Kirk Tuck by ©2015 Frank Grygier.
My friend, Frank, is taking an online course from photographer/teacher, Don Giannatti. As part of the workshop the students are trying to figure out how to light and shoot in the styles of a number of great photographers. The most recent assignment for Frank was to work in the style of portrait legend, Albert Watson. Watson is most popularly known for his iconic portrait of Steve Jobs but I have admired his portrait lighting; especially in his black and white work, for many years. When Frank mentioned his assignment I shamelessly volunteered to sit for the portrait.
I have become comfortable meeting strangers and asking them to pose for me but when the shoe is on the other foot it's a bit scary. I know that photographs will point out all the things about me I want to avoid; that I am getting older. That a little hair sticks up from my left eyebrow and makes me look unbalanced. That my skin has become rugged and flawed by time and the elements. That the backs of my hand are hairy. That my barber missed a little bit of hair on the back of my neck that becomes a white flag against a black background. That my nose has gotten bigger. All these things make up a collage of my own frailties. But what the hell ---- it's interesting to see myself through the eyes of another.
We decided to shoot the portrait in my little studio. I had the space to work in and extra gear if Frank needed something beyond the kit he was bringing. I set up a dark background for Frank and then settled into some post processing while the clock ticked closer to my engagement with portrait destiny.
Frank did his lighting homework well. He used a small softbox from high up and left of frame. He used it in close to take advantage of fall off. While not apparent in this image he also used a second light on the backdrop which is more evident in other versions of the portraits.
While we waste a lot of virtual ink talking up the advantages and disadvantages of various formats for portraits most of it is silly and meaningless as the pluses and minuses of the formats can be trumped by the skill of the photographer. Frank managed to get a (technically) wonderful portrait with a smaller format --- he was shooting with the (exquisite) 35-100mm f2.8 Panasonic lens on a GH4. But the camera is almost meaningless compared with his clear intention and his well-crafted and well thought out lighting.
Frank and I work in different ways. He is much more assured in his methodology and shoots sparingly. When he has what he wants he wraps up and moves on. I am less confident or less able to commit so I shoot and shoot in an almost promiscuous fashion. He is a "ten perfect frame" portrait shooter while I am a "one hundred frame--I'll know it when (if) I see it shooter. Sometimes fate conspires to make me lucky. Sometimes not.
Frank shot with battery powered, electronic flashes and didn't have the advantage of modeling lights. It didn't matter, he knew how his lighting should be designed and followed his plans and instincts. I knew the image would be well done otherwise I would have never volunteered. I just didn't realize that I might like a portrait of me as much as I do like this one, warts and all.
I don't know about Don G. but I'll give Frank a solid "A." It's a real learning experience to be on the other side of the camera. I'm glad I wore the navy blue, linen shirt. And I'm glad I grabbed an old pair of glasses ---- I forgot how much I liked those frames.
My advice to everyone who wants to shoot better portraits? Go out and start shooting them. The practice on both sides of the camera is invaluable.