Portrait of Renae. One large softbox. One grid light on the background. An intense conversation. A practical chair.

One of the nice aspects of being a photographer in the age of film and slower processes was the need to have an assistant more or less full time in order to do our work. During the few slow moments a good assistant made for a great stand-in or a good model with which to experiment with everything from the films we used to the chair in this photograph.

This was taken in the pre-production phase of a project that required (art direction) a dozen or so seated portraits for a university. We were actually experimenting with which chair we would use for comfort, consistency and a more or less anonymous profile. It was a burgundy colored, red leather chair that we found at a nice furniture store. We did end up using it for our assignment and then it became the "take a break, sit down and read a book" chair at the studio until we moved and downsized. I've forgotten what happened to the chair but I know it didn't make the transition with us.

Funny that a chair could have been such a critical feature in a photo-shoot when, in fact, it was more or less hidden by nearly every portrait sitter who participated.

Photographers as a group tend to severely underestimate the visual and posing value of their furniture. I love good, old dining room chairs that aren't big and heavy. They are wonderful for those Texas subjects who like to sit backwards on their chairs and lean their arms on the backs...

Chairs. Good props. But they will never generate the debates and enthusiasm of a good, Nikon vs. Canon or DSLR vs Mirrorless discussion.


  1. Nice portraits. They have a timeless and introspective quality. And a certain peacefulness. And great tone qualities. They breathe with a life of their own.

  2. I've had a ceiling tracked system with lots of lights for years.
    Currently dismantled because we've been working on the roof.

    Strangely enough, I've been considering getting rid of most of it, and just keeping two lights on stands. You seem to articulate a lot of the things I think about - possibly just that we're the same age group :) I have the luxury of being an amateur, so I can do it.

  3. I have always had a thing for simple, wooden chairs. When I had a studio I typically had about 6 or 8 on hand at a time, constantly changing as I found new garage sale treasures or grew bored with the existing collection.

    All my portraits now are on location -- officially I'm retired but I still try to do 4 or 5 sittings a month -- and very often I'll carry a chair in the van, something that seems to fit the concept of the sitting or the personality of the sitter.

    On a more techy note, it has been a long time since I used more than two lights in a portrait setup -- a mainlight (usually a pair of hotshoe flashes teamed in a Photek Softlighter), a reflector for fill, and a second light for background definition or separation.


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