I prefer to have a plan, an idea of what I want to do before I go into a shoot. The more specific, the better. I like to get to know my subject, then draw up sketches of what I see for them. I’m a big fan of pre-production despite how strange it feels to get the shots I want right off the bat after I’ve been planning for days. It’s strange but rewarding. I get the shot I went there for, then I’ve got the rest of the allotted time to play around; or if me or my subject has somewhere to be, we can get there.
Luckily for me, Nicole and Stephanie afforded me 5 hours of their time. Special thanks to The Cellar Dwellers for use of their theater for this shoot.
I don’t know why, but for Nicole, I had a vision for a bare head-and-shoulders shot; head tilted back and a perfect sphere of water falling above her. White background.
In earlier takes that I’ve deleted, the background ended up being too bright and the water drop less visible than I liked, so I moved everything a few more feet away from the background to pull light from it and make it recede a little more. I was also blasting her from the left and the right with a couple of wireless flashes and transparent umbrellas. I was going for a sort of make-up ad look where everything is lit and white and clean looking. But then one flash took a little longer to recycle and I took a shot containing strong shadows and richer color. I liked it. I stuck with it for the remainder of the takes.
This is not the final image. Due to the imperfect nature of trying to freeze a drop of water in the air at just the right moment, the final ended up being a combination of this one and another. You see how she’s not perfectly centered and not quite perfectly under the water drop? I didn’t like that. But this gives you an idea of where I’m going. More on this shot later.
Another shot I wanted was a soft, natural, pretty, behind-the-shoulder job…
We did one on each shoulder and lit them each the same way. My original intent was an emphasis on form. The tattoo changes the focus and thus the intent. It would be like if I had intended to take a photo of a snow covered fence and a cardinal got in there at the last second. It wasn’t my intention, but it’s not wrong. It has become another kind of beautiful. And it works just fine as a simple portrait in my opinion.
The photo on the right was exactly everything I intended it to be. Great form, soft skin contrasting with the background. I softened her edges a little bit too to enhance that feeling of softness.
Stephanie was a great example of why I prefer to meet my subjects before I shoot them. I knew she was a brunette and I was happy about that because there was a particular shot I wanted to try.
This was pretty close to what I wanted…
Moody. Contrasty. A little dodging to make those highlights in the hair and on the face pop a bit more.
Then we moved backstage for another particular shot I wanted.
(See my article on delayed flash to see how I did this one.) Neither this nor any of the shots I took back there were quite on the nose of what I wanted. I had hoped to be able to paint the ghost streak behind her green with the use of a work light with a green gel over it. It wasn’t strong enough though. We didn’t have much lateral leeway and that guitar on the wall kept getting stuck in her head. The above shot got the boot because I wasn’t happy only being able to see half her face and I was hoping to get a little more of the cigarette in her right hand.
As I got nothing I wanted in the color versions of this shot and it was looking considerably creepy, I decided to take it all the way to Creepyphotoville.
Turned it monochrome, tinted it sepia, then I applied a blurred out texture over top of it to give it the appearance of water damage or something like that. I think I burned the edges and corners as well. This actually ended up being the last shot of the day.
We took these other two for the heck of it…
Remember that water drop picture from the top? The one I wanted most of all. Well I composited two images to get this…
…but it still didn’t feel like it was finished.
I’ve been looking at a lot of wet plate photography lately so I decided to give it a sort of simulated wet plate look. The result was…
…my favorite shot of the day.
As always, if you haven’t yet, go like my facebook page.
Give the client what he or she wants.
That is probably my number 1 rule. If it isn’t, it’s certainly in the top 5. The client is the one writing the check and a professional photographer isn’t as cheap as Sears or J.C. Penney’s. If the client has gone to a professional, he isn’t likely looking for an 8×10 of him sitting in front of a cookie cutter background and looking at something hilarious that happened just off camera. But will I turn him away if that’s what he wants? Absolutely not.
“Well if all I want is just a nice shot of me looking nice and smiling at something just off camera, why should I pay you $X when I can get it at the department store for $x?”
Lots of reasons. The first is that the department store can’t come to you. Nor can it go to your favorite place or any other setting that truly represents you. The second is time. The reason department stores are able to charge so little is the turnover rate. The 16-year-old running the mostly computer controlled camera is only permitted to take a certain amount of pictures from which you can choose the best one(s). Might not be a problem for most adults but what if your 6-month-old decided not to sleep last night? What if you walk past the toy store on the way in and end up in tantrumville? What if the boys don’t stop fighting or the girls keep pulling hair?
The third reason is impersonality. People in department store photos are rarely themselves. The photos are of their faces and their smiles but not of themselves. I can’t speak for every photographer but my goal is to show who you are; and I think you’ll find that when the soul is captured, the beauty follows. People are beautiful in different ways and so ideally no two portraits should be the same (not just in regards to the background); but if you come to me and I take a soul-bearing picture of you and you’d still rather just have a shot of you sitting awkwardly on a stool in front of a cloth, smiling at something just off camera, in your Sunday best.
Case in point, my friend Dave.
Dave’s an amazing musician, plays a million different instruments, writes songs with lyrics too far out to be understood by mere humans. He asked me to do some promo pictures for him. Of course he had his ideas in mind, but as I did this shoot in exchange for lunch, I subjected him to my whims to start.
I felt the fact that he’s a musician and fellow artist afforded me a lot of artistic breathing room which I intended to take full advantage of. My concept was that of some sort of multi-armed musical buddah.
I was pretty happy with it. Not 100% but I hey I did all the editing on a laptop’s touchpad so I think that’s saying something. It got a lot of likes and comments on facebook. But of all the pictures of him I took that day, it did not make his cut when he put his music page(s) together.
Neither did this one…
Yeah that’s right. He’s playing a shadow guitar. It took a fair amount of planning and tweaking to get it just right and the only shot I ended up being able to work this image from is the behind-the-scenes one I took so that I could show people how we did it.
Hence why it looks so low-fi. The finished image was not what he wanted either.
Would I normally spend this much time and effort for two shots a client didn’t want in the first place? Absolutely not. As I said, this shoot was as much for me as it was for him.
Finally, we got to what he wanted to do, which was simply full length shots of him just playing guitar… in a button down shirt and a tie. Attire that I didn’t think fit him, personality-wise. Maybe that was his point though. After the shooting-for-post shots though, everything else was almost too easy.
He looks good. No doubt. Didn’t feel like him to me at the time though. He used the one on the left I remember for sure. If he didn’t use the one on the right he used the other, less dynamic one from that series.
…caused by him stepping too far back and being in the light I was using to blow out the background. Taken in color originally, I decided to play with it and came up with this. He liked it. He used it.
On a related note, I once did a video job with a very experienced lighting guy. I watched him intently all day to try to learn something. But he didn’t talk much and it took the better part of the day for me to figure out how to ask him about what he does without the question sounding dumb.
We finally came to the last location. He lit it, the director/camera op started doing his thing and I asked, “So, is there like a philosophy or a way you go about lighting a scene?”
He stuck his bottom lip out, shook his head and said, “Just whatever looks good, man.”
I try to remember that advice when I start worrying about the complexity of a shoot or when I’m trying too hard to find something more in something that’s already great. I also allow myself to remember that advice when I read snooty articles or comments from professionals that say, “If you’re not using (fill in the ridiculously expensive piece of gear) then you’re not a real photographer.”
Look at my portfolio, if you like what you see, hire me. If you don’t see what you’re looking for, ask me if I can do it and I’ll tell you. If I don’t have the proof I can do what you want, you’ll get it at a discount.
When it comes to musicians, I love a shutter drag once in a while.
Dragging the shutter technically means adjusting the shutter speed for your ambient exposure while letting your flash take care of your subject. Long winded explanation with pictures here.
To me, it means motion and ghostly effects.
On these pictures of the aforementioned Drew Pinchotti, I actually used a rear-curtain flash which is the reverse of the shutter drag. The shutter opens, time ticks, then the flash fires just before the shutter closes. The stage lighting was green. So that spirit you see trying to escape him was simply him rocking around before the flash fired, overpowering the stage light and registering the proper color before the shutter closed and recorded the whole image.
Speaking of using flash on musicians, I’ve been told that’s a photo faux pas in live situations. I say nonsense if you’ve got the band’s permission and nobody else complains. The photographer’s job is to create great images. If he can create great images with a flash, a flashlight, a lantern, a turkey baster, or whatever and nobody objects, there’s no reason for him not to.
Speaking of alternative measures…
I did these photos with a red-gelled work light and a rear curtain flash. The one above is cropped down. The original contained his actual face and hand and a little more of the sax. Didn’t look as cool though. The “real” elements of the picture ended up distracting from the intent and kind of made it look like a mess. It was too much, so I cropped it to emphasize the “ghost” and left enough of the neck of the sax in to make the viewer take a second or two to get her bearings and look harder.
The lower picture required several takes at different shutter speeds just to get the squiggles at a good length that they weren’t too short (and looking like a mistake) or too long (looking like a mess).
Finally, probably my favorite picture in which I’ve ever used a dragged shutter…
This picture was also a happy accident. I remember when I took this I had forgotten the shutter was set to stay open for a second or so. I think I was excited because I knew as soon as I pushed the button I had the shot. Forgetting the shutter was still open, I brought my camera down to look at the image and it created all those beautiful streaks.
This was around the time I discovered the HDR Toning feature in Photoshop and I used it to add contrast, saturation and just a surreal feel and I believe it captures the band’s feel very well.
Now I’ve been told that the HDR toning looks cheesy. I’ve also been told, “This is my favorite picture of me.” (It’s one of my favorites too.) Hey, either way, I’ve still got the raw file.
Tell all your friends and press the “Like” button on my facebook page.
Saturday, January 12, 2013. 60 degrees and mostly cloudy. Did I mention this is in Pittsburgh, PA?
Drew’s a local musician working hard to make a career out of it. He’s also my friend. He’ll be getting his website up and running soon so he’s asked me to make him look pretty.
I relish the opportunity to work with musicians because it opens up a lot of creative possibilities for the images. As I’ve said before, it is my mission to bring out who and what a person is in his or her images. With artists, I get the opportunity to interpret their messages and convey the feelings of their art in mine.
And I have to tell you it irks me to no end when I see photographs of artists that convey nothing but what they look like. Environments chosen simply because they look good. Sure the images look beautiful. But how often do you see a rock guitarist hanging out on a wooden bridge over a creek with sunlight playing through the emerald leaves? The answer is – only when he’s getting his picture taken. It’s not real. It has no soul. The photographer might as well tell him to say cheese before he takes his picture.
Case in point, Drew writes and records pop music. That’s reason number one I chose the city instead of the forest to shoot him. Pop music is dance music is club music is city music. Reason number 2 is because everything in the forest is dead and none of his songs take place in or have imagery of it.
His songs do speak of flirtations, loves, and longings and those are some of the fundamental ideas that shaped my shoot. As he wanted a good deal of closeups we were going to have to do much of that in the face.
But nobody can be serious all the time. If you don’t break up heaviness or darkness with lightness, the gravity lightens up by itself. It’s one of the reasons soap operas are funny. It’s why you laugh at the picture of that drummer you know because he’s always laughing when you’re hanging out but trying to look like a badass in the picture. It doesn’t work. It’s OK to be a musician AND smile. Have fun and your audience will too. (That applies on stage too.)
Speaking of gravity, Drew, in one song, references gravity being unable to hold him down and if you want to see him, “just look to the sky.”
Wait’ll you see what I do for his work in progress Colors.
Meantime, throw a “like” at http://www.facebook.com/tarquiniophoto
Tarquinio Photo’s mission is to tell a story, provoke thought, evoke emotion, and spark imagination with every photograph.
Anybody can take a picture. Anybody can take a good picture. Anybody can use Instagram.
But how many times have you seen a photo that has truly shown who and what a person is, rather than simply what they look like? They are those candid photos you’ve seen where the subjects have no idea they’re having their picture taken; a bunch of guys sitting mid-laughter around a poker table, your grandmother cradling your mother when she was a baby, an athlete pushed to his limit, the groom’s face when he sees his bride for the first time, the bride’s tears during the father-daughter dance, your child’s face when she opens that one present she had to have.
It is the inner beauty that supplements the outer beauty. It’s why you can tell the difference between a cheesy smile and one of true joy. And it is why it doesn’t matter what you think you look like, you will look great in your pictures if you be yourself, for better or worse.
Tarquinio Photo will bring you out in your pictures.
Tarquinio Photo will tell your story, make people wonder about you, and maybe even make you wonder about yourself.