Portrait Demo 10

I recently did a live demo showing my approach to making a location portrait for a business group I belong to, Manhattan Chapter 45 of BNI. A lot of people still think that it’s the camera that makes the photograph. (This is a lot like thinking it’s the stove that makes the chef. “Let’s go to that new restaurant on 7th Ave. tonight. I heard they have a great stove!”) I wanted to disprove that notion, and wanted to show that forethought, skill and creativity are necessary. I had 10 minutes to work in, start to finish. I thought of it as the photographic equivalent of crossing Niagara Falls on a tightrope, without a net. (Overstated, but you get the idea.)

My colleague Nate Catucci of Obscura Pictures agreed to model, and I thought because he’s a filmmaker I’d go for a film noir look. The look is also easy to achieve with a light or two, and I only had 10 minutes, so it worked on that account as well. The restaurant I was going to work in had quarter-circle banquettes around round tables. I seated him on the banquette, with a gridded Speedlite camera right, and a second gridded and CTO gelled Speedlite on a boom pointed directly down at the edge of the table camera left. This would give me shadows on the near side of Nate’s face, and some warm light on part of the table and giving him a little rim light as well.

I’d worked out the lighting at home, measuring distances by arm-spans and light output with a light meter: I knew I wouldn’t have time to adjust during the demo. I had the lights on separate channels on radio triggers, so I could trigger them one at a time. I was shooting to a MacBookPro with a second display, through CaptureOne so everyone could see the shots as I took them.

[caption id="attachment_8870" align="aligncenter" width="940"]Portrait_Demo-1 (1 of 10) Camera on full automatic, proving it’s not the camera that makes the photo.

First, I put the camera on full automatic and took a photo. (First time I’ve ever used full auto, and I can’t think why I’d ever use it except for another similar demo.) I got a photo, and it pretty much dispelled the notion that it’s the camera that makes the picture.

(2 of 10) Camera on full automatic, Speedlite on ETTL. The one positive thing I can say about this is that there’s no red-eye …

To take it a step further, I put a flash on the camera and shot again, full auto, and the Speedlite on ETTL. I got another photo. Point made, I think.

Portrait Demo 3
(3 of 10) Camera in manual mode, a gridded Speedlite with 1/4 CTO camera right. I was going for a film noir look, in part because Nate Catucci is a filmmaker, in part because it’s not a difficult look to achieve with minimal lighting.

Then I put the camera in manual mode, with a gridded Speedlite with a 1/4 CTO gel camera right, aimed a bit lower than Nate’s face—I wanted some light spill on the table, and not much on the background camera left. This gave me the contrasty look I wanted, and kept most of his face in shadow, with a splash of light on the dark side of his cheek.

Portrait Demo 4
(4 of 10) The same Speedlite on camera right, with the addition of a boomed Speedlite camera left, about 6 feet over the table height, aimed down, to give some balance to the lighting and to give a slight rimlight on Nate.

I then added the boomed Speedlite camera left, which gave some dramatic light to the table and a little fill and rim light on Nate’s shadow side.

Portrait Demo 5
(5 of 10) The same as the previous photo, with Clarity boosted a bit to give more mid-tone contrast.

Then two quick looks, the first as if he had spotted someone he was expecting to see, the second more pensive and dark.

Portrait Demo 6
(6 of 10) The final lighting setup. I like the look on Nate’s face, as if he had just seen someone he’d been expecting. The light on the table camera left is too hot.

For the shot below, I cut down the light on the table in post production.

(7 of 10) I toned down the light on the table, and boosted the mid-tone contrast with clarity.

(9 of 10) I toned down the light on the table, in the crook of his arm, and on his raised hand, and boosted the mid-tone contrast with clarity.

Then I converted to black and white, for the classic film noir look.

Portrait Demo 10
(10 of 10) For the real film noir look, I converted to black and white.

8 minutes from the first shot to the last. Needless to say, if this had been a real job, I would have taken more time to refine the lighting, the looks, and the poses. But I did get the point across to the group: it’s not the camera that makes the photograph.

Here’s the whole series of the 10 minute portrait demo, with captions.

After you have typed in some text, hit ENTER to start searching...