Your Best Portrait Starts With The Right Concept
I recently updated my profile photo after spending an hour recreating a film noir style of lighting using 3 Nikon flash units (2-SB800's and 1-SB910 with Rogue grid). Having received many favorable comments and likes on Social Media, I decided to write this blog outlining how the portrait was done and why I feel it is so important have a portrait that you really like of yourself. Needless to say, we live in an extremely visual age. Between computers and mobile devices, we are flooded with images all day every day. And yet, I'm very surprised when I see either the absence of an image or seriously poor quality images on peoples social media, especially from professional people who are trying to promote the quality of their services or profession. It only stands to reason that people buy into who we are before what we do and to that end, a creative and well designed image can make a huge impact. OK, let's get to the lesson :)
All good portraits should start with a concept just like a journey needs a destination. Sure, it's fun to get in the car and just drive but seriously, how many times do we do that? In the same way, starting with the concept informs the entire process from lighting to background and even the subjects expression. I was going for a dramatic, thoughtful, determined confidence and while I wanted those characteristics, I also wanted a hint of likeability. I do tend towards the introspective and while I enjoy working with people very much, I am often thought of as aloof. Truth be known, I usually have a million thoughts running through my mind and am very project oriented (sorry:)
OK, so I have my concept and personality theme identified. Now the lighting has to support that vision. here's my lighting diagram:
Technical data: SB910 set at 0.0EV SB800's set at -0.7EV Camera [email protected] ISO 160
About the technical data. I wanted to photograph this at a lesser f/stop and let the focus fall off sharply but since I'm the subject and not behind the camera, getting the image in focus can be quite challenging. According to others, my eyes are my asset so that was my focal point and getting them in focus was essential. Actually, that brings up an important point. Everyone that I have photographed over 33 years has concerns about some aspect of their appearance and it becomes the filter through which they see themselves. The obvious "ouch" for me would be my balding head although, I'm certainly not the only member in that club. Knowing that we all have this filter, it's my job to identify and accentuate what you like about yourself and reduce or eliminate what you would rather change. For example, you'll notice on my portrait that the cropping takes off the very top of my head. Here's the reasoning: since the goal of the portrait is to create a statement of "dramatic, thoughtful, determined confidence" and focusing on what I like best about myself (eyes), having my full head visible keeps that as a primary object showing one of the areas I like least (balding head). You still understand that I have a full and complete head just like I have a full and complete body although, that too, is not shown.
Finally, I converted the image to B&W using a combination of PhotoShop techniques until I had just the right amount of contrast and depth. Since the style is reminiscent of a 1940's Hollywood genre, B&W reinforces the theme.
With the development and ease of access to digital devices, "picture-taking" is practiced at an all time high. While I love the idea that my craft, which I cherish, is so popular, I do find it distressing to a degree, how many images flood the internet that are grossly inferior artistically and technically. Too often, we don't take the time to carefully think through a project and too often, we sacrifice quality for expedience (or cost). Given the concerns we share about our own image, starting with a concept and trusting it to a seasoned professional, will always be the surest way to get your best portrait ever. Most people think of me as a photographer but actually, that's just what I do. Why I do it, which is more important, is to encourage people. To emphasize through photography, the qualities that you yourself and others will find most appealing. Not just in a physical sense but the essence of who you are. The wonderfully authentic you. That's something we can all be encouraged by.
Awesome photo and vivid explanation Bro. I really like how you've dissected the essence of the subject beginning with a vision and seeing it through to fruition in the form of high art. This is the kind of dot connecting to prospective clients that can help them visual between a master artist and someone who merely clicks pictures. Well done! Never abandon this God-given skill. Never!
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