12.14.2015

Portraits. Sometimes it is the quiet moments that seem to bring forward images we didn't think about when we started our sessions.



Fadya and I were in the studio making portraits. There was a lull in the conversation. Things were quiet. She looked away and I shot a frame of that pose. It's not one of the compositions I generally try to work within but it seemed to me to reveal a different perspective about my subject.

On a technical note, the image above reaffirms my preference to work with continuous light sources when making portraits. I know that flash is all the rage but..... When I work with continuous light sources there is always a softness within the detail that feels seems more natural. Skin is smoother without resorting to typical post production. The need for the sitter and photographer to be more synchronized when it comes to motion and stillness creates even more of a collaborative spirit.

This image was lit with a K5600 HMI light bouncing into a large umbrella. A second HMI light head was aimed at the background. It's simple lighting. But light is always simple in the real world.

Have you tried my favorite portrait exercise? It goes like this: Find a model who is also an interesting person and who is patient. Set up your lighting and camera before the subject gets to the studio. Make tea or coffee for your subject when they arrive. Have the subject settle into their space on their designated chair, posing stool or whatever. Sit on a chair or stool next to your camera. Ask them about their day. Ask them about their kids. As them about their passion in life. Ask them where they grew up and what their favorite kind of food is. Ask them what ideas they have when the think about portraits. Ask them what they want to be doing next week, next month and next year. Let them talk. Sip coffee or tea. Find the things you have in common. Listen to the things that they are focused on.

Then, tell them about the portrait process you are trying to do. Tell them what they can do to help you make the process work. Tell them what your goal in this project is.

Once you've discussed these things, and you've both had a warm beverage, and you are both comfortable. Start the process of making the portrait. Only at this point should you begin to handle the camera.

Finally, don't hide behind the camera. It severs the connection you have both tried hard to build.

Some Thoughts about Holiday Marketing.



If you are the marketing director of a regional theater, and holiday plays are a big part of your yearly budget, it makes good sense to advertise as hard as you can during the last quarter of the year. If you have a retail store and you sell seasonal (4th Q) holiday stuff I think marketing is also strongly indicated. If you are a restaurant that can host large gatherings then, yes, go, market. But, if you are an advertising photographer who isn't interested in developing a following in family portraits or making hundreds of photos with Santa at the mall, you might want to delay your marketing push just a bit.

Relax and let your advertising agency clients and marcom directors, your product managers and your corporate communications people have a little breathing space. The budgets for 2015 are mostly gone by now and very, very few people are rushing to spend on, and produce, big projects right down the middle of the holidays. Seriously. My wife works at an advertising agency and I spent eight years in an advertising agency, and at this point in any given year the focus is on final execution. Is that brochure back from the printers? Is the new website up and running? Did the magazine insertions drop on time? Did we finish getting our clients' holiday cards to the list/sort provider? Did we get our corporate gifts out to the clients who pay attention to those little niceties?

I'm going to think that having you send them yet another e-mail blast about your latest project is something that's really far down the list of priorities for them right now, especially given their time management struggles of the season.

I certainly don't think you shouldn't reach out to your clients at this time of year but it's time to do it graciously, and with a light touch. A given is to send a tasteful and thoughtful holiday card along with a very brief note of thanks for making our year so great. If you must make your card all photographic think about making your card clever and fun instead of making it yet another folded, mailable, mini-billboard for your awesome capabilities.

If you have happy, continuing clients you might consider sending over a tray of holiday cookies from one of the premier bakeries in your town. Just send a small note along, don't bother having your business logo emblazoned with icing on the top of every cookie. If you know what your direct contact likes to drink (alcohol-wise) a discreetly delivered bottle of their favorite beverage is always well received but, please, no note that tells them you'd like to help them drink your gift.

The holidays are a time to be mellow and sincere and human. It's too easy for a promotion, timed to the holidays, to go dreadfully wrong and send a shallow, callow message.

Now, the time to go for the marketing juglar vein is the second full week of January. Save your resources and ready your campaign for the second and third critical weeks of the first quarter. That's when your client's wonderful children are safely back at school. The in-laws are long gone. The gifts are exchanged for all the things people really wanted. Staying home and doing chores is wearing thin for most of your clients. AND, they are just then sitting down to do strategic planning for the rest of the year. That's when you need to deliver your best shot. Or series of shots. A nice New Years postcard, followed by an e-mail blast, followed by a request to show new work, followed by a follow up card. A link to your new video project. Etc.

I can pretty much guarantee that your fusillade during the critical holiday weeks will get totally lost in the clutter or tossed by an overworked art director rushing to get gifts at the last minute. I can't guarantee your success in an early in the year surge but I can tell you that it works pretty well for the people who try it. By week three of January people are bored to be back at work and thrilled to look at anything you send them. Distractions welcome.

But all this means you have to be patient and get prepared. It's almost here. 

Love at first click. I've just used the new (to me) Nikkor 135mm f2.0 lens in the studio for a commissioned portrait and I couldn't be happier. Can't you tell from the expression on my self portrait? (recent edit, additions).


Amazing what a haircut, a shave and a cup of coffee can do...
This is today's before and after selfie event.


I wrote about waking up with a vision of a certain lens in my mind and then finding that exact lens later in the day. It all happened last week. Was it just Friday?

I made sure the lens worked as it should over the weekend and then, this morning, I used it to photograph a radiologist here in my west Austin studio. I used the lens the way I intended to: with continuous lighting, camera and lens on a steady tripod, and the aperture of the lens nearly wide open. My results were right on the mark. I loved what I saw through the lens and was very happy upon examining the 47 different files on my 27 inch screen.

As a side note, I think the reason so many people are happy when they shoot portraits on a Nikon D810, is that the camera has so much dynamic range that, when shooting in the low to middle ISO range the camera delivers the kind of exposure latitude we used to depend on when using color negative film. This is especially true if you are shooting 14 bit, uncompressed raw files. The amount of information in the files is massive and the dynamic range is very good at helping photographers preserve detail in the highlights and shadows.

I lit the doctor's portrait with LED lights. I use a 6x6 foot scrim to one side, angled from right next to the camera to about four feet out from the doctor at the other end of the panel. Two LEDs were aimed at the scrim. I used a third LED light on the background (same background we've used for this practice for nearly 16 years) and, I was going to use a fourth LED light as a hair light but it turns out this particular doctor is bald so I turned that one off.

I used a silver reflector to the opposite side of the main light for fill.

I used ISO 640 on the camera and that gave me f2.8 and a half at 1/125th of a second. Just right.

When I took the glowering (not intentionally) self portrait above I purposely under exposed the background and took the fill reflector out all together. I also dropped the exposure on my face by half a stop. I did not take the portrait out of vanity but because I wanted to show what I meant when I said I like the focal length and the character of the lens, but I didn't have any great models lingering around the studio, just waiting to be cajoled into posing, so I took on the burden of representation myself.

The lens is quite sharp at f2.8. It is well behaved in every way. I, however, could use about five days of really good sleep, a haircut and a shave. A self portrait every once in a while has a way of humbling even the most self-delusional amongst us. Oh well....

(the beginning of my descent into the new Selfie Regime).

Why Leica? Why Leica indeed. Here is an interesting video. One or two tiny parts aren't safe for the workplace. But it's beautifully done and homage to great work from the last century.

https://vimeo.com/148355161

So many great photographic moments recreated in the service of this company's narrative...