The process of selecting and working with portrait subjects.

I think everyone who takes portraits as part of their art has strong feelings about the look and energy of the people they want to photograph. In my commercial work I have to be open to all types and temperaments. When I make portraits to please myself I'm looking for not just a catalog of physical attributes but also an aura of good energy and a unique personality in the sitter.

I first met Dani a couple of years ago at Caffe Medici on Congress Ave. I was playing around with an Olympus Pen digital camera and an Olympus original Pen lens and I asked her if I could take a few quick snaps. I posted them on the blog and talked about the lens. Dani and I got each other's Facebook info and stayed in touch. Recently I've been asked to be part of an online education project that will require me to go to Denver for a week and deliver a learning seminar in a video production studio. My first glancing attempt at being on the other side of the camera. The producers want to have a healthy selection of my work to show as examples during my programming so I decided to update some of the materials and I started thinking about what I wanted to show and who I wanted to use as an example.

Dani immediately came to mind. Why? I guess it's a combination of her fabulous eyes and that indefinable thing we call energy. Instead of being a passive participant she seems hard-wired to become a collaborator. She has strong opinions (which I like) and she's also a devoted, film-based, art photographer so she gets the idea that I'm not always trying to make portraits that fulfill the requirements of a consumer driven check list. I like that she's fit and lean and angular. That fitness allows the light to play across her face and create a wonderful impression of three dimensions.

Yesterday was our first session together and we spent most of it talking and getting to know each other. I started out shooting with an electronic flash firing into an 84 inch, white umbrella counterbalanced by a grid spot on the seamless paper background. I ended up bouncing a big fluorescent lighting instrument into the same umbrella and using a Fiilex P360 LED light on the background. The image above was shot with the flashes. The image on the previous blog post (which is the most satisfying image I've taken this year) was done with the combination of fluorescent and LED. In a sense the lights are all interchangeable as are the cameras.

We spent our time going back and forth between talking and shooting. I would see an expression or a gesture that I'd like during conversation and I'd ask her to go back and do the same thing again. Sometimes I'd see a combination of hand gestures and excitement in her face and I'd shoot "blind"; not looking at the screen, just taking for granted that my composition hadn't changed. I'd suggest a pose and we'd explore it with a dozen or so frames. I'd give little suggestions and ask for small movements. I don't like poses to change with each press of the shutter, my method is to work slowly and build into visual situations, changing only one small parameter at a time.

When the shooting cycle started to repeat I knew we were done and we moved on to our exterior locations. The things that tie a style together are a clear intention, the selection of subject and an idea for the design and application of the light. Everything else is really extraneous.

Technical Stuff: Elinchrom Monolight used at 1/3 power into a white, 84 inch umbrella with black backing to control spill. Elinchrom Monolight used at minimum power with a 30 degree grid for a light on a Thunder Gray background. Two 4x6 foot black Lightforms panels on the opposite side of the main light and about six feet away from Dani to control spill light. Samsung NX 300 with 18-55mm kit lens used at 55mm, wide open aperture (f5.6). ISO 160. Shot in Jpeg Fine mode. Color temperature set at daylight. 


  1. Woah! If this four images a week commitment is some kind of audition process, I think you just aced it.

    1. Thanks. I'm just enjoying getting into a new toy.

    2. Nailed it. This one has the zap and energy to be truly engaging. I am not as sure of the others in the set. For me, something is lacking.
      Here, she seems more open, relaxed, and engaged - as if caught mid-laugh in a conversation between old friends. And that, to me, is magic.

  2. yes Kirk, she is lovely and the chemistry between the two of you is blatant. Don't matter what machines you use,they'll all be great shots because of the you both, no more no less........

    1. I have a photographer friend who describes it as 'photographing in the pink clouds' and when it clicks he is so right.

  3. I am sure I am not the only one of your readers who remembers that original post, though I am not sure it is still up since you've periodically purged older entries. If my memory servers, it resulted in a comment from someone about her beauty and the commenter's disinterest in the rest of the post. That, in turn, had you upset enough that you were considering shutting down this whole blogging gig and moving on. I wonder if she is aware of the controversy that blog post created? 8^)

    Fortunately, you changed your mind and I have been hoping you would manage, as you suggested in the original post, to convince the young woman to participate in a portrait session. Certainly one of your greatest skills is your ability to talk to strangers and convince them not only to have their portrait taken at the moment, but to continue a relationship with you that results in beautiful portraits like these. I envy that.

    Thanks for sharing these photographs.

  4. It's amazing what happens to a persons face when they smile :)


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