I'm not a fan of flat lighting. I nearly always feel as though photographic light should have direction. Especially for photographs of people.

Two things I like in portraits seem contradictory. I like big, big light sources and I like to see them bright. I never want to go to "paper white" with my highlights but I want to them to be bright enough to offset deep shadows.

The second thing I like in a good portrait is a deep, inky shadow somewhere in the photograph. When I photographed Michelle with her hat in my studio I used a four foot by six foot softbox on one side of her and put up a black velvet curtain, just out of frame, on the opposite side. I love the contrast. I love the fall off into darkness. For me it's all about balance.

But nothing technical matters at all if you don't connect with your subject. "Clicking with people is more important than clicking the shutter." - Alfred Eisenstadt. Photographer for Life Magazine.

Michelle and I worked on making cool portraits for several hours on the day that we got this image. We'd share gossip and chat and forget the camera for a while and then I'd see something in her gesture or expression that would make me think, "That's a great look. I need to get that!" and we'd get back into the photographic groove. I'd shoot two or three 12 shot rolls of film and then the conversation would veer off in another direction and we'd abandon the camera again until we were ready.

People don't seem to take enough time these days. They go into a shoot with all this stuff pre-planned and they doggedly persevere with their game plan no matter how off the rails it ends up being. I like to think of real portrait photography as the stuff we do in the interludes between grown up conversation about more important things; life, love, food. The images flow from the connection two people make. Not from superficial storyboards....


Dogster said...

Love it. Portraits are my favorite thing. I lean toward a style similar to yours. I don't do it enough to have achieved your quality, but I work at it. I have had a studio where I could work regularly a couple of times. I love your portrait style, and absolutely agree that "clicking" with the subject is most important. Thanks for the portrait of Michelle, it is great.

Anonymous said...


Thank you for the tutorial. Seems like the implementation is the difficult part. Any suggestions for the beginning and middle?


pixtorial said...

Kirk, I love the continuous reminders that people photography is about people first, photography second. The same has applied to my career as a technology consultant. It is about people first, technology second. Connecting with people, understanding what they do, how they connect with technology, and building honest relationships with them has been the cornerstone of my career. It is clearly the same for you. You do a wonderful job of illustrating how you interact with clients and subjects, and the results of that show so clearly through your photographs.

On the topic of lighting, for portraiture do you tend towards one light solutions as much as it sounds like?