Category Archives: Portraiture

The Best Compliment Yet

The retouching in this photo of Gloria Steinem and Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider is more heavy-handed than the technique I use now. Unfortunately, I cannot yet show you the technique I'm using now, because it's all work-for-hire and not mine to share.

The retouching in this photo of Gloria Steinem and Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider is more heavy-handed than the technique I use now. Unfortunately, I cannot yet show you the technique I’m using now, because it’s all work-for-hire and not mine to share.

I’ve been shooting donor/subscriber receptions for a non-profit arts program. During a break in the action at a recent event, my contact at the organization praised my work, saying that everyone in her office was impressed by my shots. That was a lovely compliment, but it’s not the one I want to brag about here.

No, that came a little later, when in the course of conversation one of her coworkers noted that their patrons look very good in my images. I explained, “I retouch every photo.”

My contact was shocked to hear this. And her surprise is the greatest compliment my work has received.

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Filed under Portraiture, Post Processing

The New Chordettes in the Studio, 4.5 Years Later

My own comfort and confidence behind the camera influenced their comfort and confidence in front of the camera.

My own comfort and confidence behind the camera influenced their comfort and confidence in front of the camera.

Four and one half years ago, I photographed The New Chordates in my home studio. I was somewhat new to studio lighting at the time, but the results were pretty good and even graced two CD covers.

Last month I got a do-over, and I’m pleased to see that I learned something about lighting and posing over the last few years. Of course, it never hurts to have a group of beautiful women posing for you…

New Chordettes-3827

Although I struggled to separate dark hair from the dark background, overall I was very happy with this session’s lighting. I used two tools unavailable to me in 2011: the Photek Softlighter II and the Orbis Ringflash. With the SB-800-powered ring flash around the Nikon 24-70 and the SB-600-powered Softlighter II at camera-left, I added an umbrella-ed SB-600 from high camera-right as a little bit of hair light. I like the overall look (although I would have preferred a stronger, tighter hair light), and best of all, the broad soft light provided by these tools allowed me to do very little retouching to the images. So nice to have evidence of progress in my work!

New Chordettes-3863 New Chordettes-3884 New Chordettes-3850 New Chordettes-3799

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Filed under Camera Gear, Lighting, Portraiture

First Orbis Experiment

The Orbis ring light adapter swallows an SB800 flash and spits out soft, even light.

The Orbis ring light adapter swallows an SB800 flash and spits out soft, even light. Your lens goes in the bagel breach (New York equivalent of a doughnut hole), so the light is on-axis and comes from all around.

Okay, experiment is a generous word for what I did, because “experiment” connotes careful documentation of processes, whereas I just tried some different things and then couldn’t tell which was which by the time I got the images onto a computer.

But it still worked out pretty dang well.

I’d read about the Orbis ring light device before, over at Strobist, so when one became available at a significant discount, I snapped it up.

I tried it on a couple of hasty macro shots, and marveled at its potential.

The ringlight will become very useful for macro photography if I ever calm down and use a freakin' tripod.

The ringlight will become very useful for macro photography if I ever calm down and use a freakin’ tripod.

But I like to photograph people (which is ironic, considering how effectively I avoid contact with other people), so I asked author Jennifer Brown to help me test three basic uses of the Orbis: 1) as fill light in a multi-light setup, 2) as key light on lens, and 3) as “soft box” off lens. First, let’s look at my extravagant studio space:

Fancy schmancy. That's a Photek Softlighter II at left, powered by a Nikon SB600. Standard black muslin backdrop, the Orbis unit on the table, and barely visible at right, an SB600 fitted with a blue filter and a grid.

Fancy schmancy. That’s a Photek Softlighter II at left, powered by a Nikon SB600. Standard black muslin backdrop, the Orbis unit on the table, and barely visible at right, an SB600 fitted with a blue filter and a grid. Gaffer’s tape, like wine, holds everything together.

You cannot see the gel behind the grid, but this is the SB600 I used as an accent light on the background. Aimed at the background, it produces the blue light behind Jennifer in the final images below.

You cannot see the gel behind the grid, but this is the SB600 I used as an accent light. Aimed at the background, it produces the blue light behind Jennifer in the final images below.

Here is a shot with the Orbis as fill, and I believe I should have turned it down, because it either overwhelms or blends with the Softlighter II at camera left. I like the catchlights, and I see great potential for this device as on-axis fill in a multi-flash scenario. Also, I dig the accent light.

Here is a multi-flash shot with the Orbis as fill, but I should have turned its power down, because it either overwhelms or blends with the Softlighter II at camera left. I like the catchlights, and I see great potential for this device as on-axis fill in a multi-flash scenario. Also, I dig the accent light. But I wanted to test my ability to create short-lighting using the Orbis as fill, and failed to do so here. As the old saying goes, we never have time to do it right, but we always have time to do it over…

Here we have only the Orbis (wrapped around the lens) and the accent light. This image is very encouraging, because it looks like I can use the ring flash for quick, softly lit head shots.

Here we have only the Orbis (wrapped around the lens) and the accent light. This image is very encouraging, because it looks like I can use the ring flash alone for quick, softly lit head shots.

Now this is interesting. In a feat that pushed my lack of manual dexterity to its limit, I held the flash/Orbis above and to the left of the camera. Using the rear focus button on a D610 while holding the camera in portrait orientation with one hand was truly an expensive accident waiting to happen, but we got a couple of shots before I was shaking too much to continue. Note that the Orbis has become an off-axis soft box, producing shadows that add depth to the image. Very encouraging, but I've got to work on my upper body strength (or break down and start using a tripod).

Now this is interesting. In a feat that pushed my lack of manual dexterity to its limit, I held the flash/Orbis above and to the left of the camera. Using the rear focus button on a D610 while holding the camera in portrait orientation with one hand was truly an expensive accident waiting to happen, but we got a couple of shots before I was shaking too much to continue. Note that the Orbis has become an off-axis soft box, producing semi-soft shadows that add depth to the image. Very encouraging, but I’ve got to work on my upper body strength (or break down and start using a tripod).

Jennifer and I conducted this test in about fifteen minutes so I could get a basic understanding of the Orbis unit, and I’m very excited about incorporating this into my work. Most of all, I’m eager to get the unit out on location where I’ll have to adapt to light I cannot control.

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Filed under Camera Gear, Lighting, Portraiture

Honoring Access with Restraint

Ms. Gloria Steinem, speaking at the Orfalea Foundation Downtown Center on February 13, 2014

Ms. Gloria Steinem, radiating optimism and radicalism in equal measure at the Orfalea Foundation Downtown Center on February 13, 2014

In the eyes of the IRS, I’m a professional photographer because I get paid to make photographs. In the eyes of certain friends and coworkers, I’m a professional photographer because I’m “good enough” and the right price. In my own eyes, I am an eager-to-learn amateur who lacks certain qualities I associate with professionals, including the presence of mind and resourcefulness to walk into any situation and find a way to accomplish the mission.

That sort of professionalism comes from experience, and nothing in my photographic past prepared me for two hours as the sole photographer at a reception for Journalism and Feminism icon Gloria Steinem.

Strong backlighting was a challenge throughout. Here, Ms. Steinem chats with Sage Publishing founder Sara Miller McCune.

Strong backlighting was a challenge throughout. Here, Ms. Steinem chats with Sage Publishing founder Sara Miller McCune.

I had shot in the room before – unsuccessfully – so I came into the situation nervous but with a plan. There is no ceiling to speak of, and the eastern and southern exposures are picture windows. Ms. Steinem would be backlit for the entire event, but I would have no ceiling on which to bounce flash. I chose to shoot the entire event with on-camera flash units and diffuser domes.

I've shot receptions before, but never for an intellectual rock star. The energy level was very high, and I found it hard to keep my attention or my cameras focused.

I’ve shot receptions before, but never for a rock star. The energy level was very high, and I found it hard to keep my attention or my cameras focused.

I had liberty to roam the room and shoot at will, but I had a responsibility to Ms. Steinem and the attendees too, didn’t I? I couldn’t just keep clicking and firing flashes during their discussion, as much as I wanted to. Ms. Steinem is one of the most photographed people in the world – I wanted my chance to make a special image of a special person, but it was a reception for her, not me.

Here is Ms. Steinem with several of my coworkers, celebrating the conclusion of a very uplifting event.

Ms. Steinem with several of my coworkers, celebrating the conclusion of a very uplifting event. I still plan to retouch the flash hotspots, which of course appear in every picture of the day.

I made one photo that I like (at the top of the post) and several that will serve the purposes of my employer and possibly help some of the other community members who participated in the event.  I got to spend several hours listening to a fascinating person. And I got experience, which is sometimes defined as what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.

Regular readers will recall my post about "the fourth light." I may use one or two or three flashes in my portrait work, but it's the light radiating from the subject that makes the picture. Ms. Steinem absolutely glows with passion, empathy, and intellect. Quite fun to be near, frankly.

Regular readers will recall my post about “the fourth light.” I may use one or two or three flashes in my portrait work, but it’s the light radiating from the subject that makes the picture. Ms. Steinem absolutely glows with passion, empathy, and intellect. Quite fun to be near, frankly.

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Filed under Lighting, Portraiture, Professional vs. Amateur

The Camera at Hand

Photo on 11-22-13 at 7

As intended, the Year of Square exercise motivates me to make pictures every day, and re-habituates me to pay attention to light. Seeing that the full-screen, blank browser page on my computer presented a comparatively large, reasonably bright light source, I snapped this self-portrait using the built-in iMac camera. This shows me an angle for lighting hats that would not have occurred to me otherwise. In effect, the screen is a big, rectangular, soft light source directly below the lens axis (See how the shadows are above the lit portions of the hat?). I’m glad I made this sketch with the camera at hand, as it gives me ideas for other portraits.

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Filed under Camera Gear, Lighting, Portraiture