Portrait Project. Ongoing. My eccentric thought process/workflow.


You are what you practice. I forget from time to time that portraiture is a process and not just the click of a shutter. You really have to decide what you want from a session and then do the practice in order to make it work. Lauren is one of my clients and I asked her to come into the studio to have her portrait made. She was kind enough to agree and we set up a time and date. 

Then I came to grips with the fact that I'd slacked off doing portraits for fun and portraits for my art over the last few years spending much more time either doing straightforward images for clients or writing about various things on the blog. Frankly, I felt out of practice. 

So the first thing I had to do was go through a selection process. I knew I'd be shooting in the studio but I was unclear about what gear to use. Which lights? Continuous light or flash? What kind of modifiers? Multiple smaller lights or fewer, bigger lights? What kind of background? Plain paper? Muslin with color? (And I still need to work on dropping the saturation in the green channel in post...). What camera should I use? And once I'd chosen the camera then what lens to put on it to get the look that I wanted to see?

Then, of course I'd have to think about posing and what kind of crop I'd like on the final image and even what I might talk to Lauren about to put her at ease and get her into the flow of the session. 

Afterwards there's another slew of process driven questions. What Raw processor would I use for the files? How would I manage color? Would this image be a good one to put through DXO Filmpack and use one of their film profiles? Which program would I use to do a nice vignette? (How about Snapseed?).   And finally, how would I share the image with my check writing audience? 

I chose the muslin background because I had done a recent portrait with it and liked the look. It's bright summer here and we were shooting in the middle of the afternoon and I didn't feel like blocking all the windows to cut down on color contamination from daylight when using fluorescents or LEDs so I chose to got with electronic flash. I used the Elinchrom Ranger to give the batteries a work out and because it has nice, 1/10th of a stop control. The Elinchrom flash heads also give off a nice, warm light. There's no UV spike anywhere as there often is with inexpensive battery powered strobes or cheap monolights. Since I had nearly infinite power at my finger tips I used a 72 inch Fotodiox umbrella that's white on the inside and black on the backside. I also covered the business side of it with a white diffusion cloth. With the flash head correctly positioned to really cover all of the inside space it's a wonderful soft but direction light source. 

I placed two 4 foot by 4 foot black panels to the opposite side of Lauren from the main light to keep the spill from bouncing off the studio's white walls and reducing lighting contrast in the image.  A second flash head, at 1/3rd power (compared to the setting for the main light) was used in a small soft box to light the background. Two lights seemed just right for the effect I had in mind. 

From the zany collection of cameras currently in my possession I selected a Nikon D7100 coupled with an interesting 18-140mm zoom lens. I set the camera to 14 bit raw, lossless compression, in manual mode. The ISO was nailed to 100 and the camera was set to 1/125th and f5.6. 

We chatted and took images for about an hour and I ended up with around 250 image files. I put them into Lightroom to do a quick color tweak and convert to gallery sized jpegs. I'll put the ones I like up in a private gallery on Smugmug so Lauren can make her selections. In the meantime I output the first image of the shoot and pulled it into Portrait Professional to soften her skin tone just a bit and do a few little color tweaks. Then I pushed the file into Snapseed to add a nice vignette---darkening the corners. Finally I pulled the file into DXO Filmpack 3 and converted the image into a Fuji Astia film profile.  I uploaded the portrait to this blog as an sRGB files at 2100 pixels on the long side. 

When Lauren makes her selections I'll first open them in DXO and do my raw conversions there. I'll take large 16 bit tiffs and do my retouching in PhotoShop. From there we'll see where the creative, post production process leads. 

We've had enough columns here about tangential subjects that barely graze the photographic arts---I thought I'd pull myself back on course and write about the stuff I really care about.  That's making portraits.

Edit: I never imagined that each site would compress and display images so differently. Go to 500px to see Lauren's image much closer to what I'm seeing on my screen: 


p.s. Thanks Robert for making me double check!


Anonymous said...

Kirk, once again, thanks for your posts and for giving us some insight to your process behind the camera. I know I appreciate it.

I do like your selection of Astia film sim from DXO. I'm a huge Fuji Film fan and that's part of the reason why I shoot mainly Fuji's + the RX10 (video and convenience). My two favorite built in Film sim's for the X series are the Astia and Pro-Neg High.

Back in my analog days, I remember shooting the Fuji films specifically for their looks and the way they rendered skin tones.

The other day, I pulled out some prints (4x6 and up to 11x14) made from the old film and wow, I can't believe what fun that was. Holding the print made from film...not a print of a digital file. It does seem that we spend a lot of digital time trying to emulate film...that, to a large extent, is still averrable. While DXO and Fuji themselves do a great job of this, it's just not the same.

So what did I do? I found a role our Fuji Pro 160s (http://www.fujifilm.com/products/professional_films/color_negativefilms/pro_160s/) still in the refrigerator. I have no idea how old it is. I switch to digital in 2002. Anyway, I loaded it up in a Praktica LTL3 with a 50mm f/1.8 and shot the roll of 36. I can't wait to see what turns out. Hmmm...maybe this will get me to reactivate my original blog content again? LOL

Thanks Kirk, keep up the great work!

Robert Hudyma said...


I am not in love with the flesh tones in this portrait, to my eye they seem almost painted on and too saturated.

Could this be the make-up that was used?

The strange thing is if you look at the part in the hair the skin color is less intense.

I liked the images that you posted of Gloria recently, the flesh tonality in those images seemed natural.

Kirk Tuck said...

Hi Robert. Viva la Difference. She's no wearing any make up. That's the color of the skin tone on her face. A bit saturated by the profile but in line with what I was looking for in the film profile. She has great skin. I like it, that's why I posted it. Yours will be different...

Kirk Tuck said...

I must say though, Robert, the image is a bit compressed by Blogger and actually looks better on Facebook. How weird is that?

Anonymous said...

Yeah - I'm not loving what Blogger has done to this photo - it looks almost posterized on my screen.

The colours in the one you've linked to are a lot nicer.

I usually really like your portraits, so I hope you won't mind me saying that something about this looks a little 'off'. The tail off into out of focus on the left hand side of the image (in her hair) looks smudged & distracting to me. Conversely, the eyes are crazy sharp.

Of course, it might just be that you've spoiled us with all those wonderful MF portraits over the years....


Brian Billman said...

I'm somewhat surprised you didn't use the 105mm f/2.5. What was the focal length you ended up using?

Always nice seeing a new portrait!