Business Portrait from December.

I had a photographic assignment late last year to make images of a spa out near Lake Travis. We spent a day photographing different services, with models,  as well as interiors and exteriors. It was fun and crazy and I got to work with a bright, young art director named Mary Beth Taylor from one of my favorite insanely creative ad agencies, Clutch Creative. When we wrapped up the main day of shooting we still had one image that we needed to do; the owner, Melissa.

She runs a very high energy business and I wanted to remove her from the day-to-day interruptions and make her portrait here at the studio. We scheduled her portrait for a different day. I set up my usual lighting design for portraits with a large, softlight on the left and a fill diffuser on the right. I used a light gray background. When we finished shooting my regularly planned shots I noticed that the exterior light, coming from my wall of northwest facing windows and gliding through the white diffuser I had been using for fill, was nicer and softer than the lights I'd been using. 

I turned off the big flash but I left on the modeling light for fill. I tried some poses that were out of my normal routine and, when she turned around in the shot above, I loved the feeling of motion and connection. I had Melissa do variations of this pose for a few more shots and then we moved on a tried a few more poses and experimented with looser crops. But this was the image I really wanted that I didn't know I wanted until I saw it. I have yet another resolution for this year: Be open to the available light instead of always lighting everything to death.

I shot this image on my Sony a99 camera attached to the 70-200mm 2.8 G lens. The camera was anchored on my wooden tripod. I shot in raw and processed the image in Lightroom 4.3. The image required me to color correct the side of her face away from the light. The tungsten modeling light made that side too warm. I used an adjustment brush to make my corrections.

I often pine for the 85mm 1.4 Zeiss/Sony lens but images like this serve to remind me that I'll need to end up shooting at more reasonable f-stops like f4 and f5.6 if I want to keep both of my subject's eyes in focus. I really like using the 70-200 on a tripod because it has a mount that takes the weight off the camera and balances out the system. Which the twist of a lock button I can go from horizontal to vertical very easily. The 70-200mm is good at f2.8, better at f4 and wildly excellent at 5.6. It's the right tool for the job, if your job is making portraits in the studio.

Nice to start the year with a portrait I really love. Kind of sets the bar for the year.

blog note: Thanks to all the people who signed up for Wyatt's workshop/road trip/BBQ fest. I predict you will have much fun. I further predict that I'll sneak up and meet everyone for lunch. I'm a sucker for great BBQ and anything photographic...

Also, keep the comments coming. The feedback loop is priceless.


Glenn Harris said...

this portrait projects high energy and a fun persona to be around; Did you think about a hair light with her hair being so dark along with her outfit? I know you like to keep the lighting simple but just curious.

Kirk Tuck said...

I generally hate hair lights. I don't think they are needed when the background is a good contrast with the hair. If it were dark on dark I probably would have considered it.

Anonymous said...

The pose is un-Kirk-like but the expression and the connection are right there. I can tell his portraits nearly 100% of the time.

Glenn Koury said...

Kirk - Your very provocative, edgy post in the Flickr strobist group back in March 2009 about the "unmotivated hair light" (or "white halo" from hell) says it all. Your analogy to the kid overdoing his new musical armpit still has me rolling on the floor.

All -- This is classic Kirk: http://www.flickr.com/groups/strobist/discuss/72157614815769237/

VSL is a truly wonderful blog. Thank you, Kirk, for all the insight, wisdom and humor!

Glenn (Dallas, TX)

Kirk Tuck said...

Thanks for remembering that one, Glenn. Motivation is everything.

Carlo Santin said...

I like this portrait, it has just the right amount of softness and glow to it, her personality really shines through here.

I know you've discussed your lighting quite often in the past. Have you done a post about your actual studio space? I'm curious to see that. I hope to set up my own studio at home in 2013 but I have very limited space and low ceilings, so I'm struggling trying to figure out what to do

hugo said...

I used for a long time the tamron 60/2 macro lens on APS-C, and now using the sony E 50/1.8 on the nex-7 and I have always found that f/1.8~f/2 is usually not enough dof for tightly framed portraits, even on APS-C. I prefer to step down around ~f/2.8. I go to wider apertures basically only if I take bust + head portrait from a farther distance. I also had a 50/1.4 on the A900 for some time and there again I did all my portraits at f/2~f/2.8.

Very narrow dof portraits with one eye in focus, blurry front hair, blurry eyebrows and disappearing shoulders looks strange to me. Soft focus portraits certainly have their charm, but I don't believe wide aperture/narrow dof is the good way to do it. Lowering sharpness and clarity in post-processing yields a more even results, IMHO.

Kirk Tuck said...

I did write about my little studio in my second book, Studio Lighting..... I'll try to cobble something together in the next few days to show and tell. Thanks Carlo.

Dave said...

See Kirk -- you DO need a micro four thirds sensor! :)

I have to be honest though, the color temps bother me. Not a lot but it has sort of a yin/yang effect in my mind. Sort of like two different photos in one. I like them both but they seem different.

BTW got the LED book and given that I'm shooting at 2.8 in studio most of the time am really mulling over some panels to replace my big thumper mono lights. If I could gain portability to take my portraiture set up on the road easier I'd probably do it. Being able to vary the color temps on the 312AS is cool and has the makings for being able to light very differently. Heck a nice bunch of LED's could be used for photos and video. Sorry for the tangent but this photo started me thinking -- darn you Kirk! :)

Kirk Tuck said...

We'll just make your version black and white Dave. No muss, no fuss.