Different formats. Different treatments. Same Vision?

I took this portrait of Michelle with a medium format camera and a long lens.  I used a Norman Beauty Dish and a large softbox for fill.  The background is lit by two small softboxes.  I love the long, soft tonalities.  And I love the quiet look of the whole thing.  

This portrait was shot many years ago on the outdoor patio of the old Sweetish Hill Restaurant.  Light filtered through the translucent skylight panels and bounced in from reflected sunlight in surrounding shop windows.  I used an Olympus Pen half frame camera with a 40mm 1.4 lens.  A relic of the early 1970's. Just like the photo above, I used Tri-X 400 film developed in D76.  This is NOT lit with a beauty dish.  Just natural light.

And, I guess my point is that the "feel" of the photograph, the quiet stare out to the camera :::: out to me, is similar in both.  The body position in both images has similar energy.  I think they are both contemplative images.  And what I am coming to find is that no matter what camera I use to do portraits with and however I light them, there are common threads.  There are little things that tie the emotion of the photographs together.  Beyond the tones and the postures and the look there is also the inclusion of a background that is both soft and present.

I never thought I had a style until I started looking back twenty years and then laying old prints next to new ones.  I have found one thing.  There is a difference between images shot to be printed and images shot to be looked at digitally.  The digital ones seem more sterile.  Quieter.  Less depth.  They seem flatter to me.  Just an observation.

Digital image.  EOS-1D mk2.  50 2.5 macro.

And yet, there are similarities.  The backgrounds feel similar to me.  And the  portrait of the coffee is quiet.  Funny to have a quiet style for such a boisterous and chatty blog writer.  

How do you create a style?  You don't.  It evolves over time.  When you AREN'T thinking about it.
I guess that makes the acquisition of style some sort of Zen thing.

Ten Top Tips For Getting People Say Nice Things About Your Portrait Photographs.


We all work in relative isolation and we crave the positive feedback from strangers (we wouldn't dare sit next to if we ever had to ride a bus)  even though we have no way of gauging it's value.  I've carefully looked thru many forae and online resources and I have a quick guide for generating good feedback.  Do these things and you'll have a fighting chance at having someone mark one of your photos as a "favorite".  You might even rise to stardom and be asked to shoot for free by a prestigious media outlet.

1.  Only shoot young, famous musicians and actors.  The higher up on the "A" list the better.  Put their names in the metadata and labels and descriptions.  When the blind name searches occur......instant stardom.  More points for unusual (read: stupid) poses and expressions.  Outrageous costuming is expected.

(Want to learn about access and how to photograph Justin Beiber, Brittany Spears, Lady Ga-Ga?  You'll want to take my upcoming $25,000 workshop, Shooting Stars.  We're limiting the class to the first 100 applicants....)

2.  Have a video crew shoot everything you do.  From nose wipes to model fluffing to spectacular farts.  Everyone wants to see how it's all done.  Bonus if you include footage of actual portrait shoots.  Extra bonus if you are shooting the portraits.  Be sure to grow trendy facial hair and own a collection of really stupid (proto bohemian) hats........

3.  Use a camera no one has ever heard of or that is largely unavailable.  Like the guy who puts banks of lights on either side of his subject and pounds away with an 8x10 view camera.  Extra points if you go bigger than 8x10 and super extra points if you use non-conventional film.  (See next point).  If the camera is too big to carry by yourself make sure you see point #2.  Get lots of footage of the crew positioning and setting up the camera for you.  "Quick Bob, a close up of that rare lens I'm using."

4.  Combine the big camera with super large format Polaroid and you can shoot the most boring portraits in the worst imaginable light and be lauded in magazines across the country.  But again,  don't try this without your Behind the Scenes video crew.  Proof that you went large and instant is usually more important that the actual portrait.  (see point #7).

5.  Shoot everything in black and white.  Talk about how important it is to shoot in black and white.  People don't really get black and white anymore but they know they're supposed to like it.  Kinda like Cadillac Escalades.  Or automatic watches.....  If someone mentions SilverFX fix them with a withering glare and denounce canned actions as "hobbyist affectations."  Let everyone know that if they aren't printing on fiber photographic paper they are pond scum.  Don't forget to mention that every print must be toned in toxic and radioactive toners.  By hand.

6.  Shoot naked people.  This is harder than it sounds because only thin, healthy people look good naked and in most of the U.S. and for that matter, north America, municipalities and society in general have outlawed "thin and healthy".  Much as you love your sweet partner the camera is a vicious bitch when confronted with an extra 50 pounds of love handles..... (When searching for good looking naked people try to pay attention to point #1)  The double chin is only adorable to your cat and your equally pudgy partner.  Believe me, all that physical egalitarianism doesn't translate.  Unless you are Joel Peter Witkin.......and he OWNs that niche.

7.  When asked about your intention, motivation, philosophy, relationship to art be sure to talk only about technique.  Extra points for cataloging which lens, camera, settings, lights and modifiers you used.  Want fans for life?  You'll want to supply "before and after" photographs as well as three dimensional lighting diagrams of your every move.  No one gives a panatomic X negative about why you shot something, they just want to know how they can reproduce exactly the same thing with their Canon Rebel.

8.  Hot Babes. If you can't ante up the money for my workshop about working with "A" list people you'll want to stick only to photographing young women.  Preferably in randy outfits, in suggestive poses and forget the "come hither" eyes.  You'll be looking to capture the "do me now before the commercials are over!!!" eyes.  At the Visual Science lab we measure the number of "likes" for super saturated, twilight-with-outrageous-fill-flash photos/portraits of recent post-teen women in skimpy outfits and compared it to similar photos of men in the same poses.  The difference in "likes?"  Female subjects= 253,017 versus 3 for male subjects. Don't ask.

9.  Use a radical new light source.  There's a hierarchy of lighting coolness.  Top of the heap are HMIs ala Victoria's Secret calendars.  Next is anything new = LED's.  Then outrageously expensive strobe systems warranted by the atomic energy commission to produce light that is slapped out in doses with less than .00001 % color or intensity shift.  Then florescent lights.  Then the screen  (yawn) of your iPad (yes Bob, I see you got and iPad.  I am very proud of you. ) or the (yawn, moan) screen of your iPhone 6.    I've noticed a new trend.  I saw this in a forum about using small flashes.  It's still kinda new but may catch on......People are using the light that exists, without augmentation.  They are calling this "natural light" but I don't know what could be more natural than 27 small, battery powered flashes, covered with filters, festooned with  radio triggers and plastic drinking straw modifiers, and hung like Christmas tree lights on a light stand........ But no one can tell from the images so that's where the "Behind the Scenes" crew comes in.

10.  When in doubt try to incorporate as many of these techniques as possible.  Naked, small flash, big camera, super sized polaroid, only of a future "A" list, barely legal, stars shot with a super wide lens.  Then torture the image in PhotoShop and HipsterTRAGIC and print it out on black and white paper.  If this still doesn't work then register a few more untraceable e-mail accounts and prime the pumps by "liking" your own "favorites".    Museum quality, baby.  Works for the big dogs.

Note/Warning for the "Hard of Humor":  This is intended to be cynical humor and does not really reflect my recipe for doing good portraiture or having that work widely appreciated.