New Portrait Style. Getting Outside More.

I've been shooting more and more stuff on the pedestrian bridge that connects north and south Austin for walkers, joggers and bikers.  Last Fall we started using it to make portraits.  Kind of a cool location since there are cityscapes in every direction and it all depends on what time of day you choose as to what backgrounds work the best.

We hit the bridge with a scrim to put over the top of Chad's head which blocked the direct sun.  It was a bright 3 pm in late Fall.  I brought in a Profoto 600b with one head.  The head sported a small (2x3 foot) Westcott softbox that originally came as part of a Spider TD-5 florescent light kit.  I the image with an Olympus e3 and a 14-54mm zoom lens.  We did a little post processing on the sky and played around a bit with the highlight and shadow controls in the PhotoShop adjustments menu.

I've gone back to the bridge again and again and every time we do it's a bit different.

This shot is a totally different style but we're standing in the same spot and shooting in pretty much the same direction.  I was using the 70-300mm IS Nikon Lens on a D700 and trying to shoot as close to wide open as possible.  This shot was done on an overcast day that was still kind of stingy bright.  I blocked the almost directional light by putting a 1/2 silk diffuser between the general position of the sun (over my shoulder) and my model.  Amazing how different one location can look.  But we've been back again.....
This was shot in January and it's about 90 degrees to the east compared to the last two shots.  Again, I'm using the Profoto 600b but this time I'm using an Elinchrom small shoot thru device that's about 36 inches in diameter.  The shot looks entirely different than the first two.  I need to take some subjects up there at twilight.

On another note:  I bitch a lot about the business but I thought I'd tell the story of a more or less routine but delightful shooting assignment.  My PR client, David, asked me to shoot a data center; one of those anonymous buildings that houses hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of blade servers in racks and basically houses most of the web content that flies around the fiber these days.  The buildings are very secure and a typical feature is a cluster of giant, diesel generators over to one side or another of the building.  Having a total electrical failure is considered a very negative feature set.......

David and I have worked together on projects like this before but it had been a while.  I suggested that we meet the day before and do a walk thru of the building's interior to get an idea of what we'd be dealing with.  David added that we should meet for lunch and then do the scouting.  It's this kind of thinking that makes David a good client.  We settled on Sushi.  His suggestion and my pleasure.

We went into the building carrying an Olympus EPL1.  Not the camera you've come to know but it's other permutation as a small color temperature meter.  I took a white card and the camera and then used the custom Kelvin settings to take images of the white card at each Kelvin setting until I struck gold.....or white.  The Phillips florescent bulbs that covered acres of the ceiling gave me every indication of being 4100 degrees Kelvin.  That's a great starting point.  I grabbed the Lee filter catalog and looked at the chart of conversions from daylight.  Bingo.  The Lee 442, otherwise known as half CT Straw (an orangey yellowish filter) was a good match.  After we scouted I headed for GEAR on far east Caesar Chavez Blvd to pick up some filter gels.  Unlike those Strobist moochers (who rip the samples out of the filter sample books and tape them together on their flashes)  I actually BUY the stuff a couple feet by one yard at a time.  I also stocked up on some 1/8th CTO and some garden variety 1/2 CTO just to be safe.

When I got home to the studio I cut each of the gels into  a little stack of filters that would cover a Metz or Olympus flash as well as some larger squares that would fit over a Profoto head or an Elinchrom head.  Then I packed and went off to have some semblance of a balanced personal life.  

This morning we started our shoot at a very civilized 10 am.  I used a Canon 5D mk2 and mostly a 20mm and a 100mm prime lens to shoot both portraits in the data center and the architecture and comportment of the center itself.  I lit the portraits using two lights.  One was a Metz MZ 54 in a small softbox with a Lee 442 straw and the other was a Vivitar 383 with a small grid over it to spot it down as a small separation light.  The Vivitar was about forty feet back from the portrait subject at 1/16th power with a Lee 442 filter on it as well.  Blended with the ambient florescents (which matched color almost exactly) the effect was soft, yet directional.  My intention was to gently boost the contrast in post.

The rest of the time was spent looking for great angles and visual alleys.  We used ourselves as blurred, moving models to jazz up the scenes.

At the end of the session I had three  great portraits fifteen or twenty nice interiors and an inventory of technical shots.  The post processing was snagless and the galleries of images are already up and awaiting David's arrival at the office tomorrow.

This is how I remember photography.  Livable budgets, fun lighting challenges, gear that just works,  clients who are gracious, welcoming and appreciative of all the touches that come from years of experience in the craft and a direct client who understands the value you bring to a job.

I came home, petted the world's best dog, took the boy to swim practice and ate some vegan soup Belinda made for dinner.  Now I'm sitting in the office drinking a nice glass of a California Cabernet Sauvignon and typing on my spiffy computer.  This is how a photographer's life is supposed to look.

I think the nasty spell of 2009 is broken.  Thank goodness.