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Out of Darkness, Light



Liz Davenport achieves dramatic fine-art portraits with her Tamron 35mm F/1.4 prime lens.


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By Jenn Gidman
Images by Liz Davenport



Liz Davenport started taking pictures the way many of us did: in a junior high photography class, where students learned to develop their pictures in a darkroom. Many years down the road, Liz found herself behind the camera again, this time as a sports editor for a community newspaper. “We were charged with taking our own action shots to accompany our articles, and that led me to fall in love with photography again,” she says. Eventually, Liz had kids, and that’s when, like most photo-loving moms, “I really became interested in photographing the human experience,” she notes.

Today the Kansas City photographer creates fine-art portraits that require a sharp, fast lens, and she’s found her match in the Tamron SP 35mm F/1.4 Di USD lens. “Before I bought my Tamron, I was shooting with a much lesser-quality 35mm lens that was slow and didn't have the greatest focusing capabilities,” she says. “It was fine at the time, based on where I was in my photography journey. But once I started booking clients, I knew I had to upgrade to a lens that could keep up with active children and nail focus while still giving me the depth-of-field that I desired. The Tamron 35mm offered all of that, and the price point was just where I needed it to be.”

Although Liz doesn’t describe herself personally as being dramatic or moody, she concedes that she gravitates toward darker imagery. “I once wrote as my artist's statement: ‘I will stand in the pit of blackness to find the small, delicate ray that will pierce it,’” she says. “Basically, I love shooting dark because it shows the effect of the light.”

To achieve this style, Liz typically uses all-natural light, though she’ll experiment with more cinematographic and off-camera-flash during the off-season. “If I'm indoors, I’ll use window light and typically position my subjects right outside of the light fall, unless I want something with more drama,” she says. “I also love cave light, because it wraps my subjects in the most beautiful shadows. If I'm outdoors, I use the best light available, whether that's backlight, direct light, or open shade.”

That means choosing her backgrounds comes only after she knows the light is right. “Humans are my main subjects, so it doesn't matter if there’s a gorgeous mountain range in the background if my subjects are lit horribly,” Liz says. “If I really want to incorporate a particular background, then I’ll research when it will be in the right light and schedule the session from there.”

To evoke the most natural, relaxed expressions from her subjects, Liz lays it on the line right from the get-go. She notes, “I always start the shoot off by saying, ‘Listen, the first 10 to 15 minutes are going to feel super awkward. I'm nervous. More than likely you're nervous. It's OK to feel that way. But once we get to know each other a bit, we'll develop a rhythm and things will click.’ I think by giving them permission to feel awkward and reassuring them that it's completely normal, it helps them get out of their own heads. You can also usually tell within the first few clicks if you're going to be working with someone who needs more hand-holding or if they feel more comfortable opening up in front of a stranger.”

Liz enjoys the editing process and will spend ample time making adjustments—up to a point. “I'm not spending an hour on one photo, unless the client only wants a few images,” she says. “Right now, I deliver galleries with up to 80 images in them. I start editing in Lightroom and do the exposure, color, and tone curve adjustments there. Then I finish in Photoshop and tweak skin and details.”

Read on to see how Liz used the Tamron 35mm lens for a variety of recent portrait projects.

© Liz Davenport
35mm, F/2, 1/250th, ISO 320; model: @queenkyn
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I took this picture in Kansas City's Historic West Bottoms, under the 12th Street Bridge. The light was still pretty harsh at the time of the shoot, so we took cover in open shade. I wanted something emotive and had my assistant (aka my 9-year-old son) use a leaf blower on my subject’s hair. I loved how it ended up framing her eye.

© Liz Davenport
35mm, F/1.8, 1/640th, ISO 100
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© Liz Davenport
35mm, F/1.8, 1/500th, ISO 100
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© Liz Davenport
35mm, F/1.8, 1/500th, ISO 100
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In this series, my daughter and I were experimenting with the texture of tulle. I selected an ivory fabric so it appeared more delicate. She's facing the window in my garage and standing about a foot back from where the light meets shadow.

We also used a smoke machine to showcase the light's natural rays, and I wrapped the tulle around her waist as a skirt. In the second photo seen here, she posed this way naturally because I think she’d just about had it with the shoot and was getting a bit cranky.

In the final image, my daughter was playing with the smoke from the machine, and once I saw how beautiful it looked, I had her repeat the gesture until I caught it at just the right moment.

© Liz Davenport
35mm, F/2.2, 1/400th, ISO 250; model: @simonepatrice
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© Liz Davenport
35mm, F/2.2, 1/200th, ISO 200; model: @simonepatrice
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These two photos were also taken in my garage studio. There’s a window camera-left, and I had my subjects facing that way. In the first image, I wanted an authentic interaction between mother and daughter. In the second, I simply captured what the model gave me; I absolutely love her pose and expression here. I upped my shadows more than normal in this series because I didn't want to completely lose my subject's hair in the shadows.

© Liz Davenport
35mm, F/2.2, 1/500th, ISO 320; model: @bianca_models
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© Liz Davenport
35mm, F/2.2, 1/1000th, ISO 200; model: @bianca_models
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© Liz Davenport
35mm, F/2.2, 1/800th, ISO 320; model: @bianca_models
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I opted to take these three photos in a slow-moving river, because this was supposed to be an image-driven story about rebirth. I've always wanted to tell this story, and I had a good idea of what I wanted to capture going in. In the first two shots, my subject is facing the setting sun. In the third, she’s backlit.

To see more of Liz Davenport’s work, head to her website or check out her Instagram.






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