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Tag Archives: Portrait Photography
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.”
I’m sure a number of you reading this have a few stories you can tell about photography workshops. Some good, some not so good, some maybe a little embarrassing (Matt Gibson and Bryan Allen, if you’re reading this don’t say a word). A few months back a friend and former workshop participant called me while he was returning from another workshop. He called to tell me that he wanted to take my workshop again and that he appreciated how I did things. He didn’t appreciate the workshop he just attended, primarily because the instructor was not in a good mood. Then I recently took a workshop in which the instructor was incredibly nice, talented and accomplished, but lazy and very wasteful of our time, and there was a bit of a mismatch between how the workshop was pitched and my skill level. Back in October of 2009 I assisted a friend with his workshop and it was clear that all the participants thought it was an amazing experience.
And let’s not put it all on the instructor’s shoulders. Have you done everything in advance of the workshop to make it a great experience? Here are 5 issues that I think are very important in considering your next (first??) workshop (and I’m sure there are more you can share in the comments section):
1) Does the instructor have a good reputation as a teacher? If you haven’t heard it before, hear it now. A very well known and talented photographer does not necessarily translate into a great workshop instructor. Educating, inspiring, and motivating individuals organized into a group is a special talent. A GREAT workshop leader will create multiple opportunities for you to learn, practice and reflect on the process, seeing and drawing out into the open your strengths and weaknesses.
2) Does the instructor spend time shooting for him/herself? Not everyone is bothered as much by this behavior as I am, but it really sends a message about the instructor’s intent and concern for your experience. In a landscape workshop, for example, if I’m shooting for myself then I can’t be giving you any attention, assistance or support. In a portrait workshop, I may need to shoot to illustrate a teaching point. In any event, don’t be afraid to ask the instructors if, as a matter of practice, they will shoot for their own portfolio during the workshop and decide for yourself how you feel about it. You pay a lot for workshops – you deserve a lot in return.
3) Does the instructor’s personal or professional work and vision inspire you? This issue helps you decide if there is something you can learn from the instructor. Its easy to image that the more advanced you are, the fewer people are out there who can actually teach you something new. The instructor’s vision and talented will most likely be reflected and shared throughout the workshop experience. This is far from a deal killer for any particular workshop, but its important to consider on your own workshop journey.
4) Have you considered what you want from a workshop? Here is a laundry list of things you MIGHT want from a workshop: building/improving upon your eye for the subject matter, new field techniques, basic and creative technical skills in post-processing, building your confidence and inspiration with a new subject, networking, exposure to a new subject (ie. the north shore of Lake Superior or Fashion Photography), or maybe you just want a fun vacation. The list could go on and not every workshop and workshop leader is going to provide a one-stop experience for you, but at least you can begin thinking about what you want from your experience and set priorities that fit with a workshop.
5) Are you prepared to receive it? This may be as important a factor as the instructor - and maybe more so. Its critical to do the following things, if possible: get plenty of rest ahead of and during a workshop. The better instructors will push you mentally and physically (within reason I hope) and rest will allow you to absorb the maximum from the experience. Also, have your equipment ready. Is your computer and software ready to handle the raw files your new camera produce’s? Do you know HOW to use your camera or have your owner’s manual close at hand? Do you have the ability to bring backup camera/computer equipment? Have you double checked with the instructor about equipment, computer and software requirements of for the workshop? Things are tight and its tempting to skimp on critical items to save a few bucks. Budget and save for your next workshop so you can be as prepared for the experience as possible.
No doubt we can add to this list. Feel free to do so in the comments section of the post. If you’re looking for a workshop on location portrait photography, then I urge you to consider:
Bryan Allen Photography – a premier educator and amazing photography talent.
Today’s images are of Markus, former student, good friend and brilliant engineer. I can’t say exactly why I wanted to photograph Markus. I didn’t think about it much going into the shoot other than I wanted to photograph him. Instinct, perhaps something else. Maybe the same reason I want to photograph another friend, Dejen (happening soon).
But I think I’ve figured it out…figured it out watching my assistant’s 11 month old daughter at the shoot. Its about a State of Play.
Markus, like Kelly Jackson, like Mason Thelen, Chunk Densinger, Michael Gorman, Jordan Nelson and others I’ve photographed, has a certain sense openness. He was not only willing to be playful, silly, fanciful in front of the camera, he pushed it along with me. In other words, he acted like a child playing for the sake of play. I’m not suggesting that every portrait subject has to sit in a Speedo and let me poor water on his head, but Markus had no worries about this happening and in true engineer fashion even solved a number of our technical issues. As a photographer I’m drawn to this and want to shoot in this manner more and more often; to capture a sense of joy, state of play in my subjects that is genuine to them.
Hope you enjoy the images.
I also want to thank all of you for another successful year with the blog. THANK YOU for being here, for your comments and support. Happy Holidays to you and your families.
The timing of this article, Shooting with Available Light, could not be more perfect and I think the author makes some excellent points. I was on a trainwreck of a natural light shoot just a few days ago, photographing in hard early afternoon light. I started with a strobe…ok, fine, but a bit stifling on creativity. Moved to on camera flash, but very difficult to manage in that bright a light, and finished with a scrim and flash. What I wanted the entire time was JUST A SCRIM AND REFLECTOR, but there was only me. Moral of the story, shooting natural light is fantastic with a few modifiers, but its best to have one, if not two, assistants to work with those modifiers