenge he likes. Contact for more information, rates and schedule.