Sometimes everything comes together just right. It was a cold and rainy day when Michele and I made this image. I was in the downtown studio and we could hear rain and sleet rattle against the window outside. The studio was very large. I was able to put the background as far away as I wanted and still have room to stand back and use the perfect focal length lens.
The main light was a 54 by 72 inch softbox over to the right. About 45 degrees of center and up enough so that the bottom of the box was high enough to cast a shadow under her chin. There was a white fill card somewhere to the left of the camera but not very close in. The ceiling was 18 feet high and painted matte black. The background was a gray seamless paper and it was lit with one flash head modified with a broad grid.
We worked casually then. There was no make up person or stylist. No assistants lurking in the shadows. Just a model and a photographer.
For some of the shoot I used an old Rollei twin lens but for this image I switched to a Pentax 645 camera and one of the inexpensive 150mm f3.5 lenses Pentax made. The focal length with this film format was near the 95-105mm that I think makes portrait subjects look best.
At some time after this shoot I bought a Marty Forscher Polaroid back (with a fiber optics bundle that positioned the focus in the correct plane) but on the day this was shot I just used a handy light meter in its incident (as God intended) mode.
I never printed this particular negative but today I was sorting out envelopes in a filing cabinet while also trying to pay attention to some enormously detailed conversation on the phone with an art director. That's when I found about twelve pages of these negatives.
I scanned them in the good, ole Epson V500 Photo flatbed scanner in the nothing special required setting, followed by a few minutes in Photoshop to knock the dust spots off and....ta da. My favorite photo of the month. One of my long term goals? More like this.
Love shooting portraits and I tried something a little different with my lights during this session. I used a smaller softbox and put it directly over my models face and slightly in front of her. Pretty much standard beauty lighting. My subject is sitting at a portrait table and there's a white card laying on the table to provide enough fill back onto her face. Uncharacteristically, I used a hair light (also in a small softbox) and, of course, there is soft gridded background light directed up from a low angle behind my subject's chair onto the canvas background.
I worked at f5.6 on my Zeiss 150mm Planar because that aperture seems to be the perfect intersection of sharp and shallow. And by that I mean that the facial details are sharp where you want them (eyes, nose, mouth) but the depth of field is shallow enough to drop the background detail out of your brain's discomfort zone.
Although most of our portrait work is (by client request) in color these days we do have clients who see the big, square black and white portraits on my website and request that we do old school portraits. This is something I'm nearly always happy to do, unless a short deadline is part of the mix.
There is something very visually comforting to me about composing within the confines of the square. Faces just seem to fit better.
I'm setting up the studio right now (in between writing this blog and going out to eat Mexican food for lunch...) to shoot a series of test portraits on black and white film. I'm using big banks of LED lights punched through really nice diffusion because I want to see how the color curve of the light sources effects the panchromatic response of the film. I'm curious to know if the non-linear nature of the light source will have pronounced effects on the rendering of skin tone and the contrast of the overall image.
It may be silly to want to know about techniques that soon may be irrelevant but that's one of the many little quirks of personality that I live with. If the skin tone rendering is good I'll be interested in shooting more black and white film. I still have three or four hundred rolls in the fridge.
On a topical note...
Swim practice was wonderfully neutral and calm this morning. We have a hard and fast set of rules, learned and implemented for over two decades, of absolutely no political discussions before, during or after swim practice. We love everyone we swim with too much to let our personal opinions about politics and political parties to intrude. But that still leaves us a lot to talk about. Not everything requires a continuous dialogue... Having safe zones from all the contention keeps us all a bit healthier.
And finally, Thanks to reader, Frank, for helping me edit down a recent post. His input was valuable to me and probably added to your enjoyment as a reader of the VSL. A tip of the coffee cup to him.