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Category Archives: People
In my last portrait post I featured some images of Martha McCarthy, co founder of the Social Lights Digital Marketing Agency. Today’s post features her business partner, Emily Pritchard. I’m presenting a start to finish description of my workflow in this post, but suffice it to say that this was one of the more technical shoots I’ve attempted – and boy did I learn a few things. I hope you find the description useful. Additionally, you can watch a fun little behind – the – scene video from the shoot.
Workflow – Start to Finish
1. Selecting concept – Many of my portrait shoots starts with a strong concept. In this case we’re working with the idea of Alter Ego, but that wasn’t enough information. What personalities are going to be portrayed? How will they relate to contemporary communication behavior? This is, after all, a Social Media marketing company. I received from Emily a loose description of what she wanted, but it needed work. I created a set of characters that aided in a better understanding of the shoot for everyone involved:
Snooky (Jersey Shore) – the quintessential party socialite, relying heavily on text and Facebook to communicate. Lord knows she can’t use the spoken word very well;
Suzy Orman – Power business woman multi-tasking machine. Speaking, phone, iPad simultaneously;
Bartender – Some of the best communicators in society, they still do it with spoken word and body language;
Angelina and Brad – Angelia just caught Brad getting naughty texts from Snooky across the bar. Hehehehehehe
2. Selecting Location – This shot was much more complicated for a variety of reasons, including shooting on location. In this case we wanted a bar setting to best capture “social,” but finding the right bar was very difficult. We wanted modern and stylish and we were restricted to working on a Saturday. Most bar/restaurants open for lunch and we just couldn’t squeeze it in around their schedules. Some just don’t want to mess around with it. You also should have insurance for this kind of activity (which I do). Furthermore, shooting this kind of project on location is very different than a studio. In the studio I’m lighting everything. On location this just isn’t feasible for me. The production of it is much too big and expensive. This can create a wide range of post production issues. Joel Grimes, and well known portrait guy, shoots his subjects on a white background in the studio and pastes them into a scene. This requires great insight and skill to pull off well and solves a bunch of lighting issues. It becomes a great exercise in Photoshop. So does my approach, only complicated by the differences in where light falls and when- and getting a clean paste.
3. The Shoot: Staging - once on location I needed to use all three assistants and Emily to seat at the bar, just so I could establish a camera position and anticipate possible issues. The biggest staging issues was to anticipate hand and body gestures and the physical space in which they occur. I didn’t want a hand gesture from one character interfering with the face of another and in some cases, creating insurmountable post production problems. Also, once the shoot starts things need to stay put. Not just the camera/tripod, but the chairs, props, etc.
4. The Shoot: Lights – I used two strobe lights. My key light was a beauty dish and my accent light was a medium rectangular soft box. You can get a sense of the setup from the video.
5. Post Production: Creating the Master File – The first thing I had to do was play with the process. I started layering images, anticipating issues, layer in a different order, etc. There is some intuitiveness to this, in so much as starting from Angelina forward to Snooky, because of how body parts might overlap. But I also shot several frames with no one in them to capture light everywhere in the scene and bring that in as needed. So, its a little complicated. And messy. And time consuming (hence only 2 finished versions so far). The hard work is in masking. I get right down to the pixel level and mask along necessary edges and merges to create as clean and realistic feel as my patience will allow. I save this file with layers as a master file. If there is a mistake or something is missed, I definitely want to come back to this point. This file, with layers, is over 730 mb. Yep, that’s right. A biggie. You better have a lot of RAM if you’re going to try this.
6. Post Production: The Secret Sauce – well, I can’t give everything away, now can I? Suffice it to say I like contrast and edginess, but I don’t use commercial filters to do this. I have my own very small set of easy to use tools, all of which I discovered just playing around. One hint though: “blending modes and opacity.”
Welcome to today’s post. We’re going to take a bit of a different direction today. As many of you know, I shoot both fine art landscapes and portrait work and today’s portrait images were inspired by celebrity photographer Derek Blanks. Derek pioneered the concept of Alter Ego in photography – capturing an individual’s distinctly different identities in one single image. Brilliant! I love Derek’s work with this concept and wanted to play with it myself. Then the opportunity to work with a fast-rising start up social media marketing company, The Social Lights, was presented to me and we discussed the possibility of working with the Alter Ego concept.
Martha, a co-founder of The Social Lights, gave me some descriptions of herself as a working business professional, but also gave me some thoughts on her love of Vintage and the TV show Mad Men. So, we went with it…building two Alter Ego’s around the modern day business woman and the vintage woman, representing the modes of communication of the times.
Lighting is easy, but its also difficult. Its easy to get your lights to do what you want, its difficult to know what you want. Having worked with studio lighting for a few years now, I could see in my mind the “look.” With that image in mind, I went through the following process to establish the final lighting diagram you see below.
Step 1. Establish Key Light – the beauty dish is my key light and once I was happy the amount and positioning of light falling on Martha, I was ready to move on;
Step 2. Establish Fill Lights – the umbrellas are my fill lights. They have the job of bringing the rest of the scene, along with heavy shadows on Martha, back up to a level that made sense for me;
Step 3. Establish Hair/Rim Light – Now I was ready to set up a Hair Light. For this I used a large softbox. Why? I had a spot grid but it produced a harder light than I wanted for this shot. So, all I had on location with me was a large rectangular softbox. It cast a broad, very soft and subtle accent. Perfect;
Step 4. Background Light – This was not immediately obvious. While looking at the test shots I had a feeling that something was missing. The background light was it. Right behind the couch, dead center. It creates that added sense of drama and dimension.
Today’s post arises out of the strong interest to create portrait photography of people I find personally compelling, but to shoot them in a place that represents, to a greater extent, their story. I’m after the story in a very few, but meaningful, words and still images. This is certainly not a fashion shoot and hopefully less contrived than an editorial shoot. A few of you in my readership know the subject personally and/or professionally, and many of you have never heard of him or his accomplishments. In any event, I’d love for you to post your reaction to the words, the images or both. And of course I’m happy to answer any questions regarding technique.
Background: Subject of the shoot was Dan Hanlon, an entrepreneur that has founded several businesses including Excelsior – Henderson Motorcycle. The story of EH is well documented in the press and I’ll leave it to you to research it, but he did raise about $100 million to bring to market a heavy weight cruiser motorcycle and compete directly against Harley Davidson. I’ve known Dan for a decade, well outside the EH experience, and am aware of his vast entrepreneurial career. I am drawn to what I affectionately refer to as his “Danness;” the idea of Dan, his energy, drive, value systems, his DNA, or more conventionally, the stuff that makes him tick. With the help of my good friend and entrepreneur, John Benzick (Risk, Stumble, Stand), we photographed and interviewed Dan for 2 hours in a small barn on the dairy farm in Belle Plaine, MN where Dan grew up. John was still talking with Dan while I was breaking down my gear when Dan made reference to a quote by Shakespeare. A friend of Dan’s would use this quote to describe him. It was these last words and the images I chose that, for me at least, capture his Danness.
“Some men never seem to grow old. Always active in thought, always ready to adopt new ideas,
they are never chargeable with foggyism.
Satisfied, yet ever dissatisfied, settled, yet ever unsettled, they always enjoy the best of what is, are the first to find
the best of what will be.”
technical details: Canon 5D MkII, Canon 24-70mm, ISO200, f/10, 1/100sec, tripod, 3 alien bees strobes (see lighting diagram below)
In a recent post I wrote about resetting my north star, with a focus on “intimate relationships.” My very first project in that direction was with Tommy Becker, a recently graduated senior from St. Thomas. Tommy majored in Entrepreneurship and took my capstone class this past semester. Tommy lead Wayzata High School football to a state championship in 2005, as a linebacker. He then went to UMN on scholarship and finally (and fortunately) settled at UST. In his first year at UST he wracked up 71 tackles and was picked for the all MIAC team. In the North Star post I wrote about focus, meaning, direction, determination. He spoke to me several times about his unwavering belief that he’ll get to play in the NFL and he speaks in a way that leaves no doubt in your mind that it will happen. I dig this. This kind of drive and determination made Tommy a great photography subject. Keep an eye on Tommy – he has a track record for accomplishing his goals. The Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote an article (click HERE) on Tommy last fall that gives you a good idea of who he is as a football player and individual.
We shot a number of variations. I was shooting off my tripod for some technical reasons, so choosing camera position was critical. Then I interviewed Tommy while snapping the shutter and got some great moments, but this is one of my favorites. I used three lights, set up in the UST football locker room – see lighting diagram. I was very pleased with the light effect I got with having my rim lights just off the edge of the camera’s perspective. I chose a beauty dish with spot grid for my key light – I strongly prefer the subtle shadowing the beauty dish provides for portraits. The beauty dish was positioned directly behind my camera and just above it.
Super fun studio shoot with Noah and Megan. They wanted a very different maternity shoot, non-traditional and they got it. We did a three image series built around the experiences of pregnancy, day of birth and week after giving birth. It was a great evening with these guys, laughing, shooting and just being silly. This is the first in the series – Pregnancy.
The lighting on this image was pretty straight forward. For my key light I used an Alien Bees 800 on a boom arm with a 40 inch rectangular light box center high. Both camera – left and right I have an Alien Bees 400 each equipped with umbrella as fill light.
Technical Details: Studio White Background, Alien Bees 800, Medium Rectangular softbox, Pocket Wizard remotes, f/7.1, ISO100, 1/160 sec shutter speed, Canon 5D MkII, Canon 24-70mm
Hi Gang, I want to share an image I shot over the weekend and discuss some of the technique use in it and the images in my previous post. “Why Are They Surfing Lake Superior?” Let’s start with that one by mentioning the photographers currently inspiring/influencing my personal work. One is Joel Grimes (my cousin KC turned me on to him) – Joel’s work blows me away. Another is the work of Eric Curry, who I’ve mentioned previously. I’m beginning to play with their techniques as a fresh start to 2011 photography season.
Next I want to share a quote my friend Megan sent to me, read by her daughter from Jim Henson’s Doodle Dreams book. “An artist gives people back a part of themselves – the stories and sounds, the feeling of what it’s like to be alive. That’s a pretty powerful gift.” Its just a beautiful quote I wanted to share with others.
In the Lake Superior portraits I used one light, my speedlight with a softbox on a light stand, above and right behind me. My intention was to use a three strobe setup, but upon arriving I found out that my power converter wouldn’t handle it. No worries, I had my alien bees battery pack as a backup. Well, I thought it was charging the entire drive up, but it was dead. So, #3 backup was the single speedlight I was fortunate enough to have with me.
I first shot my portraits with the light, then had John the surfer step out of the scene and shot a series of 3 images for HDR processes. In post production I first produced the background using the Photomatix HDR engine, then I brought the frame with John back in and masked him into the image. In both images of John I used a series of Photoshop processes, including Selective Color layers pulling back the brightness on reds and yellows, as well as a mix of gradient maps and high pass filtering to get my own gritty look.
In today’s image it was much more complicated. Tommy, the subject, is an amazing talent. He’s a musician, but he’s also incredibly inventive and creative. The remote control car at his hands was built by stripping down parts from three other cars and building what he wanted. He knows more about a race car than a NASCAR crew chief. I wanted to photograph him in his boycave, where his work gets done. It doesn’t stop with cars, though. He builds extremely large, intricate Star Wars cruisers, in the background is a solar oven he built as a class project (it basically got much hotter much faster than any other), and like many young men, he digs riding his skateboard and snowboard. While building his creations he watches “Top Gear” on TV.
The space was staged and then I brought in my strobes. Two accent/rim lights and a key light immediately camera left. Then the lights were removed and I shot a series of 3 images with all the room lights on, for HDR production (Photomatix Exposure Fusion engine). After that, both Tommy and I started painting with light. We used a fluorescent work lamp from Home Depot wrapped in blue gel for the star wars ships. I used a spot light for the car at his hands, as well as across the floor, the stack of tires, the small helicopter lower left, etc. Then on the lower left space ship Tommy put a flashlight down inside to get the warm glow in the control deck. All in all, I layered together 25 frames to compose the single final image. I’ve included a few of the layer images for reference. The first is the HDR image, then a couple of frames painted with light.
Are these guys nuts – these people who surf Lake Superior during late fall/winter/early spring during big storms. Why do they do this? I haven’t got a clear answer to why any particular person surfs Lake Superior, but I have no doubt it may be difficult to articulate. There is a very real sense of why, just difficult to articulate.
I was recently asked to judge a photography club competition. On my drive to the club meeting to present my judging results a thought occurred to me. I realized I like judging – working with an audience, talking about photography, sharing some insights or experiences, meeting new people – but don’t like being a judge. The ranking, sorting, “this one is better than that one.” I found it odd, given my professional history, that I would be so uncomfortable with this part of the judging process. It took me a while to sort it out, but I settled on this one simple notion that we all learned as small children; beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
As a photographer that has presented his images to many strangers and friends alike through this blog, I’ve had the beholder lesson reaffirmed many times over. Some responses to my work really hurt and some responses were amazingly kind and generous. All of it was true and all of it has me less concerned with WHAT (external judgment of good/bad, creative/dull) of my photography and more focused on the WHY (internal motivation and approach) of it.
Sharing our photography, like many endeavors artistic or otherwise, takes a great deal of courage. We tend to think of our photography as a reflection of the sum total of us because its a product of our energy. I see this in photographers, in musicians, in entrepreneurs and in parents. Its natural to feel this way. We put significant energy into these things and at some point we all want validation that the outcome was somehow worth the effort. We want our artistic work to be praised, our businesses to be successful and our children to be happy and secure. The EGO really needs this, but we shouldn’t boil our sense of self down to any one single event or image, or painting, or song or business. I contend that WHAT we produce says relatively little about us and WHY we produce it says relatively more about us. Just like the surfers on Lake Superior. Yes, they are surfing – the WHAT – but the motivation behind – the WHY – says more about the individual than the sheer act of courage and insanity to actually do it. The WHAT is easy to focus on – it hits our five senses – but the WHY is very difficult to observe. Each of us has to go out of our way to find the WHY.
The WHY aspect of our work was articulated by Simon Sinek in a recent TED talk. 18 minutes of your life well-spent watching this talk. Click HERE to watch video at TED.com
Which all leads us back to today’s images of my good friend John Benzik who regularly surfs Lake Superior. We here in MN had a classic early spring snowstorm this week that created some great surf on the Lake Superior. On short notice I grabbed my gear, my good friend Sam Sherf, and we all headed north to catch one remaining hour of daylight to photograph a Lake Superior surfer. Why? I think I’ve answered it for myself, but I’m curious to know your WHY with photography.