Tuesday, May 17, 2011



Last weekend I did a portrait shoot with a friend who is graduating (hence the traditional hat). He wanted some images to use for both the graduation brochure, as well as facebook all done at the same time. I had a few locations scouted beforehand that would work well, and asked him to bring his graduation suit and hat, plus a few other outfits in case we needed to switch.

The light cooperated and was quite nice, soft and directional, and it got sunny toward the end right when we needed it. I directed his poses while keeping the light's direction in mind to hit his face in a pleasing way, mostly choosing short lighting, as I prefer (short lighting is where the front and far side of the face are lit, and the close side of the face you can see is in shadow, apposed to broad lighting where the front and front side are lit and the far side you can't see is in shadow), I had the X100 on one shoulder, and my 5D with 85mm 1.8 on the other. With both I shot at maximum aperture, the X100 had way way less purple fringing and was much sharper at it's max aperture of f/2 than the 85 was, but I probably should have stopped the 85 to f2 as well for a sharpness increase, but I wanted the shallowest DoF possible.

For the first image in the blog, I was sitting on the ground (in order to make him look more grand and tall, and to get mostly sky in, rather than boring ground), with the X100. I had the 3rd gridlines projected so I could put his face in one of the points of power, as it was a wide shot and I needed help guiding the eye to his face. The light was coming from the left (his right), so I had him turn in that direction. With guys I normally try to get them to stand naturally with toes slightly turned out, and ask them to bring their shoulders up and back, but then try to settle so they are comfortable and not stiff. Early on I tell them I will be directing their face turn for lighting purposes, so it's easy to use my index finger to ask them to turn closer to me or further away. Sometimes I use the command, "Ok, now with only your eyes, look at me", otherwise they will turn their whole head from the previously chosen position. For postwork, I adjusted contrast and clarity, white balanced it to be a bit less blue, then added one adjustment brush to the sky to bring it down and add contrast, clarity, and a bit of blue, and another adjustment brush on his face to bring it up, add clarity, and increase saturation a bit.


In this one I was kneeling, as I wanted both sky and ground, as I found this grass path to be a great setting. The light was coming from the right, so I positioned him this way so it lit his face in short lighting again, this is why the front of his face is brighter, giving it volume. If we were turned the other way, (to the left) this soft light would hit the back of his head, giving his skull volume, but leaving his face relatively flat. In post, I desaturated the greens a bit, as it was overwhelming the scene, cloned out a few distracting clumps of grass, used an adjustment brush to bring down the sky and add a bit of blue, and up clarity, and then overall scene contrast and clarity adjustments. I also have a special sharpening setting that adds micro volume, rather than really sharpening the edges too much. It uses a very wide radius, and a high masking value so only hard edges are affected, and in a broad, rather than narrow way. I apply this to every image, and change the amount depending on the output size (full amount for the web, 30% for full sized prints).

I love how sharp the X100 is at f/2, with no chromatic aberations or purple fringing. It allowed me to throw the background slightly out of focus for some nice subject separation, while still viewing the background's contents.

Just to follow up on my last post about focal lengths, here are two shots in the same location. First with the 85mm lens on the 5D and second with the 35mm X100:

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The one with the 85 is tight, and is definitely about the subject as a portrait. It's flattering and cinematic. The 35 is wider and shows the entire cityline of Reykjavik. Neither is better or worse, but they both offer different things. One is a portrait that could be made in any city though, and the other was definitely done in Iceland. (the dark square on the far right is Harpa, the new opera house, and the grey point above it is Halgrimskirkja, the most famous landmark in Reykjavik, the tall dark apartment buildings are also very iconic as part of the beachfront skyline)


Not the most masculine of poses, but I think it works. The mountains in this direction behind him were so beautiful, and the light was still cooperating. In odd poses like this, it's really important to ask the subject to "settle in" so they feel comfortable. You can see a noticeable difference after they do it, much more relaxed. I might fine tune a pose, but before I take the photo I ask them to get comfortable so it doesn't look too stiff and awkward.

Monday, May 9, 2011


I was going to write up a forum post about lens lengths, but I figured this would be a good topic for here instead.
I shoot with 3 lens focal lengths, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm. If shooting on a crop sensor, to emulate this setup, you'd need a 24mm, 35mm, and 50mm lens. These correspond to moderate-wide, normal, and short telephoto. What do I mean by this? Normal means that size ratios line up with what our eyes are used to. Put a person 3 meters in front of a known object like a fire-truck, or a door, and the ratio of the two in how the lens renders them on the camera's 2d plane will look just as our eyes see. Wide means now that far object will look a bit smaller than it should, but since 35 is only moderate wide, you can kind of get away with it. In many situations with a person in the frame, 21/24/28 will look distorted and unnatural. I personally don't like them, but many do. Short-telephoto means that the ratio between objects will slant the other way. The firetruck would look slightly too large, for example. This can be used to one's benefit as well with very long telephoto lenses, keeping the moon huge behind a person, or compressing landscapes, but I find short telephoto gives the affect the way I want it. Off, but not too off as to mis represent reality.
The reason I keep to 3 primes like this, rather than a zoom that encompasses them all like the 24-70mm 2.8, or on a crop, the 17-50/55 from tamron/canon (both good), is because first and foremost, I routinely shoot in lighting situations where I need the extra light. All 3 of my primes are sub f/2 and useable at max aperture. The 35 on my 5D is f/1.4, the 50 and 85 both 1.8. My X100 is 35mm f/2. I find 2.8 too slow for many situations. Secondly, I like having the space between focal lengths. It makes the decision making easier. Expanded, normal, or compressed perspective? With a zoom it's more of a spectrum with lots of choices. Many people like that, but I don't. Creatively I only ever want one of those 3 settings, and having them in set steps helps me focus. In addition, having an out of focus background becomes more difficult the wider your lens goes. So while an 85mm F/2.8 can still give you a headshot with a blurry background, a 35mm f/2.8 at normal viewing distances doesn't really. 50mm 2.8 is kind of mixed bag depending on distance from you to the subject whether you will get background blur or not, but at any distance, F/1.8, 1.4 or even 1.2 will give you much more.
Now for some examples:

35mm really allows you to get a sense of this space. 50 or 85 would have compressed it too much. You would have only gotten a small edge of the front flower box with 50, less of the branches at the top, and the white area in the back would have been projected physically larger in relation to him, making it more of a middle or high key shot instead of this smoky dark look. Backing up to make 50 work would have made him much smaller and it would no longer really be a portrait. 85 would have made all these issues worse. 35mm gives you a sense of setting.


This one needed a lot of size ratios going on, and it was already unrealistic and surreal to begin with, so I didn't want to muck with perspective at all, hence the 50mm. 35mm to keep him this size and the front bench would curve away, and the back benches would be very small, and the path wouldn't look very deep or three-dimensional. 85mm would not have shown the side-most benches at all, and the background would look very large and tunnel like. In order to get the whole bench in, I'd need to back up a lot from where I was with the 50, and that would require him being much smaller in the frame.


This one, the background was very important to the shot. That far building over his right (our left) shoulder is the Dom Cathedral in Cologne, Germany. With a 50 or 35mm, it would have been projected incredibly tiny, and the darker areas around him of the less populated residential area of Cologne would have shown more, making it a less bright and less city-ish feel. He was also on a cramped balcony and I was inside the apartment shooting out. A 50mm might have allowed me to still get all of him without showing the door frame or other parts of the balcony, but the 35 definitely would have unless I got so close as to make him look very distorted.

I chose these three shots specifically because I had decided on the lens focal length before even getting to the location to shoot (or from the original location scout) but they were specifically picked for their affect on perspective. Also because all three relied on fast, sub-f/2 apertures, as all 3 were shot at the widest aperture, either to let in enough light on the 2nd two, or the provide a bit of background blur on the first. Could I have shot these same images with a zoom and had them look very similar? Possibly, but my creative process doesn't work that way, and I like the freedom that this limitation actually brings creatively.