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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.
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
“There are some people looking to play the guitar. There’s other people looking for a sound. I was looking for a sound…”. Keith Richards, from his biography, “Life.“ This quote really struck me as I was in the process of thinking about this post. I’ve been grappling with the idea of finding my voice in photography, and I don’t think I’ve found one yet. That feels like a question for others to answer. At the same time I wonder if it matters?. Maybe a better question is to ask when does it matter? I’ve reached out to a few artists in pursuit of a perspective to share on this issue. Here is what the early, and maybe predictable responses, are:
1) “If I develop a style, I’ve stopped evolving.” Christian S., founder of the band Catchpenny;
2) “I shoot all over the map. I hope that never stops.” Martin B., photographer;
3) “You need to have a unique voice in your work.” Debra W., Creative Consultant to the advertising industry;
I can remember a moment in a photo workshop, early in my workshop process, a teacher challenging us to “examine what it is you want to say in your photography.” At the time I thought, “I have no bloody idea. I’ve already failed. I just like taking pictures, pretty pictures, fun pictures. Landscape pictures. Isn’t that enough?” It was frustrating? No one talked about the what where when how or why of finding my voice. It was just asserted that I must find one. This caused problems for both hemisphere’s of my brain. The right just wants to create within the moment, damn the idea of what I want to say (which may or may not be coming through) and the left brain says, “wait a moment, you must shoot this to your style.”
Then came an evening recently when the image above was shot. I’ve decided to do a lot of experimenting with my studio/portrait photography and dragged my friend John into the studio to experiment with some unusual lighting conditions. The experiment quickly failed and I became a little frustrated. John was great and helped talk through what it was I didn’t like. What I didn’t like was that I kept wanting to run from the experimental conditions right back to what I knew. My style, my voice, my look in the studio. There was quite a little battle taking place in me. An important battle.
So, the rhetorical questions I’m still struggling with:
1) Am I taking pictures or creating a sound, a voice?
2) Is it important to have a voice and if so, where when and why?
3) How do I manage the struggle to fall back on what I know how to do, what’s comfortable, what I shot a hundred times before vs. trying something truly new to me? There are real costs associated with failed experiments.
I’d love to hear from you on these questions – as they relate to your own photographic process, your life process, your entrepreneurial process.
About the image: John is a part of a small, brave group of souls who surf Lake Superior during the late fall, winter and early spring storms. By most accounts, totally insane. We wanted to capture a look – a feel consistent with the idea and I was inspired by some lighting I saw recently that I thought would be a great fit for the mood. It quickly failed in my eyes and we decided to finish on some more conventional approaches, just to keep productive. The final look of the image is my own secret sauce of editing, not a photoshop/lightroom plugin – no “auto awesome” button here. (Quoting a good man, Markus Mangold).
Today’s series of images was with my client, Mary Jane. She is my favorite type of client because her only objective was to have fun and document this moment in her life. One of her defining characteristics is a love of flowers. She has her own side business designing floral arrangements and her favorite flower is the, umm, whatever is in these photos. I forget. So, a flower theme was part of our shoot and I want to share some of those images. You are now familiar with the panoramic format on white I’ve been using lately and have some ideas of where it might go, but I am generally enjoying this finished look. Mary Jane and I then went a little astray and decided to try some painting with light. I taped to her finger tips some small LED lights I got from Radio Shack, along with these little flat batteries, and went to work experimenting and playing. I’ve included two of those images as well.
Tomorrow night, Friday April 23rd, is the opening reception from 7-10pm at the Minneapolis Photo Center. Click here for Google Map. I have one image from Duluth Harbor on display. Please come join me for an evening of viewing great landscape photography.
What does it mean to find your voice in an endeavor, be it artistic, business, personal? I’d like to hear your thoughts on this.
Today’s images are of Christian and Diesel shot in the studio and I want to use them as a setting for some photography issues that have emerged lately. In a recent post/shoot, I used a white background and produced the images in a panoramic format, 2.5 to 1 ratio, to be exact. I was experimenting with space and subject, and white space in particular. This came out of a very important push from a high paid consultant to “find my own voice.” So, the Space post was about just that. Working with a portrait subject in a way that isolated an existence, attitude or energy into some simple elements.
This most recent shoot represents an evolution of sorts. After the Space post, my good friend Miriam (amazing painter and graphic designer) suggested I read a book titled, “Geometry of Design: Studies in proportion and design” by Kimberly Elam. The book is about the golden mean which many photographers understand and apply, but extends the idea of proportion in design much further than PHOTOGRAPHERS tend to consider these days. So, after going through the book I found that there was a proportion of design I felt drawn to: the panoramic in a 2.23 to 1 proportion. This is the square root of 5 and has stronger aesthetic qualities than the 2.5 to 1 ratio. Small evolution, but evolution nonetheless.
While photographing Christian and Diesel I asked Christian, “As a musician, have you found your voice yet?” He replied quickly (and I paraphrase here), “No. I’m always evolving as a musician.” It has me considering an number of the entrepreneurs I know. I don’t think any of them are known for just one thing, like a particular industry expertise. As I consider them, what occurs to me is that they honor their voice by moving forward, changing, adapting and creating. Its never about the singular idea; its seems more about the process that’s true to them. One of my biggest influences in photography, Jill Greenberg, is known for a look, but every time I visit her site she has a NEW idea she is working on and I can tell some get dropped and others move forward. She is constantly evolving.
Enough said. On to the images.
This series of images was produced around an interpretation of the concept of space. This is Dejen, a very accomplished jazz saxophonist, and we discussed the use of space in music which led to this production style.
“Miles Davis, Randy Weston, Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, and Gary Peacock all cite (Ahmad) Jamal as a major influence in use of rhythm and space as well as his innovative use of multi-tonal melodic lines and his unique extended ‘vamps’.” Wikipedia
The use of temporal space, as in fewer notes can create more feeling, is one way to interpret space in music. Along with the concept of temporal space, I wanted to work in a way that isolates a subject to its basic premise and the use of excessive physical space allowed me a way to interpret Dejen. I’ve included some music Dejen played during our photo shoot.
In my last post I spoke about how the fashion workshop helped me realize I didn’t want to shoot fashion. Ok. Fine, but that doesn’t mean that any of us should shy away from knowledge, experience or a chance to build our technical ability just because the subject doesn’t necessarily interest us. I’m really glad I took the workshop and had the opportunity to shoot in a big, professional studio, work with professional/talented models and develop a better sense of what F&B photography is and isn’t. I also learned how to better use my studio equipment in different settings, beyond F&B work. For the photogs that follow this blog I encourage you to experiment with all forms of photography, to challenge yourself, build your understanding and appreciation of them.
These cumulative experiences WILL influence your work and this makes them very valuable. With that being said, here are a few images from the workshop:
Last Saturday was a great day; It was one of the few fashion shoots I attempt and despite all the controversy and criticism surrounding fashion photography, it still feels like the most difficult work I’ve attempted and some of the greatest fun. Maybe the fun had less to do with it being a fashion shoot and more to do with the day, the people, the energy of the shoot.
I’ve heard two commercial fashion photographers speak recently about the importance of the right team in having a successful shoot. I have a pretty good sense of what that means and there certainly is more control over picking your team when you’re paying them to work. When you’re asking everyone to work for free, well hell, you kinda take what you get, right? I must be blessed, though. My “take what I can get” team was amazing.
Elmira Lilic – The Model: A successful model and international finance expert with Wells Fargo Bank. She and I had communicated via Facebook and finally met face to face to work out the shoot. Immediately I felt a good vibe, not only with her, but with her boyfriend Kelvin. Elmira had total buy in to the shoot, literally. She came armed with $3000 worth of clothes and accessories for the shoot (I hope she didn’t loose any receipts:)) which gave us a great deal of flexibility.
Kelvin – The boyfriend: Professor, jazz pianist and all around great guy. He came to the shoot and provided some wonderful live jazz piano (there is a piano in my studio) while we worked. He was also kind enough to get the team coffee and some cake.
Chet and Amy – The Assistants: Using the word “assistants” is a little insulting, insomuch as they are both great photogs in their own right and generous to a fault. I can tell you that the shoot would not have happened without them, their attitude and natural abilities.
Oskar Ly – professional makeup and hair: Seriously, some of you have been on shoots of mine with really unprofessioinal professionals. Oskar was the antithesis. Amazing work, great energy and personality and very generous with her time.
So the team was really really strong and the only weak link was the photog….I mean this with all sincerity and I’m not fishing for anything here. This type of photography is very difficult to do well, at least in the way I define success. I pretty much missed most of my goals for the shoot and became painfully aware of how I naturally work in these situations. I learned a great deal from it and have a greater appreciation of the folks who do it well. I’ll be taking a two day fashion photography workshop this February in Los Angeles. I now have a long list of questions for the instructor!!!!!
So on with the images. I hope you enjoy them. Remember you can click on any image to see a larger version.