Have you ever had one of those days when things took a turn for the better?
I'm out of practice. I tried to keep shooting portraits as last year devolved into one of the circles of Purgatory but it's hard to keep the creative wheels turning when doom and gloom looms all around you. My portrait lighting skills were starting to take a hit. Then I ran into Selena at a coffee shop and she needed a headshot and I wanted a model. I think we both won.
We met last week and spent an hour working on posing and lighting. I ended up using my big Octabank and my Elinchrom Ranger RX AS pack with one head for the main light. My studio is all white so it's pretty "live". I'd been lighting my fill too much lately, no doubt because some corporate client I took on in a moment of self induced desperation bitched about my shadows being too dark. I remember the conversation so well. It was short and it went like this:
Client: "What's wrong with the light on Bob's face?"
Me: "I'm sorry, I don't understand. What do you mean?"
Client: "Well, it's a very nice picture but the light on his face isn't even. It gets dark over to one side!"
Me: "We call that modeling. It's a way of adding some dimension to peoples' faces. Makes portraits look more three dimensional. Gives the light a sense of direction."
Client: "Can you fix that somehow?"
Me: "Well, it's supposed to be that way. It's a creative thing."
Client: "Is there some way to fix it in Photoshop? I'm pretty sure Bob's not going to like being uneven...."
Me: "But that's the same style that's in most of the portraits on my website...."
Client: "Hmmmmm. So you don't think you can fix it?"
It's exchanges like this that make me appreciate my wife's adamant rule of "no guns" in the studio. But it's weird how a few toxic clients can subtly shift that line that makes an insecure portrait photographer dilute and devolve their own style.
Before Selena came over I looked over some of my favorite work and the work by some of the photographers I really admire. I decided to aim my taste meter in the right direction and to resurrect what I liked with the hopes that it will find its audience.
When I set up the lighting I re-acquainted myself with a favorite old tool, subtractive lighting. I grabbed a black panel and put it on the opposite side of her face from the main light. I brought the black in pretty close because I wanted deep shadows. I grabbed a little Alien Bees ringlight that I use all the time for a background light and put it on the gray seamless at a really low power. MMMMMM. Just right.
Then I shot with a longer lens than I've used in a while. I'm happy with the light and the skin tone. When we finally decide on an image I'll fix the stray hairs and the few wrinkles in the shirt. But count me happy with my lighting and the general look. And I think her expression is just wonderful.
My portrait lighting is back and it's really changed my mood. It's devastating when your mastery takes a vacation without putting it up on the scheduling board. It's always wonderful when it comes back home with a nice tan, a few pounds lighter. I don't know if Selena likes the work we did. I haven't talked to her yet. But for a change, the only validation I was looking for was mine.