Tag Archives: portraits

The Whole Wide World

This week was spent taking a trip down memory lane. I scanned through 14 years of home videos to put together a video piece for La Belle Tu called Whole Wide World. It is the story of “a little girl with great big plans” and set to a catchy tune by Mindy Gledhill from Triple Scoop Music.

While the existing videos provided footage for about half of the piece, the concept of a mother and daughter who capture a moment in time taking photos together required putting on a small shoot at the La Belle Tu studio.

We shot our talented cast (my wife and daughter) using a Canon 5D Mark 3 as well as a Canon Vixia HD digital video camera as they experience their photo shoot together. I must say that I have a whole new respect for filmmakers. It isn’t easy directing a movie—even one that is only 3 minutes long!

The final video tells the story of a little girl growing up fast and sharing special moments in her life with her mother.

Enjoy the Whole Wide World

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Glamorous Things

One of the areas of photography that has always interested me is glamour portrait work. Working with beautiful models seemed like it might be a fun way to spend an afternoon. This last week I decided to dip my toe in the water and I participated in a glamour shoot with volunteer models who were willing to pose in exchange for prints after the shoot (also known as a TF Shoot, or Trade For Shoot). I guess it is a leap of faith on their part that anything that might come from such a shoot would be worth trading their time!

I tried to do my homework and researched glamour photos, posing techniques, etc. with the goal of not appearing to be a complete moron in front of the ladies. On the morning of the shoot I had two confirmed models scheduled to meet me at the small studio space in the Los Angeles Arts/Warehouse district near the Little Tokyo part of the city.

Now I had been warned that models who book TF shoots are notorious for not showing up, so I booked two girls figuring that most likely one would have [car/boyfriend/work/hair/etc.] issues and flake out. Instead, both turned up right on time and I had two models to juggle over the next few hours of shooting.

I had decided to start by shooting close up portraits so that I could ease into working on poses with as few variables as possible. I also thought that this was when make-up and hair would probably look its best since there was not a dedicated make-up person on the shoot. After about 30 minutes of fussing with lights and gear, the shoot finally got underway. I decided to shoot these against a wall in the studio where there was some natural light coming in through the windows, though I also lit with the strobes.

This is Destiny…

And this is Crissy…

For the full body shots we moved to a white seamless. Destiny went first, changing into a rather daring red and black outfit!

Crissy was a bit more conservative, but still played up the sexy look..

I alternated between the two girls for about three hours, giving each a chance to change and rest after about 30 minutes of shooting. Giving them posing instructions was and interesting and educational exercise in communication! I can only imagine how they felt as I tried to verbalize twisting and turning them like pretzels! In the end, I found actually demonstrating what I wanted was much more successful than describing it, and provided some comic relief as well.

All together I shot about 500 photos, and narrowed it down to about 25 for them to choose their favorite five from. Since I spend about 15-30 minutes retouching the final photos, five images is about all I have time for..

It was a great learning experience and I have a couple more shoots in the works this week. Hey, there could be worse ways to spend some free time…

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Things that Flash

I have been working hard on learning how to light with off-camera strobe lights. A great resource for anyone interested in using flashes is the Strobist Blog. One thing that I’ve found out quickly is that once you head down the strobe path, there is a whole bunch of new things to learn.

I love to learn new things!

There is also an endless amount of money to be spent on equipment (strobes, radio triggers, cables, light modifiers, books, etc.), which can lead to a hefty credit card bill quickly if you lack self restraint and like shiny new electronic toys.

I love shiny new electronic toys!

Taking photos with strobes presents a unique challenge that involves a balance of creative and technical skill. It especially appeals to me because it means really considering the image you want to create, and shaping the light to serve the vision for that image.

Below is my first real attempt to use multiple light sources to shape an image. My son loves to read and can often be found oblivious to the world with his head tucked deep into the folds of a novel (especially a Harry Potter novel). I wanted an image that captured his love of reading and the sparkle in his eyes when he is caught reading one of his favorite books.

I took a layered approach to building this image. First I calculated an exposure that reduced most of the natural light in the room. The curtains were quite bright and I did not want them to overpower the bulb in the lamp. My exposure was:

ISO 200, 1/200 sec., f /5.0

This effectively took all the ambient light influence out of the photo, leaving just the strobes to light Ryan and the chair and table set piece.

I then added a fill light which was a flash shot through an Westcott shoot-through umbrella just to the left of my camera.

This guaranteed me that I would see detail in the left side of his face, the book and the furniture, and that the bulb in the light would be visible. The flash setting on this was:

Canon 580 EX II Flash at 1/16 + 1/3 power on Manual Mode

The last step was to add the key light, which I wanted to be warm and be far enough back that it felt like it could have been generated from the mica lamp. My first attempts had the flash too far back, which was not very flattering and spilled distracting light on the lamp.

I adjusted by moving the key light forward and attached some black cardboard to keep it from spilling on the lamp and background. The final set-up looked like this:

This gives you an idea how much light was actually coming through the windows, but with the fast shutter speed it was almost all canceled out so that the strobes would be the primary light sources in the shot. The key light strobe was shot through a Lastolite 24: McNally Ezybox with a full CTO gel for warmth. The flash setting on this was:

Canon 430 EX II Flash at 1/4 + 2/3 power on Manual Mode

The 580 EX II was connected to my camera using a long TTL cable. And both flashes had Pocket Wizard TT5 radio triggers to fire them, although I could have used Canon’s built-in flash triggering system if I wanted to.

Here is the lighting “diagram” from my note pad:

It was a fun little project, and the best part was that I ended up with a nice shot of my son!

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Things we ask of our Neighbors

We live in a small suburban community in Southern California. There are no walls surrounding our vast 1700 square foot estate to protect us from the prying eyes of the paparazzi. People walk the sidewalks in the evenings with their kids and pets, and neighbors routinely visit just to say hello. One of our neighbors is a lovely lady who has become our children’s adopted grandmother, since their actual grandparents live out of state. She is a sweet and generous woman who lives alone, but has become a part of our family. We regularly share holidays and homemade meals with her, which is delightful because she is an amazing cook!

I’ve been looking for willing subjects to photograph, since I’ve recently acquired some strobes and a small bit of other portrait gear. She seemed like the perfect victim volunteer. She thought the idea sounded fun (she obviously had never posed for an amateur photographer), so we set a date for the weekend to take some shots.

My goal with this self-assigned project was three-fold: 1) take some photos of my friend that wouldn’t embarrass her or myself, 2) learn a bit about running a shoot and working with models, and 3) figure out how to work the darn strobes and radio transmitters.

Helping me was a very capable none-year old, my son. He was given the task of holding a reflector, which, based on the volume of complaining must have been the heaviest reflector in the world. Good help is hard to find, especially at the rates I pay.

My model was an amateur photographer’s dream–patient and interested. Never once did she call her agent or need to be coaxed from her trailer.

We spent about two hours shooting in several spots around her home and garden, laughing as we tried different silly things, and ultimately capturing a few images that I think represent the kind spirit and good humor of this very special person in our lives.

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Things We Don’t Do

Whenever I drive past something I see that might make a good photo I always regret not stopping. I’ve passed this parking attendant several times, seeing his cowboy boots sticking out of his little office at the entrance to a parking lot on Cahuenga Blvd. Every time, I wish I had stopped.

Yesterday I pulled to the side and asked for permission to take a few photos. He graciously agreed. He is quite a character, and I hope I’ve managed to capture a bit of his spirit.

I think I’ve said this before, but it always seems to be the things I don’t do that I regret!

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